Six steps to grow your business with referrals

Do you have enough customers? Here’s a better question: Do you have enough of the right kind of customers?

Do you agonize and strategize over the marketing plan you’ve designed to position offerings in front of your profile prospect? What’s the right message, platform, frequency, etc.? And do you then pray that the precious cash you’ve commit to marketing crosses over that pivotal line from expense to investment?

Agony and prayer; not a great strategy, right? But if this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Marketing legend, John Wanamaker (1838-1922) once lamented, “Half of my advertising budget is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” It’s true, marketing metrics have come a long way since Mr. Wanamaker’s time, but that emerging science has been somewhat marginalized by increasing pressure from the digital marketplace. Indeed, getting customers on the proverbial dotted line is still challenging in the 21st century, especially for small businesses.

Beyond marketing, perhaps the primary reason for our customer acquisition challenge can be attributed to a human trait that’s at once primordial and unfortunate: We make things harder than they have to be. There are many examples, but arguably one of the most dramatic is also one of the simplest to fix: failure to ask for referrals.

Business referrals are now, and have always been there for the picking. And they’re as old school fundamental as they are new school relevant. So why don’t more people take advantage of this low-hanging fruit? It’s that can’t-get-out-of-my-own-way thing. Too many salespeople and organizations don’t have a referral strategy and teach referral practices.

Even though getting referrals is fall-off-a-log easy, there are specific practices to follow. Here are six I recommend to help you get started with your strategy.

  1. Spend as much time developing a referral strategy as you do a marketing strategy. When you do, two things will happen very quickly: you’ll gain new customers you weren’t getting from marketing, which will take performance pressure off of your marketing plan.
  2. Identify existing customers who like what you do. Each one is that valuable asset called a center-of-influence (COI).
  3. Explain – in person – that you need their help and how they can help you. For example: “Mr. Smith, thank you for your business over the years. We’d like to have more customers like you. I’m sure you ask your customers for referrals, and would like to ask if I may do the same with you.”
  4. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI) furnishes the next critical question: “Who do you know who …has your high standards?” “…uses the products we offer?” “…you would like to help do business with good companies like ours?” (Your “Who do you who …” here.)
  5. When you get a referral, thank the COI profusely before, during and after the subsequent contact, especially if you get the business. One thing I always say to my COIs is, “If a referral is a friend (or customer) before I contact them, I promise they will still be after I talk with them.”
  6. For millennia, business referrers have been paying it forward. As Ivan Misner says, “Givers gain.” The best way to have a sustainable referral strategy is to be an active referrer yourself. It’s much easier to ask someone for a referral to whom you’ve just given a referral.

If you’re still not sold on referrals, look around and you’ll see many successful businesses that grow only by referrals – essentially no marketing. There’s one primal reason why referrals can be more productive than marketing: People are hard-wired to want to help other people when they’re asked.

Get out of your own way and make a full commitment to creating and executing a referral strategy.

Write this on a rock … Referrals are low-hanging fruit just waiting for you to harvest.

The power of brainstorming with adjectives

How dull would our world be without adjectives? You know, those handy words or terms we use, as Webster says, to “modify a noun.” Indeed, without the descriptive power of an adjective, a noun is nothing more than a bland commodity – like broccoli without hollandaise.

If I offered you a soybean, you would probably be less than intrigued. But what if I said it was a “beautiful soybean”? You’d want to see such a bean, wouldn’t you? A change of attitude, all because of the power of an adjective.

Adjectives can be powerful and useful in your business when they help you take a look at your company, products, services, etc., in an honest, creative, competitive and critical way. One method of pursuing the power of adjectives is through brainstorming.

My friend and Brain Trust member, Floyd Hurt, author of Rousing Creativity, says brainstorming is a great way to get organizational creative juices flowing. And creativity is the mother’s milk of powerful adjectives. Everybody knows that! So get your team together (if you’re a one-person shop, your support group) and conduct a brainstorming session. But first, it’s important to know the Floyd Hurt rules of brainstorming below, followed by my comments.

Free wheeling
There should be virtually no restrictions. Floyd says if you’re pursuing how to pep up the showroom and someone says “Let’s put an elephant in there,” the next comment should be, “Are we talking African or Indian?” And don’t worry that your idea isn’t complete. Even partial ideas can spark the other half from someone else.

No criticism
Some adjectives may not be positive, especially when you’re working on constant improvement. Everyone must feel that what they say will not be criticized, and that all brainstorming contributions will be considered constructive.

