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EPISODE 19: Building a Referral Network as a Content Creator

by Feb 2, 2021Podcast, Writers

In this episode we will cover:

  • What a referral network is
  • Why a referral network is valuable to content creators
  • How to establish a referral network
  • How to maintain referral relationships

Networking: it’s not just for business owners.

If you’re a copywriter or content creator {or working any done-for-you-service job}, relationships are key to your success. Luckily, there’s a special kind of networking perfect for meeting your needs. The kind that will land you more jobs AND help you make more money. 

We’re talking referral relationships, and how building a referral network helps you succeed as a content creator.

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What a referral network is
  • Why a referral network is so valuable to copywriters and content creators
  • How to establish your own referral network
  • How to maintain referral relationships long-term

 

And remember, relationships take a lot of effort to grow and maintain. Don’t expect other people to put in the work for you if you’re not putting in the work for them! Referral relationships are meant to be mutually beneficial.

This episode is the second in a series of tips for content creators, so stay tuned for more to come! And if you can’t wait until next week, grab even more free tips and tricks at northstarmessaging.com/writers.

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here, and hope you enjoy this episode.
All right. Welcome to another episode. And we are continuing our series specifically for content creators made with love from us after 10 years of trial and error and learning along the way. But I do want to let you know that if you're a business owner, who's not a content creator as your business, you might create content for your business- but if you're a business owner and you're thinking, "Hey, I'm just going to tune out on these." This is actually all about referrals today, and I think this is completely applicable to anyone with a business. So, I invite you to hang out with us anyway. We do try to keep these episodes short and sweet, so that way we honor your time.
But I think whether you're a content creator or not, you're going to get something out of this episode.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. So today, as Marie mentioned, we're talking about building your referral network and what we're talking about, this, the word referral or affiliate we'll be using that word as well today can mean a lot of different things. And so just to kind of. Hone in on what specifically, we're talking about the types of referrals we're talking about in this case, because we're- we want to talk to those of you out there who are content creators, who are doing a lot of done for you, work, where you're sitting down and you're creating a product for your clients.
We're talking about referral networks where you're finding complimentary businesses and essentially. Passing business back and forth to one another when it makes sense to do so. So there are other types of affiliate relationships. For example, if you were launching a product or something along those lines where you build a network around a launch, we're not going to talk so much about those today.
We're going to focus specifically on these long-term ongoing affiliate relationships that are really valuable for done for you services like copywriting or content creation.

Marie:
Exactly. So your referral network is going to be other people who want to send you work. That's really at the heart of it. Maybe you also want to send them work, but that's not necessary for, for what we're talking about today, just bare bones, just somebody who is willing to pass along clients to you. How complicated does it have to be? I think there really is a tendency to overcomplicate this a lot of times. Honestly, all you really need is just some kind of document where you can keep track of those referrals, names, their contact information, what they do, and if you're giving them some kind of, you know, referral percentage or anything like that, that you mark it down and you've acknowledged it, that's really all you need it. You don't need a special portal. You don't need swipe copy for them. Obviously that's helpful to provide for them, but you can really get started very easily.

Jessi:
Yeah. You can always start simple and build as you go. And especially when you are providing done for you services, often, those are the types of services where your clients may not just be going to a sales page and clicking the buy button and paying money, and then they get the thing. That's more of a product-based, you know, a sales system. When you're a content creator, odds are, you're going to be talking to the client ahead of time. You're going to be asking them more about their needs, making sure you're a good fit and all of that. And so it actually allows for a more simple affiliate relationship because the affiliates job is really just to pass that person along to you. And I kind of want to start by talking about how we first started with our affiliate network and building it because it really just started with one project.
And this was maybe four or five years ago now. And we had up until that point, been serving a very different niche and a very different audience. And Marie and I made the decision to start focusing more on the small businesses who really had a virtual storefront and needed content specifically around updating their websites.
And because we were entering a new niche at that time, we kind of had the same problem that all business owners do when they're speaking to a new audience, which is we had to figure out where they were and start having conversations with them and let them know that we existed. Hang our shingle up, so to speak.
Even though we'd been in business for five years, we hadn't been serving this audience. So it was almost like going back to square one. And one of the first things that we did, and we almost stumbled into this was we formed a relationship with someone who was a website designer and they did the visual aspects of websites and they were running into a problem every time that they got a client to help them, that they would help with their visual brand that they would then ask, "Okay, so where are your words? Where's the copy for your website?" And the client would more often than not be like what words like you mean, you mean, I have to write those words. I thought you were going to write those words, which of course was not their set of genius.

