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09 Apr 14

3 Reasons Why Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Shouldn’t Do All Your Heavy Lifting

Lifting a heavy weight - unlike word-of-mouth marketing“It’s all happening fine through word of mouth.”

I hear this often and it’s how most of us start out in business. In the early days of self-employment, I didn’t “do” marketing. I didn’t have a website. I didn’t have business cards. I didn’t use social media. I didn’t blog.

I helped one person. They liked me, they told someone else. That someone else hired me, they liked me, they told a few more people.

I was just in my usual hangouts (Five Rhythms, yoga classes, Transition Town, chanting), doing my usual things (friend’s wedding, sister’s party, local health food shop, Mum’s school trip) and got chatting with people one-to-one as I went.

Word spread, my reputation grew, “You should speak to Corrina” became a common refrain and my business grew in response.

It’s a beautiful way to start marketing your business and you may well be in the same boat.

Happily ever after?

From my experience, word of mouth will get you so far – but then it needs help.

Here are three reasons why it’s wise not to rely on friends and colleagues to spread the word for you.

Reason #1: They’re not sales people

It’s unfair to expect friends and colleagues to send people straight to your paid-for services. It’d be like them trying to match-make and urging, “Oh, you should marry John”, rather than hooking you guys up on a first date.

There’s a step in between and it’s content marketing. Blogging, video blogging, podcasting, social media – ways that you share your expertise for free.

It’s far easier for your supporters to share your latest blog. They get to chill out, released from the pressure to “sell”, and to become popular for generously sharing free resources.

Plus, by reading your blogs themselves, they’ll form a clearer picture of your message (“Ah, now I get what you do!”) and so it’ll be easier for them to communicate your value to others.

Reason #2: They may start hating you a little

If you’re not using professional email list software, where people have explicitly given you permission to market your stuff and can easily opt out of your communications at any time, you’re wading into dangerous waters.

Email blasts are one of my pet peeves. It can feel hard to write to someone we used to work with, or know as an acquaintance, and say, “Please stop sending me these emails”.

I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about. What do you do when you receive those emails? Roll your eyes? Seethe inwardly? Simply hit delete, but with a quiver of resentment?

There are only so many times we can send unsolicited emails about our latest offerings – yes, no matter how wonderful we know they are! – before people start considering us a royal pain in the backside.

Even with your die-hard fans, it gets a little Boy Who Cried Wolf. If you’re constantly asking the same people for help, you may use up their goodwill – and when it comes to promoting your next workshop or latest special offer, they’ll be all out of oomph.

Reason #3: They only know so many people

Let’s say your people are forwarding your information to their people. They do this a few times, which brings a few new website hits or phone calls your way, but very soon, your pool will stop growing.

If you don’t have a way of capturing new interest from strangers, someone spreading the word for you is like sending up a firework – it creates an initial impact but then fizzles away to nothing – and you’re back to square one.

Square one is a place where very few people know you exist – and those who do have either already hired you, or already spread the word about you. There’s a big world out there, when you’re ready to expand out beyond friends of friends and reach brand new people.

I remember the joy of receiving my first blog comment from a total stranger. It felt so revolutionary to see a name I didn’t recognise show up on my website. I’d crossed a threshold. I’d strayed far enough away from home. My business was growing up.

If you’re ready to cross that threshold, it’s time to get yourself an email list and start blogging.

Over to you

What have you found to be the limitations with word-of-mouth marketing? Have you been relying on friends and colleagues to do the heavy lifting of selling? And from the other side of the fence – have you ever resented a friend or colleague for sending unsolicited sales emails your way? Leave a comment below, let us know.


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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes 2014

Photo credit: Maik Meid / Flickr / Creative Commons

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  1. Lisa McLoughlin

    OMG if I totally relied on Word of Mouth I would be getting nowhere as my immediate network was quite limited for some time and didn’t really get what I do etc.
    It was only when I opened myself up to social media doing the 30 day video challenge (Corrina it’s nearly a year!!! ), did I really get to feel and experience the benefit of being social and connecting with like-minded people.
    I do struggle with the hard sell emailing and spamming I get from some businesses and immediately delete if they start to irritate me. With time, I notice my tolerance reducing…so, I try and look through the lens of my own experience too.

    Thanks for posting this great topic!!

    1. Corrina

      Lisa – That 30 day video challenge was SO helpful, huh?

      “My network was limited” – it’s a factor which keeps so many businesses small (too small to be viable), but it can be remedied by reaching out, getting onto social media, becoming visible through blogs/videos etc.

      It’s been a joy to watch your network expand, Lisa, and see more and more people fall in love with you 🙂

  2. Tim Gray

    “I’d strayed far enough away from home.” I like that! Talking fox or similar waiting round the next bend…

  3. oeda

    Great post corinna, yes I do relate, I just set up an opt-in page on my website though so I am moving onwards and upwards. What is the 30 day video challenge by the way, you got me curious!

  4. Annette Burrell

    I feel like I have started back to front!! I have put loads of flyers and cards round the city – cafe’s, noticeboards. And created email lists from having a draw for a free appointment at 2 Body, Mind, Spirit Festivals. And I take your point about workmates and friends becoming tired of receiving emails, and how much easier it would be for them to unsubscribe if it wasn’t directly from me. And now I have started being seen and being heard, by arranging to speak to groups, such as my Tai Chi class, a yoga class and others. I did have blog but didn’t know how to get it read by people. For 2 years I wrote a little column for 2 community papers and that was a great way to connect with people. Unfortunately that has stopped. So maybe………..

  5. claire stone

    The limitations I have found with word of mouth is that what I do is hard to explain, so I’d hate for people to feel they have to tell anyone about me and feel they were all confused. Not only that, but my new programme (the big poop solution) is the kind of thing that people aren’t exactly going to be chatting about – constipation isn’t exactly a hot or fun topic! That said, some of my best client relationships have come to me via recommendations, so I don’t rule it out completely!
    Thanks for another great post!

  6. Mahal Hudson

    I tend to provide sample coaching since the experience is more powerful to gain that impact.


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