Combine and improve
This is where you put some of your brainstorming ideas, including the half-baked ones mentioned above, together to make a better idea. After this kind of synergy clicks the first time with your group, buckle up, because your brainstorming will probably blast off with new energy.

Judgment of ideas
Which one of the ideas will you work on first? This is the culling process. Everything idea is not a keeper – at least not today. But don’t throw anything away. Keep the unused ideas and adjectives for the next session. Ideas are like seeds: sometimes they need time to germinate.

Quantity
This is where the power of adjectives really comes into play. A brainstorming session MUST have LOTS of ideas complete with powerful adjectives. Write them ALL down! EVERY ONE!!

The immortal Adam Smith identified the written word as one of the three greatest human inventions. Besides the brainstorming power you’ll generate, never underestimate the power of having your ideas on paper, looking back at you.

Write this on a rock … Use brainstorming to unleash the power of adjectives.

Online Poll: How do you feel about the future of America?

The Question: As you contemplate Independence Day, how do you feel about the future of America?

8% - America’s best days are still ahead.
6% - America’s best days are behind us.
83% - America’s in trouble, but we can still turn it around.
3% - Never mind America, the whole world is going to hell!

Jim’s Comments: As you will see in the results of our recent online poll above, more than eight of ten of our respondents have serious concerns about America’s condition and future, with only 8% who’re optimistic about how things are. By comparison, the national average reported by Real Clear Politics — which homogenizes seven large polls — reports two-thirds of Americans think we’re “on the wrong track.” Perhaps the reason our folks rank their concerns a little higher than other polls is because we’re responsible for making payroll every week or two, which, under the current regulatory and economic conditions, is getting more and more difficult.

The last time I saw this level of concern among Americans was almost 40 years ago, during the Carter Administration. In fact, President Jimmy gave the name to the general national feeling that was pervasive during the last half of his one and only term. In a television address, he actually said there seemed to be a kind of “malaise” in the country. He was right.

Jimmy Carter is a good man, but was a poor leader. Granted, he inherited some challenging issues, but he wasn’t a problem solver and didn’t inspire confidence. Does that sound familiar? Replace the name at the beginning of that sentence with Barack Obama and everything to follow fits, with one exception: Obama has had two terms to make a difference. Sadly, if you converted the polling numbers for our national condition under this president’s watch to letters they would spell: malaise.

And my criticism isn’t political — I worship at the throne of results. Two things cause Americans to have a positive outlook: feeling secure and feeling successful. Unfortunately, looking at the facts — and the polls — in front of our eyes, these two areas are not positive.

Here are four simple traits that I would like to see in our next president, and I don’t care which party the possessor of these comes from:

  • Proven leader who hates mediocrity
  • Passionate about America’s greatness
  • Politically incorrect about defending America
  • Believes economy can grow at more than 2%

    What does your list look like? If you’d like to tell me, leave a comment.

  • Celebrating American independence and entrepreneurship

    Seven score and 13 years ago, Abraham Lincoln’s inspired speech at the Gettysburg Cemetery dedication included these words: “…our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

    Four score and seven years earlier, one of those fathers, Thomas Jefferson, penned what is arguably the most important secular document in history, the Declaration of Independence, which included this passionate passage:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Having the spirit, courage, and vision to declare independence at a time when monarchy was the globally accepted model of government was unprecedented. To fight for those principles then, and defending them from within and without in the two centuries since, is impressive.

    To be sure, America has had lapses in the delivery of some of these tenets. Indeed, while Lincoln was trying to save his beloved country, he made this judgment: “We made the experiment; and the fruit is before us.”

    Even today, America is a work-in-progress. We’re on a journey of understanding that has many stations where new things are learned and past wrongs can be righted. But in terms of contribution to the world, Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill” has an incomparable record. Warts and all, the United States of America is still a benefactor nation like no other in history, with millions, if not billions of beneficiaries.

    Freedom to dream is found in other lands, as is freedom to pursue dreams. But no entrepreneurial soil is more fertile than in America, and it’s because of those who had the conviction to create our founding documents, the will to deliver them, and the courage to defend them.

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been essential to millions of American small businesses. If you ask anyone anywhere on the planet where to go to start a business and have the greatest chance to succeed and accrue the fruits of that labor, the answer would be America. Like the Founders, generation after generation of American small business owners have demonstrated courage as they claimed and perpetuated the American dream.

