Move beyond word-of-mouth

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Word of mouth marketing is great. Your happiest customers tell people they know how wonderful you are. Then those people come along, get the same help, and tell their friends too. It's a wonderful, virtuous cycle.

Until it's not.

Don't over-rely on word-of-mouth marketing

I have a friend who has built a successful coaching practice over many years. Almost all of his business has come from referrals from satisfied clients. At the beginning of the year, though, he was ill. As he took a couple of months to fully recover the referrals dried up. I have been working with him to help reach out to a new audience.

You need a consistent flow of customers to make it work

Referrals breed other referrals. The problem is, if that chain is interrupted for any reason, the system stops working. Perhaps you want to take a break. Perhaps you want to study. Perhaps you want to move somewhere new. Any one of these things will mean starting from scratch.

You're only reaching a narrow audience

People know people who are like them. If your work comes through referrals, you're going to get the same kind of client, over and over again. That might be a good think if you've found your niche, but is it what you want? Perhaps there's another type of person out there who would be an even better fit.

Re-establishing yourself is hard work

Once the chain is broken you have to find another way to reach people. Typically, that involves meeting them in person. This leads to a feast or famine situation. You go out looking for clients, you work with them, then you have to go out looking for more.

The alternatives to word-of-mouth

For many people marketing is a dirty word. It's associated with trickery and slimy salespeople. It doesn't have to be that way though. You can use marketing tools to reach and help more of the right people. By making a clear, well-described offer of your practice you can let people decide if what you do is right for them.

Referrals and face-to-face meetings give people an excellent idea of what it would be like to work with you. The trick is to find other ways of doing that too.

Talking to people

Getting up in front of an audience is an excellent way of reaching lots of people at once. You naturally start conversations with potential clients just by speaking.

These tips will help you get started:

  • Begin small. You want to be genuinely confident when you speak. Start with an audience which doesn't terrify you and build from there.

  • Solve a problem for your audience. Make sure you have a clear idea of what people will get from listening to you.

  • Make your talks interactive. Ask questions and get the audience involved. Not only does it hold their attention, it'll feel more conversational for you, too.

Moving online

Moving online can be daunting. The trick is to take what you know works in real life, and then move it over. Aim for the clients, topics and tone which already work best.

There's another thing you don't have to learn from scratch either. Start with the online platforms which you already know well. If you use Facebook a lot, start a Facebook group. If you use Twitter, create an account specifically for your practice.

Once you've found a platform or two, get sharing. Create content which helps the kind of people you work with. By giving them a taste of the kind of help you give they will be far more likely to reach out to you for further assistance.

Get to know your clients even better

The big challenge with any step beyond referrals is that you need to be clear about your own value. You can't just leave it to potential clients to figure out for themselves.

The best way to do this is to get out there and talk to your clients. Ask existing clients what worked for them, and what didn't. Ask them what they really got out of the time they spent with you. Ask new clients what their problems are. Build solutions that can solve those problems. Let people surprise you!

Solve the problem people have right now

The harsh truth is that few people really care about you and your business. Instead, they care about what it can do for them. They have busy, stressful lives. They only care about solving the problems they have right now.

To reach people you need to explain your service in terms of the problems they have right now. You'll undoubtedly take them on a journey so that they understand those problems differently. But you must start by reaching people where they are now.

Practice, practice, practice

Marketing what you do can seem daunting. It's learnable, though. It's a skill which you can master. By focusing on understanding your clients thoroughly, you can reach out. You can find more of exactly the kind of people you can help the most. That's a good thing for everyone.

I'm helping people like you build their personal development practice into sustainable, effective businesses. I am offering two workshops one in Brighton and one online in June on building your business with empathy. In these workshops you'll learn some great techniques to know and understand your clients better.

I also run the People Developing People community, a space where you can get the support you need to grow your personal development practice.