The Power of Referrals and Word of Mouth Marketing

I’ve never sold anything at any business networking event. Have you?

An introduction to BNAA and BNI and how to do business networking the way it’s meant to be done.

business card exchange

Doing the business card shuffle

I have been going to business networking meetings at Chambers of Commerce and gallery openings and industry specific events and conferences and seminars and dinner parties and everything in between for the past 11 years. I network with anyone from start ups and solo entrepreneurs, to owners of SME’s and everyone in between, some of my activities are really social networking, and  I often refer to myself as a business networking trollop. As they say: “I’ll turn up at the opening of an envelope”. I can’t get enough of it, it seems, yet I don’t think I have ever sold anything at any event I have ever attended.

For the past 3 years I’ve been a member of something called BNAA ( in Tasmania and prior to that, for about 10 years, I was a member of a similar organisation called BNI in Sydney. You might have heard about BNI, which stands for Business Network International (There are many BNI groups around the world have a look at )

When you are a member of a BNI or BNAA group, you take networking to another level altogether, and we meet every week for breakfast at 6.30 am, week in week out, about 48 weeks of the year.

Why ever would I do such a thing?

Strange behaviour if I’ve never actually sold anything at a networking event, right? Maybe I and my weekly breakfast partners are we masochists? I suppose some of us might be, I wouldn’t like to speculate… But I’m certainly not. I get up week after week, rain hail or shine for one reason only, and that’s because it’s worth it.


bored I get up every week because it is the most effective form of local small business marketing i know. I meet with my fellow members for the purpose of referring qualified business opportunities to each other, real honest to goodness paying clients. I and most of the members of my BNAA group, rely for a significant percentage of our new business on the group. About 50% in my case. That’s worth getting out of bed for, don’t you think? Now I can hear you thinking: “Oh spare me, I’ve been to so many networking events and nothing ever comes of it. There is nothing more boring I can think of doing … watching paint dry is more fun… no one’s ever bought anything from me, networking, chamber of commerce gatherings, you name it, they’re all an enormous waste of time.”

Fair enough, I hear you, they usually are… That’s to say, if you go to a networking event with the aim of selling stuff, they will just about always be a complete waste of your time.

I heard someone give an address to a networking event some time ago and he said: “Hands up everyone who’s here to sell something?” and most people raised their hand. Then he asked: “Hands up everyone who is here to buy something?” This time no one raised their hand, demonstrating once and for all that going networking to sell stuff is a waste of time.

The mindset

So why does my BNAA business group work for me and for most of the members of the group? The difference is a mindset. In BNI and in some other business networking organisations we support each other by focusing on one thing only, and that is: Word of mouth referrals.

What that means is this: We don’t set out to sell stuff to each other, because we know that mostly the others in the room don’t necessarily want to buy stuff. Instead we ask our fellow members to introduce us to their friends and clients and their network.

Here’s how that works: the other day I had a conversation with one of my fellow members who is an event manager. I don’t run events, none of my friends are about to get married and none of my clients are planning a conference, so on the face of it there was little I could do to assist her. But we spent some time getting clear about her perfect clients and then she and I went digging around in my existing networks. We found 4 people in Linkedin, as it happens, who met her criteria and I sent all 4 of them an email mentioning that I have a good friend who is an event strategist and would it be ok for me to introduce the two of them to each other. Within half an hour I had a reply from one of those contacts saying: Yes please we are just about to start looking for someone and it would be great to talk to your friend because we’ve had some terrible experiences with event managers in the past.

Just last week my friend signed a contract with this company for a small user conference to be held in a few months.

Sabre Tooth Tigers

sabre tooth tiger Great outcome all round, it made me feel great to have made the introduction and I’m sure that my friend will do a great job for this client because she always does.

And that is the point of this whole article. The best, easiest, cheapest, most profitable new business you can get for your business comes from word of mouth referrals.

If I need a plumber, I am 10 times more likely to ring a friend and ask him for the name of his favorite plumber than to go to the local paper or search on Google for a plumber.

We are wired that way as human beings. It’s actually a leftover from prehistory, the days of the Sabre Tooth Tiger (I wrote about the principle in an article some years ago here) Of course there is a place for all kinds of marketing (and even advertising), but if you can get a referral from someone who trusts you, you are so much more likely to get the business and it costs you nothing.

Seth Godin

As so often, Seth Godin said it best:
“If you want to be successful in business you only have to do two things:

  1. Do great work
  2. Make sure lots of people know about it”

And that is how simple it is. Make sure you deliver a great product or service and then make sure that people know that they can trust you to do great work.