    As we celebrate the blessings of another Independence Day in America, let’s hold fast to Lincoln’s closing prayer so beautifully conveyed in his 1st Inaugural Address. That the relationships we have with each other will be “touched by the better angels of our nature.”

    Write this on a rock … Happy Independence Day, America.

    Mr. President, a recovery is not an expansion

    Dear President Obama:

    For as long as there have been organized economies there have been economic cycles, of which there are essentially three elements:

    • Beginning at the bottom, a recession (sometimes, but rarely, a depression). Historically, sir, recessions are short – often measured in months.
    • In the middle is a recovery, which has the task of healing the defects that caused the downturn while reversing negative growth. Depending on the severity of the recession, recoveries take a little longer, from months to a year or so.
    • And finally, the tide that floats all boats, the expansion. Expansions can last for years, as they did under two of your predecessors, Reagan and Clinton.

    In America, we expect a recovery to be a means to an end, not a way of life. Alas, that isn’t your standard, because perpetual recovery has been our economic fate since you took office, four months before the Great Recession ended in June 2009.

    Recently, in a speech in Elkhart, Indiana, you said this: “By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here at the beginning of my presidency.” Those of us who have made payroll every month of your tenure see things differently, as, apparently, does your own Department of Labor. Two days after the Elkhart speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a measly 38,000 jobs were created in May – the worst jobs month in six years. And labor participation – the number of Americans who work – has languished under your watch at rates not seen since the last president who manufactured malaise, President Carter. You can’t have an expansion, sir, if people aren’t working.

    Let’s review your economic performance, Mr. President, by the numbers. First, we’ll cut you some slack and throw out your first year in office, 2009. The recession ended halfway through, but ’09 was a horrible year you didn’t create, going almost 3 percent negative. But the next six years, through 2015, the economy averaged a pitiful 2.15% GDP growth. Those are not expansion numbers, sir, and they’re the worst for any president since World War II. Any economist will tell you an expansion is annual growth averaging at least 3%. By the way, 2016 is not trending any better than the past six.

    It’s a misnomer to refer to a president as “handling of the economy,” because there are really only two ways you factor directly into its performance: 1) helping by getting government out of the way of job creators; and 2) hurting by putting government in the way. Mr. President, you’ve set a record for the latter as an unprecedented assaulter on job creators. Your weapons are:

    • Anti-business rhetoric – “You didn’t build that” and referring to successful people as “fortunate” who need to pay their “fair share”;
    • Anti-business laws – both the specter and the reality of Obamacare, plus Dodd-Frank, to name the big two;
    • Anti-business regulations, guidance and executive orders from your EPA, NLRB, Labor and FCC.

    All of these are unprecedented for any president in their tone, scope, and damage. Not to mention the palpable fear and uncertainty that manifested among job creators.

    Here’s more evidence: The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism, the gold standard for such research, reports the longest stretch of pessimism in the Index’s 43 years during your presidency. This from the sector that creates over half of the jobs and half of the U.S. economy. In my own polling of small business owners, only 9% think you have “been good for the economy,” while more than two-thirds think your policies have been “an economic nightmare.”

    Referring to the economy in the Elkhart speech, you said, “We can make it even stronger.” Who are “we,” Mr. President? The Oval Office door will soon hit you in the backside for the last time. With all due respect, sir, if “we” make “it” stronger, that will happen after you leave.

    Write this on a rock … Out here on Main Street, Mr. President, we’re not going to miss you when you’re gone.

    A father’s tough love is the harder job

    As the father of an adult daughter and son, and the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about love.

    All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father—biologically, emotionally and experientially.

    A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this metaphor: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Don’t get between a momma bear and her cub.” I have been a witness to, and recipient of both of these expressions of love, and there truly is no other force in nature like it.

    But it troubles me that there are no corresponding references to a father’s love. In fact, a human father’s love is more often associated with unfortunate references such as, “tough” and “disciplinarian.” And here’s a warning no child has ever heard: “Just wait ’til your mother gets home!”

    Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just sayin’ …

    Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love – with justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth, they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap. Here why:

    Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of Homo sapiens.
    When a father’s parental toughness is called for, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that has found the courage to at once endure an immediate negative response and a willingness to defer gratification – sometimes for years.
    No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially single moms), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

    Mothers, please forgive any bias you may detect, but here’s my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet love is a father’s tough love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

    Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.




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