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.

Networking: Getting Involved In Your Community


How networking can lower your stress levels

overwhelmed For most small business owners, the crises never end. You have, staff, suppliers, and clients, inspectors, assessors, OH&S, landlords, councils, work-cover, insurance claims, license renewals, compulsory professional development points, tax, the bank, paperwork, marketing, IT, sales, quality assurance and the list goes on. You run around from brushfire to brushfire all day, and no one seems to be able to do anything without you. As a result, you just don’t get around to doing the stuff you would actually like to do.
And to top it off, your health suffers, your family barely see you and even when you do take a holiday, you are always on the phone, just so the business will still be there when you get back.
Most business owners feel overwhelmed and stressed and unsure where to focus their attention next.

Nobody “gets” it

Try and explain your life to someone who doesn’t run their own business and the chances are their eyes will glaze over before you’ve even finished the first sentence.

Nobody else “gets” it… You may be surrounded by well-meaning partners and friends, but they rarely understand what it is like to be in charge every day, wearing all the hats of marketing, sales, finance, customer satisfaction, quality control, tax, work cover, staff wellbeing, systems and innovation etc etc. etc The buck always stops with you and nobody else.

The feeling of being alone adds to the consistent feelings of overwhelm and stress and can cost the business owner dearly on a personal level, and on a business level from bad decision making and stifled business development.

Soldier on

Yet most business owners just “soldier on” regardless, because they don’t know what else to do and they often feel trapped.

Is any of this starting to feel familiar?

So what can you do to get out of this trap and start to build a Fun Business that sustains you for years to come?

As a business coach who specialises in working with people in trade businesses, I often ask my clients what they believe is the most valuable resources of their business.

The most frequent answers are:

  • My Staff
  • My Customers
  • My Machinery.

In actual fact though, nothing will ever be as valuable to your business as your time and your health. Everything else in your business you can hire, buy or borrow more off, but your time and your health are the only truly limited resources that your business can not live without.

Time to look after you?

So take a deep breath and ask yourself: Is it time to treat those two key resources with the respect they deserve? Time to start to look after yourself and acknowledge that you just can’t do it all on your own?

The good news is this:  There are other people out there who ‘Get it’ – honestly – they are called fellow business owners and getting involved with fellow business owners may be one of the most effective things you can do to lower your stress – and build your business.

One of the most effective ways to build a business that sustain you for years to come is to take the time to get involved with local business communities.

The benefits of doing this are well documented and include:

  • Support and feedback from others who do get it!
  • Shared Knowledge and access to experts.
  • Building relationships and alliances for future business development.
  • Support when you are struggling.
  • Assistance from those who have probably ‘been there and done that’ before.

Jamie gets involved

plumber A client of mine, Jamie, has a small plumbing business based in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. A few years ago Jamie’s life looked just like I described above, he wasn’t sleeping and was stressed and worn out.

One day a mate of Jamie’s with an electrical business invited Jamie to come along to a weekly business breakfast group. Although Jamie had never been much of a networker he decided to attend.

The meeting was a revelation for Jamie, because there, at the breakfast table, were 35 small business owners who were all ‘in the same boat’ and they met every week to support each other in the development of their businesses.

To cut a long story short, Jamie joined the group, and has attended the business breakfast every week for the last three years. The change in Jamie’s outlook on life and business has been amazing. He said to me: “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again and for once, it’s not a train”.

Jamie’s advice

Besides attending the breakfast meeting each week, Jamie also regularly meets with his fellow members one-on-one. He’s often asked for advice and for once, people’s eyes don’t glaze over when he talks about a pressing issue. On the contrary, they roll up their sleeves and want to know more.

One of the objectives of the group is also to refer business to each other, and by the end of year three of his membership, Jamie’s business has grown by 50%, largely as a result of joining the group.

The best news is that Jamie doesn’t feel so isolated anymore, he is even sleeping again and his family get to see him again as well.


Here are some options for getting involved:

  • Join your local professional body’s barbeques, trainings and other gatherings.
  • Join your local or State Chamber of Commerce and get involved.
  • Join a business referral group, such as BNI ( and get involved
  • Join an advisory board program.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will reduce your stress levels and be one of the best business decisions you ever make… I promise you.

Jamie will be involved with his community for years to come… What will you get involved with?

So go on… get out there!

Masterminds observations… Small is the New Big by Seth Godin


small is the new bigI came across this quote by Seth Godin in “Small is the new Big”


“Too many companies believe that their owners would have them make schlock and alienate their customers for the sake of profit…”


Odd really… As human beings, we are prepared to make and do stuff that just isn’t all that remarkable, but when we are the customer ourselves, we expect even the item we’ve bought at a knock down bargain price to be perfect in all respects. Why do we allow ourselves to be tempted to think that “close enough is good enough”?