Your past customers are not limited to customers you have dealt with in this particular business. It can actually be anybody you have dealt with in the past: Friends, Colleagues, Family, former employers, people who have dealt with you in other businesses, and even people you have hired such as accountant/bookkeeper, dentist, teachers, plumbers, the grocery store(s) where you shop, doctor, mechanic, etc.
If it's feels like it's been too long since you spoke to someone, it's probably time to contact them again. In fact, in his book “Book Yourself Solid”, Michael Port suggest that you keep in touch with the most valuable members of your network once every 30 days.
Where to Start Marketing
The best place to start marketing is with people you already know. Be prepared to mix and appropriately apply the following strategies depending on each situation:
If you have a supportive family, ask them to get the word out. Tell them what your business is all about and ask them to tell you who they think might be able to use your services. Send your kids to school and ask them to give the pamphlets to their friends to take home to their parents.
With families spread all over the place these days, you may not have kept in touch with them as much as you would have liked. Here is a great opportunity to call them up and, when they ask “what have you been up to?”, you’ll be ready to share with them. Ask them “How could you take advantage of my services?” If they answer that they can’t, ask them to imagine that they could. Set up an imaginary scenario for them. Sometimes this can lead to very interesting discussion from a perspective you had not considered. Finally ask them for the names and contact information of at least 3 other people they know who might make use of your services. Again, be ready to help them get into the right frame of mind by offering some examples… but only if they have trouble thinking of someone. The truth is, everyone knows at least 3 people and most know plenty more.
Colleagues (present and past)
Give them a call! Catch up on their lives. You never know, they may now be in a position to need your services. When they ask you what you’ve been up to or how are things with you, have your answer ready.
Former Employers / Clients
Have you worked for people in the past that were very happy with your work? It’s never too late (unless they are dead I guess) to rekindle that great relationship. When they ask you what you’ve been up to…
Creating an Email List Out of Nothing
If you are like me and have kept every email you have ever sent just in case, well today is the “just in case” day. Create a mailing list. Most people will forgive you if you send out an initial message to announce your business to them. In order to ensure your email is not considered spam, I would recommend that you personalize each email and send them individually. Keep it short and informal. Invite them to give you a call to catch up and to ask them what they think of your new website. Between these two topics, it will hopefully be enough to get a conversation going. You can invite them to take advantage of a special free offer you have going or to enter an “exclusive launch” contest. Any legitimate excuse to get you into a dialogue to the point where you can have a telephone or in person conversation with them. If they don’t want to have a discussion with you, thank them kindly and understand that they don’t need someone with your services right now but always ask if they know of at least 3 other people who might.
Some folks take a chance and automatically add them to a mailing list. If you decide to do this, in the very first email, make it super clear that they can opt-out anytime they want. Some will, some won't. It's kind of the old saying, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. Keep it high quality and don't be a pain in their side and they will be more likely not to opt-out right away.
Keep in mind that the initial list of people you know will eventually run out. To turn this into a long term sustainable plan, look for ways to build your mailing list on an ongoing basis. You can do this by:
- Asking for a least 3 referrals from each person you meet. Even the people who don’t want to hire you might know of some friend, colleagues who could benefit from your services. What have you got to lose by asking them for the names of their 3 biggest competitors?
- Offering free giveaways on your website.
- Offer free teleconference calls on topics related to your business and your target market.
- Offering incentives to people currently on your mailing list who make three referrals.
By the way, just asking "do you have any referrals?" is a closed ended question. A closed question is one that can be answered with one word like "yes" or "no". Ask a better quality question and you will get a better quality answer. In this case, a better quality question is an open ended question, one where the answer isn’t a “yes” or “no”. For example, ask specifically for 3 referrals. People will tend to work harder to answer your question when you ask a better question.
Keep building your list of potential clients beyond just the people you contact. If most people can suggest 3 people, your list of who to contact next will never be empty.
After you've followed up on the three leads, go back to the original client and thank them for the referrals. They will also like the fact that you really appreciated their help and you can even ask if they have anyone else to suggest. People are always more willing to help you if they know that you follow up and aren't just wasting their time.
Always do this after receiving referrals
After you have followed up with any referral you received, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS get back to the person who gave you the contacts. First, to let them know that you finished following up on their suggestions and to thank them profusely for the recommendations. People like to know that their efforts didn’t go the way of the dodo bird. They will love the fact that you took the time to not only follow up with the referrals but even took the time to get back to them. Not only does make you come across as very professional, when you ask, they are much more likely to give you 3 more. Just be sure to always leave people on good terms. People talk amongst each other and you will lose the support of a connector WHEN they find out about any negative incidents.