There is one simple thing that has played a huge part in helping me to build a profitable and sustainable client-based creative business:
Word of mouth referrals.
My own online presence, content marketing, and business strategy have played a big part in helping me to move forward in my business, but word of mouth referrals have been able to have an impact in a way that I could not have made alone.
Somebody else saying how awesome you are is so much more powerful than saying it yourself.
The thing about cultivating game changing word of mouth referrals though is that, a lot of the time, they can feel completely out of your control. I didn’t realise how much of a game changer they were going to be for me until 30-50% of my client bookings each month started to come from referrals from past and current clients. You can’t force your clients to rave wildly about you to anyone who will listen, but what you can do is run your business in a way that is authentic, delightful, and ultimately a word-of-mouth machine that turns paying customers into lifelong brand ambassadors (and if you’re lucky, returning customers at some point too).
So if you're looking to cultivate word of mouth referrals to help you build a sustainable, thriving, and booked-out business, I have four key steps for you today to explore that could be the things you need to end the feast and famine cycle that you may have found yourself trapped in.
1. Do Good Work
This one sounds so simple, but it changes everything. Every single time you show up and work with a client, make sure you do good work. Be of service, give it 100%, and always overdeliver and delight. You cannot cultivate word of mouth referrals if you’re not doing incredible work that’s worth talking about. You need to be serving those who you can serve best, doing work that’s centred around your own expertise and creative superpowers, and you need to actually care about your clients and their experience of working with you.
Takeaway: Be incredible, unforgettable, and undeniably good at what you do.
2. Create A Process That Delights
Your client process is so important. It’s how you do good work, put your clients at ease, and make their experience working with you as delightful as possible. A clear and focused client process keeps you on track, it helps to make sure that your time working together is as purposeful and productive as possible, and it’s essential for if you truly want to deliver with tangible results for your clients (which is what they need if they’re going to tell people you’re worth investing in after they finish working with you).
You want your client process to be streamlined, focused, and engaging for your client too - and if you’re not sure where to start? Myself and Regina of byregina.com hosted our first Scrappy Hour all about Client Processes That Delight, so if you want to dig into this one more you can head over here to get the workbook and workshop recording.
Takeaway: A client process that wows is the secret to delighting your clients and leaving them excited and ready to recommend you to others who they know you can serve with your work.
3. You Need Tangible, Game-Changing Results
Your clients invest in you for a reason. There’s a result they're looking for. Maybe it’s photographs of their wedding day. Maybe it’s new branding for their business. Maybe it’s improvement in their health and wellbeing, or maybe in their relationship or personal growth. Whatever it is, there is a reason they hired you. It’s your job to deliver on that. For your work together to lead into word of mouth referrals, they need to feel like they got exactly what they invested in…and more.
If we want to cultivate game changing referrals, we need to build a business that is rooted in getting our clients results. Doing good work and delivering above and beyond has to be our main priority if we want to build a business worth talking about. So get super specific on what it is you deliver, and explore how you can make sure you do every single time. And if you want to go the extra mile? Overdeliver and wow a little too.
Takeaway: Clients need results if they’re going to recommend you to others. Define what those results look like for you, your business, and your clients.
4. Maintain The Relationship Long After Your Time Working Together Ends
If you’re anything like me, you probably end up building a pretty strong relationship with the majority of your clients that means you keep in touch from time to time long after you finish working together. Don’t just disappear once you wrap up your final meeting or deliverable; remember that this person is someone who invested in you, your vision, and your work, and that keeping in touch not only feels good but it’s also purposeful for your business too.
Word of mouth referrals can happen months, even years, down the line - but they need to remember you to recommend you long after you’ve finished working together. So keep rooting for them even after they’ve stopped being a client; if you’re a wedding photographer, send them a print on their anniversary, if you’re a web designer, cheer them on when they move forward with their brand, if you’re a coach, continue to celebrate their wins with them along the way.
Takeaway: Not all word of mouth referrals happen overnight. Don’t forget to stay in touch with past clients from time to time long even after your client engagement ends.
Past and previous clients can become your biggest cheerleaders, your most loyal brand ambassadors, and the secret weapon in your marketing toolbox that can resonate like nothing else can. They also become pretty awesome friends along the way too - my current and previous clients are always the first in my inbox cheering me on whenever I launch or share something new, and they’re always the first to share it with their communities with a heartfelt pledge that they believe in what it is I’m doing and who it is I can serve. And that is crazy game changing, not just for business growth, but feeling good and crazy fulfilled from your work too.
Prioritise your current clients; make delighting them, showing up for them, and being a game changer for them your number one priority, and it will move your business forward in ways you didn’t know was possible.