When I started my business in March of 2010, I realized that I didn’t know as many people as I’d like to. Even though I’d been living in Columbus since the summer of 2007 – searching for a job, getting married and figuring out what I wanted to do in life took me out of a lot of social circles.
In Springfield, where I was born, my last name tends to carry some weight. I get a lot of “Are you one of THE Young’s??” – which is a bit silly mind you. But people have been coming to my family’s farm for 50+ years. They trust and respect the job we’ve done over that time and admire how we’ve been able to continue our growth. But in Columbus, there is rarely a time where someone asks if I’m one of ‘THE’ Young’s or when I tell them my background, they’ve even heard of my family’s place.
So I had work to do establishing my brand. There were many web design firms in town (apparently more than lawyers!) and making an impact in their backyard was going to be reliant on one thing. The ability for me to make connections and get referrals.
My focus in the beginning of my business was to get business. Under promise & over deliver. I wanted to market my company as a trustworthy and worthwhile investment for companies. That was going to be the way I would win over clients and get them to be walking advertisements of Shout It Out Design. I got my first few clients by way of Young’s Dairy, people in the Springfield/Dayton area who were familiar with my family and knew I was someone that could be trusted. I offered them a great deal on the service I was going to deliver and I knew that the people I was going into business with were going to succeed, and would give me some credit when they did.
Once I got through my initial burst of clients I looked for my next step in culling referrals, networking. I started attending more chamber of commerce events and meeting people there that could help my business grow. During one of those events, I met a guy who told me about BNI (Business Networking International). I had read about BNI as a great opportunity to get to know some local business people and was interested in joining. Once I sat in on a few meetings, I knew that BNI was going to be crucial to my growth.
BNI distinguishes itself from a typical ‘open networking’ group such as a chamber or rotary group by only allowing one profession per group. So, for example, I’m the only web designer allowed in my group, there is only one CPA allowed per group, etc. This way, all the business for that profession goes to the one person in the group – there isn’t a competition for referrals. I’ve been attending BNI meetings since October and have gained 3 new clients from it already and have more than paid for the investment to join.
Now that I’ve grown to 25 clients in my first year, I’m hitting a ‘critical mass’ as my Board of Director (Dan Young, CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy and my father) calls it. I haven’t had to cold call/email anyone – I’m picking clients, I’m able to say no to someone if I feel they won’t be a great fit for my business. This is a great time for my business. My referrals are referring people to me. I not only encourage my clients to refer people on to me, I constantly remind them of the different things that I can provide for them in hopes that they will use more of my resources, but if they know someone who needs something I offer, they know who to call. I also am constantly on the lookout for bringing referrals to my clients as well. After all, referring business should be a two way street. BNI’s philosophy is “Giver’s Gain – I will want to give business to you if you give business to me.”
What happens when you get a referral? Be sure to thank the person who referred you. I always give a small gift, if only a Panera gift card, etc. to extend an appreciation that when the time came, they were looking out for me and my company. This serves two purposes, you let them know that what they did for you was appreciated and gives them a little extra incentive to do it the next time.
How do you get referrals? Do you put yourself in a place to get them? What kind of system do you have in place to reward your referral base? Let me know below – maybe you have a better way of doing things. I’m always up for suggestions! And by the way, if you know someone that needs a website, I know a guy 🙂