Referral marketing is a virtually free, but dependable marketing strategy. Really, it isn’t a marketing strategy as much as it is leveraging great management and customer service. The marketing piece really means just using what you are already doing right. But building a partner network may involve a little more strategic thinking. John Jantsch describes your partner network as “a group of business owners who share your description of an ideal customer.” It’s the same group of business owners who are marketing to the same people you are and may offer services or products that compliment yours.

A friend told me about a partner network that is working really well in Columbus, Ohio. In a more upscale version of a tiny strip mall (five businesses), and three of them have partnered together. One is a candle shop where customers hand blend their own colors and scents, one is a salon and one is a wine shop and bar. They offer package deals (pedicure, candle, wine) that allow the customers to move from one business to another. Great for brides-to-be, great for birthdays, great just because. They all get exposure from each other’s businesses. This is the goal.

Best bet for you is to sit down and brainstorm every single logical business that might compliment yours. Then, first, look over businesses you personally know and trust that fit within these categories. That is where to start because you do not want any business as part of your referral network if you don’t feel confident in them. Also, think over they types of businesses customers might have asked you to refer them to. Then, start asking friends, family, employees and CUSTOMERS for business names they’d recommend within your complimentary categories.

Be sure to be open to and considering these kinds of relationships whenever you are at any type of industry organization meeting or conference. Once you’ve developed a strong list of possible specific business owners, Jantsch recommends sending them a letter asking them these questions (direct quote from The Referral Engine):

  • How would I spot your ideal customer?
  • How would I best describe your unique benefits, approach, products, services, or value proposition?
  • What might prospect say to trigger me to know they need to be referred to you?
  • What is your marketing process once you receive a referral?

Once you’ve built a network of people who have said yes to partnering with you, you can do co-branded information products, present joint workshops, you can share their marketing materials with your customers (and vice versa), you can have informal gatherings for all of your partners to meet, or create a joint blog with content from each business. For more ideas, read the book.

Don’t forget to give your business partners the answers to the above bulleted questions so they can properly refer you in return, ask them to mention you on social media sites and make sure you keep them abreast of current promotions.

Our readers would like it if you’d share the categories you felt were complimentary to your business. I’d appreciate it if you’d do so below.


by Steven Schlagel