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Ah, referrals. I can’t think of a more powerful selling tool.

It’s a fact: People would rather do business with people they know–or know of–than with strangers. When you’re introduced to a prospect through a personal recommendation, that prospect has a vastly higher comfort level than, say, a buyer you find through cold calling. After all, few things are more reassuring than a positive endorsement from someone you know and trust.

So why is it that, while we all covet referrals, we don’t pursue them as much as we should? I think it’s largely a matter of developing good habits.

Change Your Thinking
Imagine your business as an infinite web of relationships. Every one of your business contacts has the potential to connect you to dozens of other contacts. The relationships are out there, but they’ll likely remain out of reach unless you actively pursue them. It may never occur to your current contacts to broker an introduction. It’s up to you to put the idea in their heads.

Don’t feel sheepish about asking for referrals; there’s nothing pushy or smarmy about it. People won’t give you referrals unless you deserve them. In fact, getting a referral is the highest compliment you can receive. Let your customers know you prize referrals, which you’ll earn by providing excellent quality products and services.

Make It a Habit
I know one entrepreneur who built a successful business almost solely on referrals. How’d he get so good at it? When he was an eager young sales apprentice, his manager trained him well. Every time he glanced at his watch, which he did often in his zeal to stay on schedule, it meant it was time to ask for a referral. Eventually, it became second nature.

Here are more easy ways to start developing good referral-building habits:

  • When you begin working with a new customer, make referrals part of your initial agreement. “If I do a great job for you–and I will–you agree to give me X number of referrals.” Chances are your customer will be impressed by your dedication and drive.
  • Whenever a customer compliments you, respond with a thank you, quickly followed by a referral request. For example, “I’m so pleased you’re happy with my work. Do you know anyone else who can benefit from my services?”
  • Use every client meeting as an opportunity to collect referrals. To keep yourself on track, jot a reminder down in your meeting preparation notes. Make it one of your standard talking points.
  • Set a weekly goal for yourself. Keep track of the number of referrals you ask for each day. You don’t need to limit your requests to clients; you can also ask business associates, acquaintances and prospects.
  • Make the most of every networking opportunity. Step out of your comfort zone at networking events and set a goal to talk to at least three new people. Plan in advance what you might say. We’re all drawn to interesting, enthusiastic people.
  • Always be specific when asking for a referral. Looking for high net worth individuals? Say so. Interested in midsize companies? Let them know. If you don’t tell your contacts who your target customer is, you’ll waste time pursuing leads you can’t use.

Give and You Shall Receive
One of the most powerful ways to elicit referrals is to give them generously yourself. Whenever you have the opportunity to refer an associate or bring two contacts together, do so. And when you’re attending the aforementioned networking event, make a point of introducing people to one another. Most people will appreciate the referral, and it may inspire them to respond in kind.

One last thought: Always thank someone who has given you a referral. Send them a note, keep them informed of your progress and maybe even treat them to lunch.

What’s the close ratio on referral business, compared to other prospecting methods? I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I’ve seen estimates that range from 50 to 500 percent more. Those are big numbers. Whatever that number is for you, you can bet it’s a whole lot higher than cold calling, advertising, web marketing or virtually any other sales technique you might employ.

The referral is the number-one tool in your tool kit. Get in the habit of reaching for it often–say, as often as you might glance at your watch.

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For millions of people Google is an indispensable search tool that they use every day, in all facets of their lives. From work or school, research, to looking up movies and celebrities to news and gossip, Google is the go-to search engine.

But instead of just typing in a phrase and wading through page after page of results, there are a number of ways to make your searches more efficient.

Some of these are obvious ones, that you probably know about. But others are lesser-known, and others are known but not often used. Use this guide to learn more about, or be reminded of, some of the best ways to get exactly what you’re looking for, and quickly.

    1. Either/or
      Google normally searches for pages that contain all the words you type in the search box, but if you want pages that have one term or another (or both), use the OR operator — or use the “|” symbol (pipe symbol) to save you a keystroke. [dumb | little | man]

 

    1. Quotes
      If you want to search for an exact phrase, use quotes. ["dumb little man"] will only find that exact phrase. [dumb "little man"] will find pages that contain the word dumb and the exact phrase “little man”.

 

    1. Not
      If you don’t want a term or phrase, use the “-” symbol. [-dumb little man] will return pages that contain “little” and “man” but that don’t contain “dumb”.

 

    1. Similar terms
      Use the “~” symbol to return similar terms. [~dumb little man -dumb] will get you pages that contain “funny little man” and “stupid little man” but not “dumb little man”.

 

    1. Wildcard
      The “*” symbol is a wildcard. This is useful if you’re trying to find the lyrics to a song, but can’t remember the exact lyrics. [can't * me love lyrics] will return the Beatles song you’re looking for. It’s also useful for finding stuff only in certain domains, such as
      educational information: ["dumb little man" research *.edu].

