There are 3 critical steps to generating referral business online.
1. A professional, credible online presence
You’ve probably heard the expression, “First Impression”, and in the world of internet marketing and social media networks it is even more important. When prospects find you online, they are making judgments about the kind of person and professional that you are. It’s possible that many of these judgments are even happening at a subconscious level, but they are happening just the same.
It is relatively simple to manage these first impressions online, but it still amazes me to see how many individuals and businesses are very lax at updating, upgrading and improving their online image. Maintaining this professional image is paramount to your business achieving trust and credibility. And remember, trust and credibility are two of the most important elements in swaying a customer to make a decision to engage you for your products or services.
The single most important element to controlling first impressions online is to have your own personal marketing website complete with custom, high-quality and professional branding. Most often you achieve this by hiring a graphic designer and web designer to make your company come to life on the internet.
Unfortunately there are many expenses involved in hiring a professional graphic designer or a web designer. Not the least of which is wasted time by not being able to explain what you want adequately so that the results reflect your desires. I often see both designers and customers who are dissatisfied with this process.
One way to avoid the pain of dealing with this yourself is to work with a company or project manager who has experience relaying information between a client and a specialist. In fact, my SMARTblog social media marketing website was developed for this very specific reason.
Michael Addison is one of the top producing mortgage lenders in the entire country. He works out of the Dallas Texas metro marketplace. Just last year Michael closed over $110 million in transaction volume. Michael is clearly one of the most successful mortgage entrepreneurs in the marketplace today.
When Michael and I first connected on the phone we discussed his dissatisfaction with trying to get his personal branding taking care of. He had hired three different graphic designers to get his personal brand completed, and none of them were able to return a result that he liked. He was also spending his evenings trying to set up a website in order to communicate better with his customer base and sphere of influence. This was aggravating to Michael because it really wasn’t something that fit into his key skill set.
Michael wanted to be able to have a very high quality first impression online as well as a new way to communicate with his customers through the fast emerging world of social media. One of the things Michael was afraid of is that this solution would take too much of his time. He was already very busy dealing with clients that he was closing loans for. He definitely was not interested in spending his nights and weekends working on a website or developing social media marketing.
Therefore one of his main requirements was that the system was entirely automated so that it would work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week even if he was not available, on vacation, or just didn’t turn his computer on. This was a tall order, but something I felt was possible. I went on to work for two months developing a product which is now called the SMARTblog and does three things brilliantly.
First, it makes Michael look like a million bucks online. Second, it is set to automatically broadcast information through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter anytime the site is updated. And third, we actually write the high-quality, industry-relevant, credibility building content for Michael without him ever needing to think about it.
A SMARTblog is a full-featured website that is able to be customized for a professional look and feel quickly and easily. It is built on the WordPress foundation which allows easy maintenance and updates by the user. It is also the most widely recognized website system on the planet for being able to communicate effectively through social media networks like Facebook, twitter, and linked in.
The SMARTblog comes preloaded with industry leading plug-ins and software that are installed and configured for immediate use. A few examples of these pieces of software are a YouTube video display plugin, social media sharing software, social media syndication software, premium lead capture software, and many other high-value communication devices.
It should be noted that there are many ways to get a personal marketing website on the Internet. In fact WordPress itself is a free website platform available for download to any person in the world. The fact of the matter is that getting the software itself is the least of a new person’s worries in having their online presence perfected. The customizations and design elements are really the critical factor in terms of generating a positive first impression.
Regardless of how you choose to set up your own personal website as the nerve center for your online communications, it is and will always be the most critical element in connecting with potential customers and developing a deeper relationship before you have a chance to meet a client in person.
2. High quality, industry relevant, credibility building content
The second most important component in developing a good impression online is your ability to stand out as an expert in your industry. The most common way to demonstrate your skill and build credibility in your industry is to deliver high quality relevant content that genuinely helps your potential customer before they become your customer.
It must be noted that it is difficult for most business owners or professional salespeople to find time to write an adequate amount of content and keep up their online presence in a professional way. In fact, based on statistics from Technorati, over 90% of all blog-based websites set up on the Internet today are never revisited to post a single piece of content.
This is easy to understand because everybody is busy. Not to mention, if a person’s core strength was writing, they probably wouldn’t be involved in business or sales in the first place. So this is a case where even though a core component of building your image online requires writing relevant content, it is also a common point of failure for most professionals delving into the realm of Internet marketing.
There are a few different options that you might consider in developing content for your website. First you might consider taking on the challenge in writing the content yourself. In order to write high-quality, industry-relevant, credibility-building pieces of content, you must plan for an hour to two hours for each individual entry. Why do I say at least 1 to 2 hours? When you consider that you need to do research, find corroborating information to reference, identify valuable links and then write and publish the content, there is just no way to do it all in less than a couple hours.
This first option, while it is the most popular decision made by people setting up the website for the first time, is most responsible for a new person’s failure when marketing their business online. The key question you must ask yourself is: is writing content one of the highest value activities that I do in the course of my work? If the answer is no, and you know how much your hourly activity is worth, it is imperative that you find a way to outsource this task to someone who is better at it and can do it for a much less expense. This will allow you to be successful online as well as stay focused in the high income activities that support your business.
