Sponsored Post: 5 Steps to Building a Powerful Referral Network

At Design Aglow, we're often approached by brands asking for a feature or to be introduced to our community. We've decided to begin sharing select companies with our readers, in the hope that you'll find their products as useful as we do. While we receive compensation for these posts, we vow never to promote a product just because we're paid to do so, but instead align ourselves with companies that share our values of integrity and innovation. Carla Ten Eyck (Acrylic Wall Art) Let's face it: we could all use more business. That's exactly why relationships matter; they fuel our businesses. They're the source of word-of-mouth referrals, personal testimonials and authentic raves. Without strong, mutually beneficial relationships, businesses fall flat. And all great relationships require real work. Yep, we said it. Building a powerful referral network requires investing time and resources in the people who power the network. So, what can you do to forge and nurture relationships that build a powerful referral network for your business? Here are Five Simple Steps to Building a Powerful Referral Network:

1. Eliminate the term “Vendor” from your vocabulary. This is an important paradigm shift. It's easy to fall into the trap of “vendor think.” Simply put, the “vendor think” mindset means you consider others as, well, “other.” Put an end to that thought. Instead, think of others working with you on shoots ”“ whether wedding or portrait ”“ as people, professionals and partners. Those three P's will help you treat each person working with you as a team member. A shoot is successful because of the collaboration of multiple individuals, working together to delight a client. And those individuals aren't vendors, they're partners. A partner is “a friend who shares a common interest or participates in achieving a common goal. At Pictage, we become an extension of our members' teams ”“ like a studio manager ”“ working with them to achieve success. After all, successful photographers don't earn success without each and every person they meet along the way ”“ florists, chefs, stylists, planners, producers, the one-woman flute show, the chatty coordinator at the church and the hit-playing DJ. They all matter; they're all potential referrers who can change your business ”“ for the better.

2. Give Freely As photographers, we have an immensely valuable asset at our fingertips: images. Don't hold them hostage. Give them away. Yes, you heard that right! A major mistake many photographers make is being unwilling to give images to their partners. By simply being generous with your images, you can increase your referrals. Since all of the partners helped create a fabulous shoot, they'll be honored to receive images to show colleagues and clients. Many photographers go the extra mile by giving something spectacular to their partners, like large format prints, acrylics, or even custom-made books - all of which beautifully showcase each creative professional's work. Atlanta-based photographer Chris Torres of 6 of Four freely gives images to wedding partners. He gifts beautiful boxes of matted prints to wedding venues, which they keep on hand to show prospective brides. He remarks, “It's plain, simple and easy for them. Keep in mind, they are busy doing their jobs and don't have time to decide what pictures they want from us, let alone time to purchase them. We provide them pictures, and just wait to hear them sing our praises.”   Kacie Jean Fowler (Pictage Sequoia Albums)

3. Embrace Old-Fashioned Thank You Notes. Everyone loves receiving real, handwritten letters. Why not include them as part of your follow-up process with each partner? Acclaimed graphic designer Julie Weiss thinks “the handwritten note has become a status symbol.” In fact, it's one of the best ways to stand out from the crowded email inbox. Customized cards are just one of many great solutions photographers are using to leave a lasting impression on partners. Start scheduling time after each shoot to write a handwritten note to each person who was involved. They don't need to be long; a few personalized sentences will do the trick! If you set specific times (maybe Monday mornings for one hour), then you'll be more likely to follow through on this task. Think of it as a quiet time for you to reflect on what memorable moments happened during the shoot and share stories with partners who participated. For bonus points, incorporate step number two ”“ enclose a lovely little photographic print of a favorite moment from the shoot. That's a sure-fire way to leave a lasting impression and build a powerful referral network.

4. Create Cross-Promotional Systems You may be asking, “what the heck is a cross-promotional system?” Great question! Essentially, it's a defined set of tasks that you complete after each shoot that triggers a public relations avalanche. San Francisco photographer Lisa Lefkowitz, dubs this system “Synergistic PR.” It's a collaboration that creates word-of-mouth buzz. After every shoot, Lefkowitz does everything she can to promote every member of the team, not just herself. Here are highlights of her cross-promotional system: • Blog each shoot with links to every partner involved in the project. • Submit each shoot, with a full partner list, to blogs or magazines. • Use social media to extend your reach ”“ tweet and post to Facebook with links to your team, both before and after the event, as well as to promote any editorial features. • When a shoot is published, repeat! Blog the feature, tweet, post to Facebook with credits to all partners who were involved. • If the shoot was published in a magazine, create a blog-ready JPG of the spread. Then, send it to partners to blog for additional cross-promotional sharing. In addition, online image viewing galleries like Pictage enable photographers to share their images with partners, empowering the partner to choose images that best showcase their work or venue.

5. Do What You Say You'll Do. Sounds so simple, right? And it is. That's why we wanted to end on this note. As a business owner, your integrity matters more than any product, service or skill. So, always do what you say you're going to do. And when you make a mistake ”“ which we all will at some point ”“ own it and make it right as quickly as possible. If you implement all of the steps listed above, but don't hold tightly to integrity, then you'll never build a powerful referral network. You'll just burn bridges. Be the person you'd want to work with, and everyone will want to work with you. Photo Credits: First: Carla Ten Eyck (Acrylic Wall Art), Second: Kacie Jean Fowler (Pictage Sequoia Albums)




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