Rethinking Referral Marketing: Build Your Professional Network

August 7, 2015

At this point, we’ve gone through many of the steps needed to build a complete and powerful referral strategy:

  1. Referral Marketing and Your Professional Services Brand
  2. Where Are You Now?
  3. Understand Your Target Audience
  4. Develop a Strategy
  5. Demonstrate Your Expertise

Now it’s time to turn your attention to building our your professional network.

Clients and influencers tend to refer firms with expertise and reputations that they understand — firms they trust. But trust doesn’t always proceed from
 a professional engagement. Often, it may arise as a result of your reputation, your expert content, your social interactions, or a mix of all three.

The fact is that your network is fertile ground for referrals. And today, your professional network extends far beyond the people you meet in person. Social media has grown to become an essential networking tool, hosting vibrant, ongoing conversations between industry leaders. Our research shows that 60% of professional services buyers use social media to evaluate potential providers.

Those evaluations will ultimately determine whether audiences will buy from or refer your firm. But if you haven’t built up your professional network online, or haven’t created a social media presence at all, then these buyers and influencers won’t find you.

Social Media And Networking

Where should you spend your online networking time and effort? Far and away, the most popular social networking platform in the professional services world is LinkedIn. Among buyers we’ve studied who use social media to check firms out, 70% use LinkedIn.

Platforms like LinkedIn are a valuable tool for connecting with decision-makers in your audience, but you can go further. Often, it is valuable to network with influencers, whether those are trusted experts within an organization or authoritative figures in an industry. By linking with and building credibility among such individuals, you may build your credibility and even generate referrals based on your reputation.

But what exactly does it mean to connect with other professionals online? What is the best and most natural way to go about networking?

How To Build Your Network Online

One of the best ways to meet industry figures, build visibility, and contribute to conversations on major issues and trends is to participate in LinkedIn Groups focused on your area of work and expertise. These groups are like ongoing industry conferences that you can participate in at your leisure, allowing you to discuss the topics that matter in your marketplace with other leaders.

Similarly, Twitter allows you to meet and talk with figures in your industry. You might follow decision-makers and influencers in your audience and engage in conversations. Twitter hashtags are often a useful way to organize a continuous online conversation around in-person conferences and events. But while LinkedIn Groups, which are sometimes invitation-only, may allow you to network in a selective and exclusive way, Twitter is far more public, and this may impact the way you communicate.

Building Community

Wherever you conduct your online networking, the key is to remember that you are part of a community. In online conversations, do not simply advance your own ideas, but engage with those of others. Share more than your own content — a good rule of thumb is that 80% of the material you share should be from others, while 20% is your own. This kind of online behavior demonstrates curiosity and interest in others, crucial characteristics for anyone who wishes to build a reputation in professional services.

Above all, give before you get. Show new contacts why you are a valuable connection, offering assistance, insight, or perspective. Cynical or self- interested networking is transparent to most, and is not conducive to a positive online reputation. Be helpful, educating and mentoring those in your online community. By adopting an educational and service-oriented attitude, you will connect with many new people in your industry, and eventually those meetings will turn into a deep and wide-reaching reputation.


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