If you get most of your business from word of mouth, you could be in trouble.
That was me, too. I was the master of referrals. I'd have coffee with 25 people a month. I used CRMs to consistently connect with past clients, and I constantly prodded friends and family to send over anyone that could use help.
For the first 15 years of my entrepreneurial career, I built a strong personal network and I made a good living. But, outside of my close circles, I was a stranger to the world.
Last year, I was sitting in a friend's restaurant as he prepared to open three more in the months to come. We looked through the second-story windows of his acclaimed Phoenix eatery, at the furniture store across the street.
He told me how that furniture store had some of the most unique pieces and the best craftsmanship. In the neighborhood, they had a great reputation. But drive five miles away, and no one knows they exist.
"Obscurity is the enemy," he said.
Whatever it is that you do, you can be the greatest in the world, but if no one knows about you, there is a limit to how successful you can become.
Here is the process that I've used to gain influence and authority, growing my business beyond my own network.
1. Start producing content.
If you want people to listen to you, you need to have something to say. What does your business stand for?
Narrow your focus down to a couple of key beliefs or philosophies, and start producing content like mad! Here's the trick-- it doesn't have to be flawless.
With content, most people never get past the starting line because they're aiming for perfection. In the beginning, your main goal should be to refine your message and your delivery. If you like to write, start blogging. If you like to talk, shoot videos. If you're more of an artist, take photos. Whatever is comfortable for you is fine, as along as you do it.
2. Reach new audiences with ads.
If you believe in what you're doing, you won't hesitate to put money behind your message. In other words, you will invest in sharing your content with people that don't know you. If you're producing content around the core beliefs of your business, the message is likely to resonate with prospective customers.
With the magic of sites like Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, an audience of millions is only a few clicks away. Are you maximizing your reach? If you aren't spending $100 per day on advertising, you aren't yet reaching a broad enough audience to have a true impact in your business. So, work your way up to spending more and reaching further.
3. Borrow authority from those that have it.
If you don't have an established brand to stand on, partner with someone that does. When I first started Trainual, I hustled my way onto 30+ podcasts to get in front of new audiences and align myself with podcast hosts that those audiences already trusted.
Approach large brands and offer them free use of your product or service in exchange for a case study or a logo on their website. If you're a writer, offer to create guest blog posts for sites that have more traffic than yours.
Recently, we added a few celebrity endorsements to our homepage and saw first-hand how much credibility a more recognized brand can lend.
4. Be a curator.
If you're not ready to produce original content, you can expertly gather it. A few years ago, I started a newsletter for entrepreneurs that recommended one new software tool each week, and quickly built an engaged following.
You can create a YouTube channel of your favorite videos, or a round-up of your favorite news articles, or an Instagram feed that re-posts (with permission) other popular content.
Every podcast host is essentially a curator, bringing together interesting experts to have discussions around a central topic. You can do it too.
5. Generously recommend others.
When was the last time you publicly thanked someone else for a job well done? Start by giving some unprompted LinkedIn recommendations, and watch what happens.
There is an unwritten reciprocity on social media, and you're bound to receive a few recommendations in return. Use these as reviews, testimonials, or even ads that you promote!
Similarly, write reviews for every software that you use, every podcast that you listen to, and every influencer that you follow. As long as these are genuine, you might find others adding your reviews -- complete with a link to your website -- on their high traffic pages.
Expanding your reach beyond your own network takes discipline. But remember, obscurity is the enemy, and your battle is just beginning.