How To Attract More Customer Referrals Through Strategic Relationships & Networking

It is one thing having an awesome product or service, but if nobody knows about it, how do you expect to sell it?

This realization usually happens just before business owners start to consider self promotion and exposure opportunities. There are a number of ways to go about getting your name out there, and forming relationships and connections with other businesses is one very important way of going about it.


I have spoken before about the importance of networking. I built my entire business from networking and a referral base, and I think in this day and age, when people prefer to do business with people they can trust, networking is key.

I am a firm believer that networking should be an important part of your marketing and self promotion plan. Networking can be done online, but it’s also important to get out and do some old-fashioned relationship building face-to-face.

It is so tempting to write off networking because you don’t feel you need any more clients right at that moment, or because you think that the people who attend the event in question are not exactly the right clientele for you.

One weekend I was at the National Speakers Convention in Melbourne, and a very inspiring professional speaker by the name of Kirsty Spraggon explained the incubation concept. Due to her background in the real estate industry, she has built a wealth of relationship building skills, and learned a number of key concepts about how it all works.

Something that really stuck with me was what she calls the Incubation Period. The time frame from when you meet someone, and the moment there is a result from that connection, Kirsty mentioned could be anywhere from six months to eighteen months. She calls this the incubation period. During that time, you may have a number of touch points with that person, including emails, phone calls and coffee meetings before there is a tangible result or benefit from the connection.

I would like to add here that the tangible result may not necessarily be in the form of that person becoming a client or purchasing from you. That may never happen, but you just don’t know who they know. Many of my clients have resulted as referrals from other people I have met – they have been friends, relatives, clients of theirs, or acquaintances to whom they passed on my details. The key is to nurture the relationships because you never know the return on them.  It may pay off in a way you never expected, at a time when you need it most.

Two years ago, I was at a networking lunch and met a woman who runs a PR and branding company. While she sent me a number of referrals during the following months, it took a year before one materialised into a client for me. And he is still with me today. Not only that, but he then in turn referred me to another client, and an additional two people who are great contacts with whom I have formed a beneficial business association. One of them is Yaro!

Simply meeting someone is not enough. Maintain and nurture the relationship by making an effort to connect with them regularly – either through your blog, newsletter, or a personal email, phone call or coffee meeting. During this time, I have kept in contact with the woman I mentioned earlier with regular emails, Christmas cards and a gift when her baby was born.

And ask yourself what you can do to help them. It’s a two way street, after all.

Strategic Relationships

Another way I built my business when first starting out, that proved entirely beneficial, was forming strategic alliances with other individuals and businesses that either offered a similar service to mine, or had a similar clientele.

Having a public relations businesses, I connected with people who had marketing businesses but didn’t offer services in PR. In some cases they referred clients directly to me for a commission, or I operated as a contractor working under their brand, and they took care of my invoices.

While I still accept referrals graciously, I no longer work under another person’s brand, simply because I don’t need to. Also, I found that it can get a bit messy, unless you are on the same page and have a clear agreement. But I am grateful for that opportunity to build up my business and bring in some income when I was first starting out. And these firms and people were happy to offer a value-add to their clients.

Find a business that operates similarly and in the same field, and offer your product or service to their clients as a value-add. In most cases, you will be expected to pay a commission for the business if it comes straight to you, or alternatively your service will be provided under the brand of the other business.

Other ways you can look at promoting your service or products to their clientele, or generating exposure for it, is by guest blogging or offering guest articles.  There are a lot more opportunities depending on the business and your industry – be creative and open to suggestions.

An example of how this can work is when I had a client who wrote and published a book helping first home buyers with practical tips and information. What I did was approach another client of mine – a real estate agency – to bulk order a branded version of the book and offer it as a gift and incentive to her clients. It was a win-win for everyone – the author was able to move a whole load of her books, and the real estate agent could offer something different to her clients that her competitors were not.

Form Relationships With Your Competitors

Something I have always done that others may consider strange is to form solid relationships and connections with others who can be considered competitors. That is, other individuals with PR and publicity businesses. Why? Because I have received countless referrals from these businesses and individuals of clients they either didn’t have the capacity to service, due to it being outside their area of expertise, or simply because they were too busy at the time.

And I do the same now. If I get approached by a potential client who I can’t offer my services to, I refer them on.

Make sure you build solid relationships with others in your own area. This is important for more than the reason explained above. It keeps you up to date with what your industry is doing, so you can offer something different and make sure you are not charging too little or too much, and you can also stay on top of changing trends and technology. After all, how can you promote a point of difference when you don’t know what the rest of the businesses in your industry are actually doing?