The quickest way for people to trust you is by having someone they trust tell them they can trust you.
Focus on having others spread the word for you and you will indeed build a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come… I promise you.

Marketing and the Golden Rule of Business

Throwing the switch to vaudeville

A lesson from getting personal

My last newsletter was rather personal. I was a bit nervous sending it out as one of my newsletters… after all, I’m a business coach, not a life coach, and besides, when I sat down to write the article I had an entirely different article in mind, something about small business support programs in Holland. But when I sat down to write it, an article about death and change and fear and sadness and frustration came out instead.

Well I sent it and it has been an amazing experience. Where normally I might get one or two comments from people, this time I had a flood of comments, emails and phone calls. Two weeks after publishing it I’m still getting the occasional comment. People coming up to me across a crowded room, just to give me some feedback, and often to thank me for writing it.

hugging It’s been simply heart-warming.

Initially I decided not to put it on my blog because it felt strange to do so, but I’ve put it up there now, so if you haven’t seen it or you’d like to forward it to someone, you can do so from here:

To everyone who went to the trouble of thanking me and letting me know how much they appreciated the article, thank you. I can’t tell you what a lovely feeling it has been to get such a flood encouragement.

Lessons for a business coach

But I’m still a business coach, so although there are some very clear lessons for my future writing (more about that later), I think it is worth reflecting on some business lessons from the experience.

The lesson I took is this:

We are all hungry for personal connection. As I’ve said before and many before me, the Golden Rule of Business is this: People want to do business with people they know like and trust.

That means that even though I am a business coach and can write all kinds of really clever things about business, people want to get to Know me, Like me and Trust me first and foremost.

Plenty of information available already

And it makes sense. If you want to know something about business, it’s not hard to look it up. The bookshops are full of books about business. Search for the word business in Amazon and just see how many titles come back; Also, there are millions and, millions of videos about business on Youtube and more business blogs than you could ever read in a life time. Nobody’s actually waiting for my cleverness about business.

ten truths for fun And what’s more, I’ve already written some very clever books (!) about business (and if you’d like them in E-book or Audio book form, you can download them for free via my download page here: There is actually less and less of a point to keep adding to the mountains of business information that all of us are bombarded with and have at our finger tips.

The same can be said for many fields of interest I think. Unless we truly have something new and different to say, we should ask ourselves if we are actually doing the world a favour by pouring out our words of wisdom that mostly repeat what many others (think Micheal Gerber, Seth Godin, Peter Drucker, Jim Collins) have said before us, in slightly different form.

Personal stories are different

But personal stuff… now that’s different. I think the people who enjoyed my article about Death and tough questions had generally two reactions:

  • They might have said something like: “I’m so glad to hear that others have these experiences and these fears and these frustrations… I’m not alone.”
  • Or they might have said to themselves: “That’s nice, that shows me a side of Roland I hadn’t seen before, and I feel I can relate to him a bit better now.”

Both reactions are lovely of course. (By the way, there were obviously also some people who didn’t enjoy the article, I had a few ‘unsubscribes’, but that’s fine, people who didn’t enjoy what I wrote are probably people I shouldn’t be talking to anyway.) And if the purpose of my newsletter (and most business newsletters) is to engage with people over a time frame so that those people get to “Know, Like and Trust” me, I couldn’t ask for a more positive outcome.

paul_keatingPaul Keating

I’m reminded of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s remark when asked how he might make himself electable after his years as Bob Hawke’s very serious treasurer: “Oh don’t worry, I can flick the switch to Vaudeville when I have to” was his quip (I do miss Paul Keating, love him or hate him, there was a lot more fun in politics in those days it seems to me).

And so will I, well maybe not quite Vaudeville, but it’s clearly time to share more of my personal journeys with my readership.

It means allowing more of my vulnerabilities and foibles to be on display a bit more and that’s not a bad thing I think. Please do give me your feedback from time to time, positive and negative, I promise I won’t crumple.

What about you?

So let me ask you: Are you at risk of trying to convince your audience how brilliant you are before you’ve allowed them to get to Know, Like and Trust you?

How can you share more of your personal story with your audience?

roland Thanks for listening,

Speak soon

Roland Hanekroot

PS: My mother seems to have perked up a bit again in the last two weeks, maybe Death wasn’t actually in the room after all and it was just my fears coming through.

PPS: I didn’t get a business class upgrade from Singapore Airlines and worse than that they made me miss my connection in Singapore, so I’m not sure what the message in that is.