How to Scale the “Referral Brick Wall." Your Guide to Climbing over the Hurdle that Separates Small Businesses from Rock-Solid Brands

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team August 07, 2012

CEO of ImageWorks Studio, a Custom Web Design & Online Marketing Company

& ,
Managing Partner of Plugin Group, a White-Label Marketing Agency

Sure, we all love referrals – and why not? Warm leads, bundled up tightly with the endorsements of trusted sources, have the highest chance of conversion. Referrals are also a sign that you’re doing something right; after all, someone took the time and effort to refer a customer to you, which means that somebody was genuinely impressed with you and your work. But let’s face it: Word of mouth, referral, organic growth … these channels all hit a brick wall eventually.

What do I mean?

Let me explain. Just about all companies start out with word-of-mouth referrals. Think back to your very first sources of income as a kid: Possibly mowing lawns, babysitting, or washing cars? Surprisingly, the same basic principles come into play for those just starting out in the adult business world: One satisfied customer at the end of the block tells another about the great job that you’ve done for them – and voila, suddenly you’re booked again and again by folks all over the neighborhood! Small businesses typically start with the same sales dynamic in the beginning … but eventually, they learn they cannot depend upon word-of-mouth marketing to carry them over the barrier that separates the major leagues from the minors. The business grows to a certain size through word-of-mouth recommendations – but then, often when you least expect it – POW! You hit a brick wall.

The problem is that word of mouth can only go so far.

At the end of the day, you just can’t count on it to carry your business on a consistent basis. It’s not realistically scalable as a long-term sales strategy. Pretty soon, you’ve done all you can to encourage referrals through your own resources, but – at some point – you’ll tap out the extent of your contacts and the people they know personally. You’ll inevitably reach a stage where you need to go beyond your immediate connections and friends-of-friends, with sales and marketing materials that speak just as encouragingly about your company to the outside world. Once you’ve reach a certain point, you simply cannot depend on your own contacts and existing clientele to propel the growth of your organization over time. Not without some help.

Dear friend, you are not alone.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how many companies in the last decade have come to us with this problem – and it’s almost always a very good thing! Most businesses expand to a certain size based largely on the recommendations of associates and friends … but eventually, they grow to the point where they need to cast a wider net, to keep the trajectory going. They need a solid marketing strategy – and, nine times out of ten, a formal reassessment of their brand – to compete in a bigger pond.

So here is a short list of what we at ImageWorks suggest when your referral network and word-of-mouth growth have reached the inevitable “Brick Wall”:

  • Check the pulse of your brand. Does it need resuscitation? In this day and age, if an uninitiated prospect can’t find signs of life for your business online or offline, they’re likely to move on – killing your chances of selling to anyone outside your personal network.
  • Does your website make a stunning first impression? This platform takes the place of the enthusiastic personal contact, as the initial source that customers use to form their first opinions about you.
  • Are you leveraging the power of social media? This is the shape that word of mouth now takes on the Internet, as a source of third-party information that can be used to assess your true skills in your field of expertise.
  • Can customers find you in the search engines? When prospects type in keywords related to your products or services, does your company appear? If not, it’s time to take action with search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing.
  • Are you taking full advantage of email marketing? This channel still delivers a 56/1 ROI by leveraging the power of opt-in interest, making it the leading strategy for customer acquisition.
  • Do you use online advertising to promote yourself to receptive audiences? These days, you can select exactly where and when your ads appear to reach your target customers for optimal display. Make sure you have a plan and budget in place.

These are just a few of the branding and marketing strategies we recommend, as platforms that can and should be used to take your business to the next level. For more information, visit, or call us at 800-308 -8573.

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