Building a Referral Web (That Might Be all the Marketing You Ever Need)

A close-up image of a spider's web on a blue background.

In the Tinker Phase, your job as entrepreneur is to be the CEO of your business.

That means your job is to match new services to your audience and to forge new partnerships. In short, your job is connector.

In this week’s blog series, I wrote about several ways to set up a referral culture in and around your business. Today, I’m going to tell you how to set up a referral web for your whole town.

This strategy works best when your business has been around for a while, has a good reputation and shows obvious signs of success. Because I’ve been around awhile, I’m often the first fitness pro contacted by media when they need a quote. I’m often in the news because we’ve made a donation through the gym. And I’ve met dozens of other business owners through my gym.

So when my gym needs five new clients, I don’t turn to Instagram: I turn to my mental contact list. I think about other entrepreneurs in town, and I send them a text or invite them for coffee. Slowly, I turn the conversation to exercise. Then I invite them to join me at the gym or offer to introduce them to a trainer.

My niche is entrepreneurs. Yours might be the same: You probably have entrepreneurs in your gym. But you can use a “Help First” strategy with nurses, teachers or any other profession with a tight bond.

Here are several ways to do that:

1. Set up a referral board at your gym. Pin up the business cards of any professional who works out with you.

Example: I have a referral board at Catalyst. It’s just a cork board with client business cards pinned to it.

2. Invite entrepreneurs and CEOs from your gym to a local roundtable or coffee chat. You can propose a topic if you want, but this isn’t a lecture. Your job is connector.

Example: Last time we did this, I actually chose a topic. I said, “We’re having great luck with Facebook advertising right now. I’m happy to show you exactly how to do it. Want to get together next Friday and I’ll walk you through it? You can bring another business owner if you want.” We had 13 people show up. Unfortunately, some were absolute beginners (“How do I get a website?”) and some were really advanced (“What should our CPL be for lead ads with a video?”). But it was a really fun hour with some of my favorite clients.

3. If you have several entrepreneurs, you can make the meetup a regular occurrence and introduce topics if you want. (Two-Brain clients: I’m happy to send you copies of “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” if that will help you.)

Example: Recurring “lunch and learn” meetups are working in several mentors’ gyms now.

4. Invite trusted connections into your gym to speak with your clients. Have them email to invite their clients, too, or offer to speak to their clients at their businesses.

Example: Among others, we had a physio come in to talk with our clients about aging and fitness, and a financial planner came in to talk about saving money on taxes. Both were great.

The Long—and Rewarding—Game

While it takes time to set up and bear fruit, this strategy offers returns that compound over time—like any good long-term investment. I recommend it for those in Tinker Phase because you need time to nurture this strategy. (You can find instructions in our Tinker Toolkit if you’re a Two-Brain client.)

But when you use this strategy consistently, the rewards are big enough that it can replace almost all of the rest of your marketing.

Other Media in This Series

“Building a Referral Culture”
“Building a Referral Culture: The First Year”
“Building a Referral Network in Your Town”


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.