“Small Business Referrals” …”Word of Mouth Marketing” …”Professional Referral Networks”…

I think a lot of us hear these words, or research them online, and put together a kind of frame of reference that involves many people with ties and briefcases. We mentally call up those stock photography shots of people around a pie graph closing a deal, or celebrating a huge quarter that you’ll find if you image search terms like “business professionals” or “business networking”. Some of us may feel a little alienated by that if we don’t exactly work in sharply pressed attire all day or have a swanky commercial downtown suite. I certainly don’t. I own and run a media business from my home office. I revel in the fact that I can have a casual Tuesday AND Thursday, or maybe rock the “Fletch” look a bit with sneakers and a blazer under a Lakers shirt. Some of us are laborers, contractors, and renovators. Some of use might be toiling on cars all day. Some of us are florists, day care workers, graphic designers, or home inspectors. I think you get the point. Most businesses are “small businesses”. They are not in high rise office environments. They’re in retail outlets, strip malls, business parks, and homes. They’re also less then 15 employees big. With the economy and employment shaking up like a paintcan in a tumbler, there’s adaptively been a rise in the number of home based small businesses and consultancies. In many ways…small business has gloriously and successfully gone guerrilla. Don’t assume that just because you’re a SMB, the benefits of having a referral strategy aren’t within your grasp or beneficial to you. If anything, we’re in more of a position to benefit from them as a result of our flexibility.

There’s also a wickedly inaccurate misconception that there’s minimal to no return when networking with people who don’t do something complimentary to what you do. There’s an element of intimidation and trepidation with joining something like a BNI group, or attending a Meetup. I don’t think it’s because these groups go out of their way to ostracize these potential members or networking partners. I think it’s because professionally, most businesspeople can have negative assumptions if exposed to people who aren’t immediately in their realm of opportunity, and even…dare I say…some of us may be professionally insecure.

I was discussing this with a networking partner of mine who owns and runs a granite fabrication business. He cuts and installs stone, and networks regularly inside of a rotary club and within his own list of people that he’s created. I was pleasantly surprised when he reported to me that he received more then $75,000 work of work in his last fiscal year from one of his networking partners – a caterer. He meets with her regularly, and refers clients to her that he meets when doing installations of kitchen counters and floors. After having met at rotary, he admitted that he wasn’t expecting much of a synergy between them. He assumed that his best bet at gaining some referrals was going to come from the contractor and stonemason who are also a part of his club, and he naturally gravitated towards them because of what felt was a commonality. Although they are great referral partners, and he enjoys a mutually beneficial arrangement with them, he gets slightly more referrals from the caterer. He admitted that he initially avoided a meeting with his catering friend because he didn’t think she’d be in as strategic a position to refer his services. He was wrong.

The lessons? It’s your attitude. Assuming someone won’t be a successful referral partner is a mistake. Discounting referral and network marketing – really any kind of marketing strategy for your business – is also a mistake. It’s not just for those of us who wear suits and ties. It’s for all us. Referrals can come from the most unexpected places provided you’re open to receiving them, and assumption can hinder wonderfully successfully things from occuring.