Marie:
Or I thought they were going to just magically appear on the page. Somehow that was, I mean, I think they often knew they were hiring a designer, but it's like, they, they were more focused on the design and they didn't think about the fact that their new messaging needed to compliment that new design.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. And so we were in talks with this person and realized that there was a really great opportunity for a partnership there where she could continue to serve her clients and the way that she was best suited to serve her clients and her clients didn't have to have that panic moment of, oh no. I need to write all of these words and I don't know which words like words that will best compliment the images.

Marie:
Yeah, exactly. So, you know, that's sort of our story of it. And from there we realized, wow, there's actually a lot of people that we could form these types of relationships with. And there've been times in business where we've been, very deliberately pursued these types of relationships, you know, we've actually reached out, posted in communities and, and told people, Hey, we're specifically looking for referral partners. We're looking to build our referral network with these types of people. And then there's been other times where, you know, you're just having a conversation with someone and it- something leads to something else. And all of a sudden, now you're talking to the fifth person down the chain and, you know, having a great time and realizing, Oh wow, we could really be mutually beneficial for each other.
So, absolutely I'd say the easiest way to do this is just to be open to it and to be open to conversations, to allow it to be part of your strategy. And it's one of those things where, you know, pursuing it pretty heavily, or like in a focused way, isn't icky because you're looking to help them too. Like in a case of this designer, one of the ways we helped her is that we actually gave more value to her clients because now she was able to say, Hey, yeah, I'll be helping you with the design and the user experience. And like, we're going to be talking through all of that. And also if you're looking for the copy, I've got some, some friends over here who consistently do great work for my clients and I will be happy to introduce them to you. And also we were giving her a percentage of every sale that she referred our way. And so it was mutually beneficial. And so I would say, you know, whether you're in a state of, you know, let them come to me, I'm just open to it or, I'm going after this because this seems like a strategy I need to pursue, like, don't worry. You're not going to be grossing anyone out if it's a good aligned fit.

Jessi:
Yeah. Absolutely. And from that first affiliate relationship, we grew a network of, you know, dozens of people who were good fits for us in our business, which really during those early years of a new audience allowed us to grow to the point where we could comfortably have word of mouth and referral clients coming into our business on a regular basis. So I think it's important to kind of set that, that groundwork of it's a, it's a really good starting place. And if you've already been in business for a while, it's a really good additional way to bring clients in the door. And that kind of leads me to the next point, which is who's a good referral match for content creators.
We already mentioned people who are in complimentary businesses, like designers, people who focus on SEO research, especially if you're a content creator who works on blog posts. For example, there are a lot of people who are good at complimentary businesses for content creators, VAs OBMs-

Marie:
Even business coaches, right? Because a lot of times you're talking through high-level messaging with a business coach and you suddenly realize, oh, everything needs to change.

Jessi:
Yeah, totally. And then past clients too. And I don't want to underemphasize that point because one of the best things that we did that built our affiliate network was we were doing these projects- let's say someone was updating their website copy, people don't update their website copy every month. It's a one-time project that then maybe you revisit a few years later. And we didn't want to lose those relationships with those clients. Sometimes they had additional work that they needed additional content needs, and sometimes they didn't, if they didn't, we managed to keep that relationship alive by inviting them into an affiliate relationship where they were still hearing from us regularly. And it was a win-win relationship because they had an opportunity to build out another revenue stream for themselves.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, I think it's really, like I said, just being open to it in conversations.

Jessi:
I think that, it's... when we're talking about what, who a referral matches for content creation, it's so important to find people who it does create this win-win relationship. And I think the other piece is making sure that it's a values fit.

Marie:
Yep.

Jessi:
I mean, I, there are a lot of web designers out there who would, on paper, be a good match for our business and we would be a good match for their business as, referral partners. But if our values aren't aligned, it actually might be a terrible fit.