I can’t even begin to give examples of how other PR firms have helped me build my business. There have been so many who have generously provided me referrals of clients they could not take on, or did not specialize in.

I firmly believe that there is enough business for everyone. Be generous in business – share your time, knowledge and contacts and you will reap the benefits. This is what building relationships is about after all. So that we can learn and grow from one another within our business community.

Kerry McDuling

About Kerry McDuling

Kerry McDuling is a publicist and Director of her own public relations and publicity consultancy McDuling PR and exposure speciality business, Stratosphere Me – building brands and developing profitable business opportunities for companies, authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs.

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  • Forming relationships with competitors is an excellent one, but also one to be very careful with. There’s a fine line between competition you can “kind of” trust and competition that should never be trusted.

    Excellent tips as always. NETWORKING is key.

    • Thanks John, and you are right, networking is the key to succeeding in business~!

  • “Form Relationships With Your Competitors” – awesome tip that I think is often overlooked.

    I have already received some business from “competitor’s” as we have a good relationship and they realize I can do some things better than they can, so they end up winning by offering “their” client a better overall service experience.

    • And you know, it is all about finding your niche. If you have something different to offer, you are in fact exercisng a point of difference and you will find that some clients are better suited to their business, others to yours. There is enough business out there for us all!

  • Someone just asked me few days ago, should they follow their competitors on Social Platforms. I believe most of us look at the negative side of this, rather than the pros, and how this can benefit your business.

  • Networking is key to success in nearly any business. Thanks for the reminder.


  • I can see how building these relationships can really help a brick and mortar business, but isn’t it difficult to utilize this type of in person networking when your entire business is based online? I suppose one could attend conferences within their industry to make these types of connections.

    I do agree though that you never know when or how a connection will provide business or referrals for you.

    – Andrew

    • Hi Andrew. How about interacting in online communities or relevance, including blogs, forums, webinars, etc. The world has really opened up thanks to technology. Do try and also get to meet people in person too – its good for you and makes your world more fun and varied. 🙂

  • I don’t have competitors, I have colleagues that happen to do the same as me…excellent people to bounce ideas off of, just don’t give away the farm. 😉

  • Question: If you could guesstimate, what percentage might you give to honestly how useful face to face networking in a seminar/conference/meet-up situation is nowadays?

    Chamber of commerce meetings spring to mind…

    • Dennis, it really all depends on your industry and the networking event, and the people you meet. I built my entire PR business on referrals and networking! All you can do is test and measure. But getting out and meeting people can result in other partnerships and benefits outside of gaining clients and referrals, so you never know. Meeting people can generate new ideas for products and services, plus its good for you!

  • Yes I do agree with this point that Networking plays very effective roll in business. Without networking It is almost impossible to globalize you business.

  • I’ve known that networking is key to building a successful business. But what I found to be most interesting was the bit abut creating relationships with my competitors. It defies my conventional thought but it’s so true!

    • I have always believed that there is enough business to go around. Besides, your ideal client may not be my ideal client! So there is someone to service everybody with a need!

  • I also think that the networking is the key 😉

  • Kerry

    Fabulous article. In today’s age of social media it is nice to see people who still believe in face to face networking.

    I also built my career through attending networking event after event.

    Would love your take on a business networking site that I created and launched back in November 2010 called

    • Hi Jonathan, thanks for connecting. I love the concept of GoGrabLunch – nothing like I have ever come across here in Australia. How have people taken to it? How do you promote it? Has it expanded nationally beyond your city? And where are you located?.
      Thanks so much for the link from your blog to my post too. 🙂
      Please stay in touch and feel free to email me directly. Contact details found on or

      • Kerry

        The site went live last November and already has members in over 43 countries. That being said some have limited membership. Early on we had some members join in both Perth and Sydney. We have found that it takes at least 50+ people trying the service and then sharing with their contacts for it too take off in an area. So word of mouth is big.

        We do have an affiliate program so if you or your viewers know anyone that would be interested in key Australian cities I’d live to speak to them.

  • Excellent topic – the “incubation period”. Those emails and relationships by continued contact can prove invaluable at a later point.

  • […] your efforts Posted on April 28, 2011 by GoGrabLunch Today I found an article in which the author references the idea of an incubation periods for your networking […]

  • Its true that you cannot be able to promote your products online without networking. Nowadays, everything is attached to someone and somewhere.

    Networking is the key to success online.

  • Networking… is one of the harder ways but good for the long run. Anyways, the biggest secret in making it SUCCESSFUL online is getting traffic. Pay for it, SEO rank, network with people – do what it takes to get loads of targeted traffic. That’s the biggest secret I’ve learned; You Need Traffic in order to Make Money…

    • Very true and what works for someone else may not work for you. Test and measure always!

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