A second option that you might consider is outsourcing the writing of content to a single individual. this option can work really well once you find someone who is good at writing and will do it consistently on your behalf. They must also be an expert in the industry category so that they can make you look like an expert yourself. Generally speaking when someone is writing exclusive content for you, like they would as an employee, it will probably cost somewhere between $40 and $50 per post. This really adds up fast considering most social media experts suggest posting high quality content at least 3 times per week to be effective.
There are less expensive outsourcing options on an individual basis. One service that I recommend is called TextBroker. On TextBroker you can request articles that you want written just by providing the topic and choosing the degree of professionalism that you desire in the writing. You can achieve very low cost articles through this type of service, but many times the articles are being written by overseas authors who have little conventional knowledge of your industry.
This service works well for people who aren’t as concerned with quality of writing, but want to turn out large volumes of content in specific industry categories. Once again, while this type of service makes sense, and even I use it in certain instances, I wouldn’t recommend it as the best way to generate high-quality to improve your reputation online.
The third way that you can go about generating high-quality, industry-relevant, credibility-building content for your website is by subscribing to an industry specific content channel. In this case the channel producer hires the highest quality and most knowledgeable authors in specific industry categories to write credibility-building content which is then published to the subscribers’ website as if it was written by themselves.
This option accomplishes a couple of different things. First, because it is content that is written one time by a highly qualified professional, it makes you look like an expert in your industry. Second, because it is written on a channel and distributed to multiple blogs at one time it makes the cost go down dramatically. In the case of our SMARTblog content channels, we are able to write and post this high-quality content from 12 to 22 times per month at a cost of less than a cup of coffee a day.
3. Massive exposure through content syndication and distribution
The third item that you absolutely must have in order to generate referrals online is a system to distribute content and information out through the Internet in a way that potential customers and interested parties can find you and make their way back to your nerve center to learn more about you and engage you for your products and services. In years past most people familiar with the Internet and Internet marketing would have suggested and relied on search engine optimization, pay per click advertising, and e-mail marketing to drive traffic back to your website.
In the Web 2.0 world, it is now imperative to have a system that publishes content and communicates effectively through social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This again is why it’s so important to build your website on the WordPress framework. This easy to manage framework is also world-renowned as the most important social media marketing and Web 2.0 communications platform.
In order to understand the content syndication and distribution idea, I’ll give you a fishing analogy. If you were going fishing, would you want to fish in a lake that you knew was well-stocked and had a lot of available fish for you to catch, or would you prefer going fishing in the lake that had been around forever but no one really knew if it had any fish in it or not? Social media networks are the well-stocked lakes of the Internet when speaking of generating referrals online.
A second question is whether you would prefer to go fishing with many hooks in the water of that well stocked lake? When you have a content syndication and distribution plan in place that automatically pushes content from your website out to those social media networks including a link back to your website, you are effectively throwing each one of those out into the well-stocked lake like a fish hook waiting for a potential client to click on that link and come back to your website.
These networks are where a majority of people are choosing to spend a very large part of their Internet activity and they have opened the doors to be communicated with through these channels. Compare that to telemarketing, direct mail, or e-mail marketing, none of which are nearly as effective because they are expensive and the client doesn’t choose to receive information through those channels. In fact, most clients would tell you that those old-school ways of marketing are downright irritating. That’s definitely not leading to the expert impression that you’re trying to make.
The last point I’ll make on this type of marketing strategy is that it has the ability to go viral in reaching more and more ever-expanding circles of influence. An example of this is when someone likes a post that is automatically syndicated from your personal marketing website to your Facebook account. Then one of your Facebook friends makes a comment on the post because it relates to their situation.
When they make a comment on the post their comment automatically displays in their newsfeed therefore promoting you and your website simply based on their interaction with you. Anyone their sphere of influence can now see that interaction and be introduced to you by visiting your website through the link on your friends Facebook wall.
This is a very powerful marketing strategy indeed.
Earlier in the article I mentioned search engine optimization and I have a brief point to share on that. I get a question about search engine optimization and how effective it is especially with respect to the content channel method that I wrote about earlier. I must say that if your goal is to generate traffic to your website through search engine results, then people who question the content channel method are partially correct. Content published through a channel is not as good as 100% unique, individually written and optimized content. However if you look at the statistics from most any sales business, and the real estate and mortgage business specifically, you’ll see that the vast majority of transactions come from the referral or repeat business channel.
In the world of referrals search engine optimization is irrelevant. Why do I say that? Because in the referral business someone you know like and trust is sending a person who they have a relationship with to you. Therefore it is likely that that person won’t need search engine optimization to find your website. The most they will probably do is Google your name and you’ll want to be found based on having your own personal marketing website.
I can show you case after case that our customers using our SMARTblog technology with only our smart content channel subscriptions still rank at the top of the search results in Google for their name simply because they have their own personal marketing website. More importantly than that, is that by using our social media syndication strategy we are able to place links back to the personal marketing website in places where those referral contacts are most likely be found. This strategy plays directly into the core of a referral marketing plan.
If you’d like more information on setting up a personal marketing website which is capable of communicating your brand and expertise efficiently through social media networks please feel free to contact me.