 

    1. Advanced search
      If you can’t remember any of these operators, you can always use Google’s advanced search.

 

    1. Definitions
      Use the “define:” operator to get a quick definition. [define:dumb] will give you a whole host of definitions from different sources, with links.

 

    1. Calculator
      One of the handiest uses of Google, type in a quick calculation in the search box and get an answer. It’s faster than calling up your computer’s calculator in most cases. Use the +, -, *, / symbols and parentheses to do a simple equation.

 

    1. Numrange
      This little-known feature searches for a range of numbers. For example, ["best books 2002..2007] will return lists of best books for each of the years from 2002 to 2007 (note the two periods between the two numbers).

 

    1. Site-specific
      Use the “site:” operator to search only within a certain website. [site:dumblittleman.com leo] will search for the term “leo” only within this blog.

 

    1. Backlinks
      The “link:” operator will find pages that link to a specific URL. You can use this not only for a main URL but even to a specific page. Not all links to an URL are listed, however.

 

    1. Vertical search
      Instead of searching for a term across all pages on the web, search within a specialized field. Google has a number of specific searches, allowing you to search within blogs, news, books, and much more:

    2. Movies
      Use the “movie:” operator to search for a movie title along with either a zip code or U.S. city and state to get a list of movie theaters in the area and show times.

 

    1. Music
      The “music:” operator returns content related to music only.

 

    1. Unit converter
      Use Google for a quick conversion, from yards to meters for example, or different currency: [12 meters in yards]

 

    1. Types of numbers
      Google algorithms can recognize patterns in numbers you enter, so you can search for:

      • Telephone area codes
      • Vehicle ID number (US only)
      • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equipment numbers (US only)
      • UPC codes
      • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airplane registration number (US only)
      • Patent numbers (US only)
      • Even stock quotes (using the stock symbol) or a weather forecast regarding the next five days
    2. File types
      If you just want to search for .PDF files, or Word documents, or Excel spreadsheets, for example, use the “filetype:” operator.

 

    1. Location of term
      By default, Google searches for your term throughout a web page. But if you just want it to search certain locations, you can use operators such as “inurl:”, “intitle:”, “intext:”, and “inanchor:”. Those search for a term only within the URL, the title,
      the body text, and the anchor text (the text used to describe a link).

 

    1. Cached pages
      Looking for a version of a page the Google stores on its own servers? This can help with outdated or update pages. Use the “cached:” operator.

 

  1. Answer to life, the universe, and everything
    Search for that phrase, in lower case, and Google will give you the answer.
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1. Automate Your Creative Refresh & Rotate Ads Often

Like Google, Facebook makes its money when a user clicks an ad. As such, it’s in their interest to drive CTR. Since Facebook users can easily get banner blindness, the social network values ad freshness above all else.

It is arguably the most critical factor in a successful Facebook paid social campaign. Make sure you rotate your ads often and if possible automate this rotation so it’s constantly changing every week.

2. Segment ‘Bins’ & Micro-target

The beauty of Facebook targeting is it allows you to get super-granular. And, as we know, segmentation in any marketing program leads to efficiency. Paid social advertisers should take advantage of this by targeting as many relevant demographic bins as possible and creating ads that specifically speak to those demographics.

3. Use Automated Bid Optimization Based On Conversion Events

With dozens, hundreds or even thousands of bins and ads, it’s important to leverage automated bid technology. There are several platforms specifically designed for Facebook ads. Do your homework to determine the best one to help you achieve your campaign goals.

4. Don’t Stop At Solely Tracking Engagement, Track Conversions

Some companies and agencies make the mistake of only tracking front-end engagement KPI’s, namely Facebook Likes and LinkedIn connections. It is important to track all KPI’s including:

 

 

5. Leverage Your PPC/SEO Data To Help You Target New Bins

If you’re running a paid social account you’re probably also running PPC campaigns or managing organic SEO. Don’t look at them in silos because the data you have through those channels can translate into paid social gold.

To start, take the keywords that you know drive conversions for your client via PPC and/or SEO and test-target those keywords as an interest. If it shows sufficient reach, create a bin and a targeted ad and you’ll see results.

6. Test ‘Friends Of Connections’ Targeting

There is a little known targeting option in Facebook that allows you to target users whose friends are connected to a page, event, group or application:

 

 

Think about the potential on this one. The average Facebook user has 130 friends. If you find a page that has 1,000 fans and you target friends of connections to that page, you’re going to reach 130,000 users.

7. Test Occupation Targeting

A very powerful but underutilized way to reach specific consumers is through Facebook occupation targeting.  CEO of aimClear Marty Weintraub spoke about this at SMX Advanced and touched on this recently in Search Engine Watch.

