A business consultant was telling me how “digital is all well and good, but you know that referral will always be your strongest sales machine”. I looked at him blankly for a second knowing full well that he was implying that digital couldn’t provide the 1 to 1 referral opportunity that you get from your trusted network.

In a presentation he gave later that day he then touted – “that everyone needs an assistant to do the grunt admin work for his or her business…” because how can you possibly grow when you are limited by your own capacity.

There seems to be a contradiction going on here, apparently, some parts of your business function can be delegated but the holy grail of business networking cannot.

He is right, in a way, some things can’t simply be delegated to some junior or outsourced and maintaining your network certainly falls into that category because networking is all about building relationships and trust.

But how do you continue to grow if we are limited in both our capacity to meet new people and service our relationships?

I think this is where the previously mentioned business consultant is wrong – and the answer is Digital!

In this day and age, there are so many platforms in the digital world that allow us to build and maintain “virtual” personal relationships and share what appears to be “personalized” information widely. From email newsletters to social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, or a website/blog – we can keep in touch with our network and remind them of what they liked about us in the first place with solid regularity.

So, if you agree that there is only one of you and that you want to engage your network of referrers more regularly – here are 7 good ways to do it?

Small to medium businesses (we are one too y’know) usually do not have a lot of time or the biggest budgets so in our case we have to choose wisely regarding how and where to invest so as to maximize how we connect with our network.

But regardless of size, you simply can’t throw it to someone else. You need to either dedicate time yourself in crafting your communications or build a relationship with a trusted partner to work with you generating the RIGHT kind of content to engage your network.

Just like a face to face conversation: what you say, the way you are dressed and the way you present yourself is very important – so don’t skimp on your approach to this. Treat each piece of communication as if you are in front of that person and provide them with a quality insight that reminds them of your value. I am not going to lie – it takes time and perseverance to scale your network online and you have to be involved to some degree to keep it authentic.

1. Plan

Spending a bit of time (and money) up front to develop a strategy for your online activities can save you money and countless hours (which is the idea right? We are trying to streamline efforts, aren’t we?) in the long run. Pay attention to how you will choose:
• your platforms and tools,
• how you will create the content
• how you can cross share content and
• how you can engage your network continually

Keep a high standard and try to be consistent in your messaging – the end goal is that your network feels and gains value from their interactions with you and your brand at each touch point.

2. It’s not working – what do I do?

First of all – think back to when you began “real life” networking or implemented referral programs for your customers – The results weren’t likely perfect straight of the bat right?

You no doubt tested a few territories, tested your pitch etc. So if you’ve been trying to get a foothold on a platform for 6 months and nothing is happening it might be the right platform for you… for example I heard recently that the Royal Blind Society gave up their Instagram account… There is an obvious laugh to be had here, but it would be interesting to consider their strategic thinking behind both having it and walking away from it.

The key is experimentation – see what your audience likes and play to that.

As a tradie, if you notice that a video of a job you finished recently really resonated with your audience perhaps consider doing that for each of your projects.

Or if you’re a mortgage broker – could your audience be encouraged by regular video updates of how your customers are benefiting from your ongoing service?

Remember just like your pitch – you must be clear about what you do and remind your network why you do it. Show them the joy you get from the successes you have with your client. And if you can’t seem to find results – it may be time to call in the experts; often they can see you business, your customer and how to reach them in a way you can’t.

3. Referral

So, I am expanding my network but how is this going to generate any referrals for my business?

In any digital strategy, advocacy should be a main theme. We all know that it costs more to gain a customer than keep a customer; hence advocacy amongst your network is crucial on two levels, recommendation and repeat business.

How long has it been since you reached out to your customers?

4. After you’ve reached out how do you turn that customer into an advocate?

From our perspective, we focus on two distinct advocacy pathways “active” and “passive”.

Much of the advocacy in Social Media is passive they may like or comment on one of your posts.

A like = endorsement.
A share = a hearty endorsement
A share with a person tagged is pretty much a referral – one of your circle has seen your content and said, “Hey Jo, you really have to check these peeps out”.

These are valuable and the more touch points where you can engage your network to advocate your brand the better. The wonderful side effect of these sort of environments is they have a capability to improve the reach of your network too….

If you haven’t done so already a more active approach to referrals could be to reach out to your network and ASK THEM TO refer your business. Remind them of their importance to your business and the importance of them telling their network about you.

Many business people will be engaged in real world networking events and clubs and in these environments people are encouraged to outline the types of referrals they are looking for. Don’t feel scared to do the same in the digital world either.

5.Be available.

Be sure to answer comments and respond to questions or enquiries. It’s called a social network for a reason – make sure you can answer any comments or questions in a timely manner.

Don’t be afraid of negative comments – A negative comment gives you an unusual chance to have an even more memorable impact – remember the old adage there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

If someone has a gripe about your service be polite and allay their concerns or consternations as quickly as possible – hopefully it’s a misunderstanding, but if not, you have a direct customer insight into an area where your business might not be providing the best possible service.

Celebrate your wins too. If your winning accounts, selling lots of products let people know – just think how often people have said – let’s eat here, it’s a full restaurant it must be good. If you show your full of happy customers that can have the same effect.

6. Tire Kickers

Am I inviting more timewasters into my circle by doing this?

Ultimately throwing your networking into the digital world opens the potential for engaging the wrong audience.

It is important to understand that this itself presents two distinct opportunities:
1. To better hone your messaging to weed out the wrong type of client and
2. It may reveal an opportunity you didn’t realise existed.

7. Competitors

Aren’t I just showing off all the goods so others can copy me?

ep, if your content is good enough to copy, well then, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If you focus on your strategy and continually improve your positioning; someone copying you will always be one step behind.

So if referral is your “strongest sales channel” don’t overlook digital as a genuine opportunity to engage,, build or even re-engage your network. And remember there are only so many hours in any given day. Digital offers you a way to be working on your networking almost anywhere at almost anytime.




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Written By: Michael Menzies