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Don’t Rely On Referrals For Revenue

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

I’m going to start this article with a controversial statement.

Referrals aren’t a reliable source of income.

I can hear you disagreeing with me now, but hear me out.

Now, if I were to ask you your number one source of sales, chances are high you’d tell me referrals or word-of-mouth.

Now while I do run into businesses that are booked solid from referrals alone, these are an anomaly, not a normality.

Here’s a dirty little secret. If you say your number one source of sales is referrals, it means you’re just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. It means you aren’t working hard at new business development.

Success can be your worst enemy. Your past success can make you complacent. Your competitors are not complacent. They are hungry, and willing to do whatever it takes to win new business.

ABM: Always Be Marketing

There is one reason why you should always be marketing, even if you have a long track record of success. Especially if you have a long track record of success.

Your current batch of customers won’t always be around to refer new customers to you.

At some point, you’re going to have to reach new customers. Most long running businesses realize this after new competitors have gained tons of ground on them. Just because you were number one in Google 10 years ago doesn’t mean you’re going to be there forever.

Many businesses neglect to take care of their website or digital marketing until they’re already way behind. Here’s my philosophy.

When you’re busy, that’s when you need to step on the gas the hardest.

Being flush with business means you’re reaping the benefits of marketing efforts you made six months to a year ago.

When you enter your busy season, and you neglect to do any of the marketing that brought you that business in the first place, that’s when you lose momentum. It takes a lot of time to get that momentum back.

Ideally, you have a plan for getting in front of potential customers year-round. It sucks having to turn to AdWords to get your traffic. In most cases, over-reliance on PPC and AdWords is the penalty for neglecting your marketing efforts.

Successful Businesses Never Stop Marketing

The most successful businesses I know are continually doing most of these types of marketing:

  • Face-to-face marketing at trade shows and other events.
  • In person networking, like at a Chamber of Commerce.
  • Producing a continual stream of quality content through your website.
  • Blogging about problems your customers have, and how you can solve them.
  • Making videos answering questions your customers have.
  • Recording podcasts, or appearing on other industry-related podcasts.
  • Using email marketing to establish a relationship with your customers and prospects.
  • Being active on social media, sharing industry information, doing customer support, or answering customer questions.
  • Aggressively getting back links, reviews, or recommendations from other industry-related websites.
  • Participating in industry-related online forums.
  • Appearing in print in your local area or industry publications (newspapers and magazines).
  • Doing a radio show where you answer call-in questions.
  • Appearing in local media like television, answering customer questions about your industry.
  • Publishing a book, sharing expertise about your industry.
  • Speaking in front of people about your industry, or traveling to other cities to speak about your industry.
  • Holding webinars where are you answer questions your customers commonly have.
  • Teaching a course (in-person or online) to your customers.
  • Donating money to local charities or cause.
  • Forming complementary business relationships.
  • Becoming synonymous with your specific offering.

Some of you probably do the first two items on this list, but neglect to do the rest.

These actions build a stronger brand. Strong brands attracts customers. Building a strong brand builds SEO. Producing authoritative online and off-line content is what builds a bulletproof brand.

Those competitors gaining ground on you? They are taking these extra steps. These are businesses that are growing from a handful of people to large organizations.

You might deliver a better product than they do. But if nobody knows about it, or if customers trust their brand more than yours, you’re going to lose the long term battle.

Going the extra mile with your marketing is what builds a brand, not just a business.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

6 comments on “Don’t Rely On Referrals For Revenue

  1. I read your list and immediately wished for 5 clones to go do all those things for me.

    You’re absolutely right! Marketing is a long game, and while many tactics and turn up quick results, the truth is, building a well known, household-name-type brand is the difference between long-term success and your kids selling off the biz when you retire.

    Referrals peter out—surviving on referrals is not just resting on your laurels: it’s living on your laurels, which seems dangerous in the extreme.

    I love this article — keep up the great work John!

  2. Thanks Adam! Glad you enjoyed this; that’s high praise coming from a wordsmith like yourself.

    I love what you said — “living on your laurels”. That’s exactly how many successful family businesses go from dominating a local market to (ten years later) wondering why there are a dozen competitors suddenly kicking their ass in the local market.

    It never happens all at once. It’s little by little. Chip away at the stone.

    Every business is a marketing business, even if they don’t know it.

  3. I’ve enjoied your post, thanks!
    It reminded me of the Vladimir Propp book titled “Morphology of the Folktale”, published in Russia in 1928, but still valid.

    Keep up the great work


    1. Hi Medupi:

      Two things that will help with digital marketing: Get a dedicated website (not merely a Facebook page), and get a branded email address (not Yahoo or Gmail). These two things help tell your prospects that your business will be around for a long time, and not only a brief time. It also shows people you run a serious company.

      The Facebook page is okay to have, but it is difficult to make that the center of your online marketing efforts. You always control your website, Facebook makes you pay for people to see your posts.


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