When discussing the proper ways to conduct occupation targeting, he pointed out that selecting job titles within the Precise Interests and then entering a keyword like ‘Marketing Manager’ would result in the following bin:

 

 

You can extrapolate this data to any number of job titles depending on your client’s product.

8. Target Decision Makers On LinkedIn

Facebook isn’t the only paid social platform that allows you to do occupation targeting. LinkedIn is making a great run at the B2B market and allows for some really sophisticated targeting.

Similar to the powerful testing capabilities recently highlighted by Marty Weintraub, LinkedIn was shown to drive comparable results not only test-targeting job titles but high-level decision makers with a presence on the social network.

 

 

9. Test Leading Consumers To Your Fan Page vs. Website

Don’t just lead users to your Facebook page. You should test results by rotating your ads to drive users to every part of your online presence. A completely optimized paid program is essential.

Whether you place a higher premium on your social fan page or website, giving your users more choices will encourage brand awareness, loyalty and conversions.

10. Test Leading Users To Multiple Page Landing Tabs

An update launched this past February now directs users to any location on your Facebook page, i.e. wall, info, etc.  Rotate your ads to drive users to these various pages and optimize based on the conversion rate.

 

 

11. Try Embedding Your Lead Capture Form Within Your Facebook Page

Get the best of both worlds by embedding the same lead capture form on your website within your fan page. Here’s an example:

 

 

As always, conduct continuous testing to measure which approach is most effective.

12. Don’t Use The CPM Option

Facebook CTR’s are traditionally very low, even with a great program. As such, don’t pay Facebook a CPM to simply show your ads, which in tests have not resulted in any lift in impressions, cost savings, click-throughs or conversion rate.

Always select the CPC pricing option.

13. Try Geo-targeting ‘Affluent’ Areas & Luxury Interests

Have a client selling luxury goods or big ticket items? Try cross-targeting affluent areas of the country with luxury interests. For example, target users in Beverly Hills that like cosmetic enhancement brands or users in New York City that like investor services.

You can also go further by digging into the Facebook interest tool. There, you can target relevant ads to ‘owners clubs’ across a wide range of luxury verticals.

14. Leverage Your Facebook Data To Do Other Media Buys

The great thing about Facebook data is that it can give you insights about your consumer base that you might not have otherwise known. Leveraging, among other things, a user’s gender, age and interests can help you make smarter buys across television, display, search and other media channels.

15. Track Every Path To Conversion

If you can get your hands on technology that allows you to conduct cross-channel tracking, its resulting data can be hugely beneficial. It can influence budgeting decisions and help you identify channels that assist the buying process.

 

 

Remember – the overriding principle guiding these 15 secrets is if you’re going to take the time to segment and execute micro-targeting strategies, make sure you build tightly-themed ads that match the segment. This will increase CTR, lower your cost and give you the best chance at having paid social success.

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Strategy #1: Parity

The parity play involves watching what your competitors do, and then either copying them or one-upping them. Parity is seductive because it’s easy and safe. And it can lead to incremental improvements. But it’s just as likely that you’re imitating an expensive tactic that didn’t work for your competitor. In either case, you can never lead your market by following the pack.

Takeaway: Don’t chase your competitors. Chase your customers.

Strategy #2: Novelty

Every business wants to be new and different, so many business leaders equate innovation with novelty. They think if they introduce something new—something that nobody else offers—they will differentiate themselves and capture attention. But what’s new isn’t necessarily valuable or better than the alternatives. In fact, few business breakthroughs are actually new:

  • Apple didn’t invent the graphical user interface, digital music player or smartphone. They vastly improved on existing products.
  • Google didn’t invent the search engine.
  • Nintendo didn’t invent the video game.

Takeaway: Newer isn’t better. Better is better.

Strategy #3: Usability

Most web initiatives cite improved usability as a business objective. While usability is a must for long-term success, it’s really just table stakes. If your websites and products aren’t useful as well as usable, then all the usability in the world won’t help you.

Takeaway: Be useful first. Then be usable.

Strategy #4: Technology

This remains the most common approach to web innovation. It involves making a list of feature ideas or technologies, and then designing your websites or products around them. Designing products based on feature lists leads to unsatisfactory experiences because those lists aren’t oriented to the perspective and needs of your customers. In fact, the majority of your customers don’t care about features and technology. They just want products that are useful to them.

Takeaway: Design your business around people, not technologies.

Strategy #5: Epiphany

The notion of an epiphany—that next big idea that will change everything for your organization and industry—is at once the most seductive and dangerous of web strategies. It’s seductive because it is glorified in the business press and in our cultural myths about how innovation happens. It’s dangerous because it is the business equivalent of the half-court shot. While epiphanies sometimes do happen, they’re too unreliable as a business strategy because they can’t be controlled.

