Accelerate Growth With Zero Marketing Spend

January 5, 2021

In the flattening wake of the pandemic, small business owners need smart ways to do more with less. It’s no surprise that marketing spend is in a “record decline.”

Predictably, small business owners are upskilling on SEO, sales, analytics, and social media. (Marketing Charts has a nice curated list of related trends.)

One of the areas most overlooked by small business owners are referral partnerships. These partnerships provide a way to jumpstart revenue with zero spend on marketing vendors or tools.

Get Qualified Leads From Deal-Makers

This article focuses on a specific type of partnership where an individual or a business already serving your ideal clients, agrees to send qualified leads to you because it benefits them to do so.

  • The referrer may seek to earn goodwill from their customers: the referral helps the client solve a problem.
  • The referring individual or business may not only want to help the customer solve the problem, but they also would like to receive compensation from you when the referral converts. (Realize that the referrer’s practice area or business model may lead them to decline payment for referrals.)

Often the referring business will be one that offers a service tangential to and complementary to your own. But a partner can also be an influential player who is strategically in the flow of numerous deals with clients that you can service. And don’t overlook well-connected retirees.

Partnerships are an efficient way to obtain new, paying clients with minimal effort and no advertising spend. Using this tactic, you can jumpstart a new business or rapidly onboard new clients when you pivot to a new business model.


How Do Referral Partnerships Work?

Instead of spending on ads, LinkedIn Navigator, content marketing, and other costly and time-intensive means of attracting prospects — which then must be qualified and engaged further — partnerships provide a shortcut to highly qualified leads.

The What: Identify People and Businesses

First, identify types of businesses that are already providing professional services to your ideal client. Once you put your mind to it, you’ll be surprised at the number of possibilities you come up with.

Be sure to include businesses that are offering the same exact service(s) you are, but for some reason, are unable to satisfy a subset of their clients, whom you can service.

Some reasons why a business might not be able to service a client might include:

  • Maxed-out capacity: perhaps they don’t have the personnel or time to take on more clients.
  • Geographical restrictions: Perhaps the business doesn’t service your region, town, city, or state.
  • Size: Perhaps they service mid-sized companies rather than small businesses.
  • Credit restrictions: Perhaps they can only service customers with a certain level of credit score, but you have a different set of qualifications.

The How: Create a Spreadsheet, Offers, and a Contract

Create a spreadsheet list with all the people you want to target with their contact information and make a plan to methodically contact all of them.

Prepare an offer in advance. For “kingpins” (the extraordinarily well-connected who can deliver) consider offering a generous percentage. For example, I know several business owners who provide kingpins with 50% of any deals they send. There’s no reason a kingpin would reject that figure. If they’re not a kingpin, consider 30% (a figure which can be reviewed after they deliver some leads that convert).

  • Draft a contract for “kingpins” and a different one for the “ordinary” partner. (The only difference will be the commission percentage.) You can likely find a basic draft template online to customize.)
  • Use an online service like DocuSign to get the contract signed and stored online. Do a few trial runs of sending and signing the contract before you send it to a potential partner. That way the process will go smoothly.

If you want a lawyer to review your contract before you offer it to anyone, there are plenty of online services that will provide this service at an affordable rate.

The When: Now

The faster you act on this, the closer you’ll get to the true opportunities in your network.

You can also start to look at all the new people you meet online or in person as potential partners. But remember: for this tactic to work, you want to select people who are in a position to really deliver those leads because they are already servicing — or influentially connected to — your ideal clients.

Want to Stick to LinkedIn? Fish Upstream

LinkedIn prospecting has devolved largely to "my bot wants to chat with your bot." It's hardly a secret that many of the messages sent and received are automatically generated by tools like Dux-Soup. Given that loads of the newly unemployed are hanging their shingle out on LinkedIn, expect the deluge to increase.

If you are currently using Linkedin Navigator ($79.99/month) for sales prospecting and want to continue that expenditure and activity, consider an experiment: shift your prospecting upstream to find referral partners.