All the best ways to build your market are free — word of mouth and referrals being chief among them. However, to maximize your potential referral sources, you have to make it easy for people to send you their contacts.
And no, this is not asking them to literally give you their Rolodex (for those of you in Gen Y, a Rolodex was a little box in which … oh, nevermind.). How many nonprofits have asked their boards to do this, only to hear a pin drop in the meeting a second later? How many start-up entrepreneurs have asked their friends and families to post a link to their site on their Facebook/Twitter/etc. only to realize extraordinarily low return from the exercise?
Here is the easiest way to turn your customers into your salesforce (or, for nonprofits, your donors into your advocates): Give away your knowledge for FREE.
The idea behind this kind of content marketing — for example, to professional services like a law firm — is that it helps you stand out as a subject matter expert. In the nonprofit sector, this same strategy will help you to convince your donors that you do, in fact, know how to ___(transform a life/save the earth/make beautiful art/etc.)___.
Here are some simple steps to do this:
- Setup a Web site build around a blog; this site, for example, was built using WordPress. The platform is extraordinarily effective … and free! Other services like Tumblr, Blogger, TypePad, etc. are all options too. I just prefer WordPress because of the customizations, free plugins and ability to make it look like a custom Web site.
- Setup a Twitter account, Facebook page and other social media accounts for your firm/organization.
- Automatically link your posts to these sites. If you use WordPress, there are some easy-to-use (and free!) tools for auto-posting past blogs that help build your presence and establish your subject matter expertise (SME) with minimal time. I especially like the Tweet Old Post plugin, which allows you to regularly tweet links to your blogs at whatever interval you decide (ie. every 8 hours).
- Blog regularly… ideally, on a weekly basis. In the beginning, draft 4 or 5 in a row and put them up immediately. If possible, include a brief video blog (60-120 seconds) at least once per month. You can do this with nearly any smartphone and a free YouTube account, but investing in a decent PC camera is likely a good move (it really doesn’t have to look incredibly slick and produced).
- Mention your blog in your email signature. Include it on your business cards, brochures, etc. If you also advertise in traditional media, mention it in your ads. Be sure your customers know that you are giving away free advice! If you’re a nonprofit, be sure they know that this blog will be full of stories to show them the impact of their gifts.
- Tell your clients to check it out, and share it with others. It is hard to tell your friend “Hey, you should really go to my podiatrist!” However, it is relatively easy to send someone a blog on “10 Ways You Are Not Taking Care of Your Feet.”
- Once you have a decent number of blogs, try to send them out to various local newspapers, neighborhood newsletters, local magazines, etc. as op-eds. Maybe work your way into getting a regular column (i.e. free advertising!). Similarly, share your top 3-4 blogs with civic groups that need speakers (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis clubs). Using these tools, one of my clients became content partners with the Huffington Post and Stack Street.