Marie:
Yeah. So the value alignment. Absolutely. I agree. The other part of it is are they somebody who's speaking to your audience? It doesn't have to be necessarily their clients. It could be their peers, because relationships are multi-faceted and, you know, you can develop a relationship from any number of directions.
But you know, if, if you work with audience A and this great referral partner who believes all the things you believe and has a complimentary business, literally never talks with anyone in audience A then like, You know, they're probably just a great like friend to have, and maybe they can kind of be like an accountability buddy or like, who knows there's still opportunity there for a relationship, but it may not make sense as a, as a referral network member. That's fine.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. So where do you start with these affiliate networks? I think the first thing is when we're looking at who is a good fit is, is really evaluating that. So thinking about the people who are already in your network, who are already in your sphere and thinking about it in the context of how can we help one another. Is there a viable opportunity to do that here? And if you don't have anyone like that in your circle, are there circles that you can become a part of that may have people who would make good affiliate partners. There have been multiple times over the last few years where there has been someone who is not in our immediate circle, but who we stumble across one way or another. Maybe we land on their website for something or someone we know is working with them, you know, several degrees of separation where like that they would actually make a really good partnership. And maybe we could just reach out to them and have a coffee chat and see how we could potentially work together. And sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but I think a lot of the starting point is really just being willing to have those conversations, even if they don't go anywhere. Because if nothing else, you get a good conversation out of it.

Marie:
Right. Jessi and I are both introverts. Both of us, if the phone rings, we're like pretty much liable to throw it across the room. You know, but I think one thing that's been really valuable for us is, you know, when we do join a community, maybe it's like a membership community and you're realizing, wow, there's a lot of people in here who maybe I could help them. Maybe I could refer to them. And maybe they could refer to me too. Or I just want to know more about them. Take the initiative reach out and say, Hey, does anyone want to do a coffee chat? A virtual one, you know, essentially because people live all over the place, but, put that invitation out there.
You can, if there's specific people that you're interested in developing a better relationship with reach out to them individually. It's, you know, trust them to uphold their boundary. If it's not a good fit for them, or they're just too busy or I dunno, they secretly think that you know, they don't want anything to do with you, that's fine. Whatever, that's their choice. And they're going to uphold that boundary. And you just have to trust that they're going to do that. And in the meantime, what you can control is the invitation. So be the one to make the invitation.

Jessi:
Yeah. One of my favorite questions on those sort of early calls, because what I think we all don't want is to come across as hi, I'm in this new community, send me business, please. Like that can come across as a little like overbearing. And so one of my favorite ways to start these conversations and have these new relationships, like start these new relationships with people is through just asking them how I can help them. What do they need? Who are their people? Because the best affiliate relationships are mutual and not all of them are, not all of them have to be, but when they are mutual, then it allows for both parties to benefit.
And both parties can benefit either way, especially if they're trying to build a new revenue stream, but also just asking those questions in the beginning, shows that you're genuinely interested. This goes back to a value set, but if you're listening to this and you're not genuinely interested in forming real relationships with these affiliate partners, and you're not interested in it being a win-win and you just want the business for yourself without helping anyone else, then maybe affiliate networks are not necessarily the best path for you. And you're probably not evaluative for a lot of people who are looking for those win-win relationships. So I think it's important to kind of think about where you're coming from. As you're approaching these conversations.

Marie:
Yeah, for sure. One of the challenges that we ran into as more and more of our business started coming successfully from these word of mouth relationships, was maintaining them. Especially I think about the past clients. Right? So when we were working on website copy, we would write all the copy for a brand refresh, you know, on their website. And they were like, great, this is awesome. Thank you. I'll see you again in eight years when I do this again. And we're like, Oh no. Right? Because we had developed a great relationship with them. We could support them in other ways, but it wasn't super clear to them how we could do that. We didn't really have, you know, the mechanisms set up for that. So, one of the things that we started doing was maintaining the connection. So a few different things that we've done. One is when somebody is a past client, we've actually set up in Dubsado, which is what we use for our contracts and invoices. But any system could do this and it doesn't even have to be automated, although it's certainly easier if it is.
There are emails that go out that just follow up with them and ask, Hey, you know, it's been three months since our project, I just wanted to touch base and see like, how did things go? Do you want to do a debrief? Here's an invitation to a 20 minute call. I found it's really helpful for kind of putting closure on the project because sometimes there may have been one or two hiccups that the client noticed that you didn't really give them an opportunity to share with you before. They may not have felt safe sharing it. Or they were just too busy trying to get everything together to really like think, okay, I really should communicate this with, with Jessi or Marie. And so that's been really helpful to have an automated email, just checking in on them, going out every, or like three months after the project, six months after the project and 12 months after the project, just to kind of let them know that you're still thinking of them. And if there's additional support, you can give, you're not saying, pay me more. You're just saying like, how can I help you? Maybe it is making a connection for you, maybe, you know, I, maybe I can promote something that you're doing, right. It's not, we're not in it to say it's just for us. So have those go out, but that's been really helpful for us. And a lot of times our clients will respond to them.
We also do a quarterly email for all of our affiliate partners, whether they're past clients or just someone that is in the network, like that designer that we were talking about. And that quarterly email I think is really near and dear to me. I could probably talk about that for a whole episode. But the short version is we remind them that we exist. We stay top of mind for them. And we thank them for being our partner, because we say, because of you, not only were we able to give this much back to our affiliate partners in referral fees, But also we've been able to donate this much to these causes.
And so we do tie in the affiliate program with our give back policy and we help them know that they're responsible in part, for us being able to have the impact we're having.

