Stop advertising and go with referrals

Stop advertising and go with referrals — that’s the suggestion from Robert Ellis of Smart Strategies (link expired). He and his company have sworn off advertising. They now only accept business from referred clients:

Some time ago we decided to quit accepting new clients unless they had been referred. We took down the signs on our building and even took the signs off our front door. The only evidence we are even in the county is a tiny sign right beside the elevator.

Ellis makes some great points. He notes that referred clients are already sold — your contacts have made them hungry enough for your services that they don’t need any further selling. In a business like consulting, where relationships and reputations drive accounts, it’s great to have someone else pre-sell your clients. Clients who believe in the value you can deliver also tend not to argue over your consulting fees.

Around 90% of my clients come through referrals. And the only real advertising I do is through my website. I still take some new leads, although I’m pretty picky nowadays. I like to make sure my client has the right fit.

Read more about basic selling skills.

Rod Solar says:

I agree that referrals are the lifeblood of any consulting business – in fact I spend about 30% of my time consulting on referral generation, and training people how to earn raving fans and get referrals.

However, referrals are a drug that can lead to some pretty severe withdrawal symptoms if they aren’t consistent. From my own personal experience and the experiences of my clients, I would not stop all non-referral prospecting. These include speaking, web marketing, and… dare I say it… cold calling. It takes a while to build a pipeline of prospects and the prospecting skills necessary to build one, and you don’t want to allow your prospecting skills to atrophy.

I know it would be wonderful to avoid all forms of non-referral prospecting forever, and one could possibly ‘maintain’ a business that way. However, referrals will rarely GROW a business. It’s far too easy to fall into complacency by letting your clients do all of your prospecting for you. Your business is an investment, and it pays to diversify your sources of new clients.