How Referral Networking Will Determine Small Business Success in the New Year
It’s been an interesting year within the small business community. It seems as though every day presents us with more news of the triumphs and follies for small business marketing. Economically and technologically, it’s been a tumultuous ride. We’ve witnessed the “Linked-In and Facebook show,” and we still aren’t sure what that means for generating actual business referrals; we are experiencing a universal disruption in the housing market; and we are amidst a niche networking phenomenon. Call it the New Year, a new financial quarter, or 2008; regardless, one thing is clear: How we strategically position ourselves now within our business referral network will dictate which small businesses thrive and which just tread in the New Year.
With the future of the U.S. economy unstable at best it is likely we will see small businesses spending less. “Faced with slower business at home, Americans would be more inclined to save,” according to the New York Times. As usual, the first cuts are likely to occur on advertising expenditure. According to a new report by Borell Associates, posted in News Factor, “Marketing budgets will accelerate their shift out of traditional advertising formats — both online and offline — and into non-ad activities such as promotions and public relations.” In other words, your personal and professional business referral exchange just got even more important.
Given the unpredictable cost/benefit nature of advertising, it is only logical that experienced professionals are going to want to make more secure investments. Advertising is expensive and contingent on uncontrollable economic factors - not what a small business wants to rely on. Referral marketing is less dependent on economic factors. The small business community is going to have to look toward secure and proven methods of generating new business. Those professionals who stick together and practice regular business to business referral exchange are best apt to weather the storm.
These shifts are not necessarily negative - in fact, it is during times of uncertainty that seasoned professionals maintain a strong track record while others seem to be sent in a tailspin over every pessimistic headline. Recall the dot-com bubble burst of 2000. Only businesses which were able to personalize and build trusted relationships, maintaining a strong and healthy referral network, survived to see Web 2.0. It’s an excellent time to capitalize on the important professional relationships you’ve been nurturing. At this point it would seem 2008 is going to be the year of the hand-shake and not the checkbook.
What are you doing to strengthen your referral marketing plan for 2008?