Takeaway: Don’t bank on epiphanies. Processes that are repeatable and controllable are the most reliable sources of innovation.

The Solution: Aim to Be Remarkable

Remarkable sells. Remarkable gets and holds attention. Remarkable is memorable, unique and inspiring. Remarkable builds successful companies like Zappos and breakthrough products like the iPhone.

In fact, if you don’t aim to be remarkable, you are unlikely to achieve even adequacy after the vicissitudes and compromises of any major web initiative. Obvious you say? Perhaps, but rarely practiced because it involves taking risks.

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1. Provide Superior Quality

The best thing you can do to improve your chances of getting referrals is to provide a quality of work that blows clients away. Clients that get these results will be your best advertisements as they have had a great experience and can share their story with others in need of great service.

Without high quality work, you’re unlikely to get many referrals, if any. People simply don’t want to refer a friend to someone who won’t live up to their expectations. If you’re focusing too much of your effort on the other methods of growing referrals, your quality of work can suffer and your other efforts will be wasted.

2. Take Care of Your Customers

Customer service counts for freelancers, too. Focus on providing timely and clear communication, and always be professional. In many cases, the service provided is actually what satisfies the client more so than the work itself.

3. Under Promise, Over Deliver

It’s a bit of a cliche, but it is very effective in allowing you to keep your clients satisfied. Don’t promise them anything that isn’t likely to happen, and give yourself the chance to out-do their expectations. With this strategy they should never be disappointed.

4. Ask for Referrals

Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want. Many clients will be willing to refer you to friends or colleagues, but they may not even think about it unless you bring it up. Remind customers that referrals are a big part of your business, and ask them if they know of anyone that could benefit from your services. If you have done an exceptional job for them, chances are they will make an effort to help you in this way.

5. Distribute Business Cards

Whenever you get a chance, give a business card to a client or perspective client. If someone has your business card they can easily contact you and there is no need to search for a service provider: you’re right there for them.

6. Follow Up with Former Clients from Time-to-Time

Staying in touch with clients and former clients is essential to developing more referral business. If you’ve spoken with a client recently they are more likely to have you in mind when a referral opportunity presents itself. Those who are able to attract a significant number of referrals have found a way to stay in the forefront of the minds of clients.

7. Make it Easy for Others to Refer You

Let’s face it, clients are more likely to refer you if it’s convenient for them. Do they have to search for your phone number, email address, or website address? If so, you’re running the risk that they’ll refer someone else who has made it more convenient for them to do so. Distributing business cards helps in this way, as does periodic mailings or emails.

Real Estate agents do this very well by sending out things like magnets and calendars to clients (Our estate agent sends us a bottle of wine every Christmas! No phone numbers written on the bottle, though… — Ed). When someone is looking for their phone number, it’s easily accessible because of that magnet on the refrigerator. Having a memorable URL is another big help here. If they can’t remember your URL, they can’t tell their friends where to find you without looking it up.

8. Have Clearly Defined Services

Sometimes your clients may know exactly what type of service you have provided for them, but they may not know about some of the other services that you offer. If your services are clearly defined and easily understood, the client might see an opportunity for you to help someone else.

Your website is probably one of your key methods for communicating information about your services. How clearly defined are they? When a referral arrives at your website, will they be able to tell exactly how you can help them?

9. Ask Clients for Feedback

After you have completed a project, it’s a good habit to ask them for their thoughts on the service that you provided. Were they satisfied with your work to the extent that they would be willing to refer a friend? Are there areas that you can improve your work and your service? If you’re able to do a better job of satisfying your clients, you’ll get more referrals.

10. Have a Competitive Advantage

If your client is asked to refer a freelancer, what will make them choose you over someone else? Most of us have a great deal of competition with other service providers. Having an edge or a competitive advantage to separate yourself from the pack will pay huge dividends. Take the time to find something that sets you apart from the crowd, and make sure that it’s communicated through your marketing and promotion. As clients come to recognize your competitive advantage you will have a better chance of getting their recommendation.

11. Thank People for Their Referrals

When someone sends you a referral, take the time to let them know that you appreciate the fact that they thought of you, and let them know that it makes a real difference for you and your business. Friends, family, and clients will feel good about the impact that they’re able to have on your work, and hopefully they’ll look for even more opportunities to send business your way.

12. Grow Your Professional Network

In addition to relying on friends, family, and clients for referrals, developing a strong network of fellow professionals can make a world of difference. Those professionals may have clients that are in need of your services, they may have perspective clients that are looking for something they can’t provide, or the may just have more work than they can handle. In any situation, if they have a contact that they feel is qualified for the job, they’ll probably make a referral.