Jessi:
Yeah, and that's not a complicated email. And I think that, that this goes back to something we were talking about earlier, which is that none of this has to be complex. The most important thing is to just keep in mind that if, if you're not putting yourself top of mind, you're not going to be top of mind. And so it's important to have those various touch points, reach out to people. Our quarterly emails are a really great opportunity to remind people that not only do we exist, but in maintaining a strong affiliate relationship. It's not just helping one another. It's not just our business being helped by the referral traffic, their business being helped by the affiliate commission. It's also baked into our giveback policy, whether you have a giveback policy or not using it, a periodic update sort of thing, the model allows you to maintain that connection.
And if you do have a give back policy, please talk about it and we'll send a whole other episodes about that. But, please talk about it, the give back policy. And on top of that, I think the last piece about maintaining that connection, you know, if you're, if you're sending clients who you've worked with into an affiliate network, first of all, let them know, you know, Marie was talking about those immediate emails that come after a project is closed. One of those first emails could be, Hey, Great. This project is over. We loved working with you and now, because you're a past client, you get access to this affiliate commission. You know, it's just letting them know that that is something that they're automatically entered into.
And I mean, if they want to opt out of it, they can, but that it's a benefit that we provide all of our past clients and then taking those emails, the quarterly email, the prescheduled automated emails and peppering in some periodic personalized reach outs as well.

Marie:
Yeah.

Jessi:
Yeah, we just, we have in our, we have our list of affiliate partners and we have it in our calendar periodically. Like, you know, reach out to this person, see how they're doing. See if they want to set up a coffee chat to catch up, find out what they're doing in their businesses. It goes a long way too let them know that you're thinking about them individually as a person, rather than just someone who's on the list.

Marie:
Right. It doesn't have to be complicated. Like you can just follow them on social media or something, and maybe they had a birthday. And so you just want to say happy birthday. Or, you saw their dog past and you just like want to send condolences or like, whatever it is, you know, if something's happening in their life, just make a quick note for yourself that, you know, Hey, on Monday morning, I'm just going to go on and shoot them an email because I want them to know I'm thinking about them.
You don't even have to ask anything. It's just like a, Hey, I just wanted to check in on you. That's, you know, you're developing these relationships for a reason. And honestly, some of the best people I've known in my life, I've met never even in person, but through owning a business. And so, I want to maintain those friendships in a genuine way. So this is, you know, it it's, it doesn't all come down to affiliate commissions and word of mouth referrals. It also comes down to friendships.

Jessi:
Yeah. I mean, I think it all boils down to. Idea of like be a human being. Who's a kind human being and finds value in relationships, not just for how it may or may not help your bottom line. Because of course, you know, building a referral network, part of that is strategy. It's about creating a revenue stream or a client stream through business, but it's going to be empty if there aren't real relationships backing that up. And it's going to honestly, you know, skeeve people out, have them not want to be a part of those relationships. If you're not just being a kind human being and putting the people ahead of the potential revenue or the potential profit.

Marie:
Yeah. So that's like our little nod to integrity there, whatever you say you're going to do, make sure you follow through with it. And there's pretty- it, you know, it can take some effort to build, to build a relationship. It really doesn't take much effort at all to destroy it. And so just be mindful of that as you go through the process.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So we have some homework for you, and we want you to start thinking about this for your business. Regardless of whether you are right at the beginning phases, where you've been doing this for a while, you may even already have some great affiliates. This is a great opportunity to think about expanding that list. So we want you to make a list of 10 people who could be good referral partners. These may be people in complimentary businesses. They may be past clients. Maybe you haven't been including them in your affiliate network. And you think that would be a great idea, make a list of 10 people who you could reach out to, and then reach out to them and see if they want to just,have a conversation. It doesn't need to be a conversation where you ask them to be an affiliate partner. It could be if you want, but it could also just be a conversation to catch up with them and connect and see how you can mutually help one another.

Marie:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast.
Make sure to visit our website northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, spotify and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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