In our first conversation with our new Small Business Advisory Council, they answer one of the most important questions out there:

How do you get most of your clients? Referrals from customers? Networking? On line searches? Other?

Key themes for how small business owners find customers include networking, referrals, and online marketing. But, mostly it is about referrals from friends and other business owners and networks, formal and informal. Really, finding customers is like finding jobs, it’s best if you get a referral. You’re more likely to close a sale, or get a job that way.

Stacy Freyer -All In One Accounting, Inc.: My best referral source, how I find clients, is by word of mouth. 9 years ago I joined a networking group that allows only 1 person for each industry. I have made connections through this group that have given me 90% of my business. The main reason I joined this group was to get referrals, but also to gain relationships with people that are single owner small businesses. Sometimes a small business owner does not know who to turn to to talk about common problems business owners have. Because of the get to “Know Like and Trust” motto of BNI (Business Networking International) it has allowed me to grow my business and develop lifelong relationships and friendships

Eric Fair-Layman – Body Restoration:  In thinking about how I get new massage clients, I get the most clients through the front desk at my office. However, most of those clients funneled that way sign up for table work and I am lucky to see them twice. If I want to do the work I love, a specialized form of massage using my feet and employing resistance stretches, my best marketing tool is word of mouth from my clients. Not only does it bring me clients, these clients come prepared to see me multiple times in order to work through a specific problem. The next best way to generate business is through BNI, my weekly networking group; BNI has been a very effective tool for drawing new clients. Advertising (particularly YELP) and email marketing has been abysmally disappointing.

Julianne Sixel – Gotcha Covered of West Portland My business has been built with networking of all kinds. Most of my first clients were people who I personally met who had a need for my services. I’m a member of the chamber of commerce in my area, a dedicated networking group (BNI), the home builders association, and an interior design group. All of these require regular, ongoing relationship building. I also consider home shows to be part of my network marketing, and this is a big part of my lead generation. Meeting people face to face allows me to connect with customers who see the value in what I do, and how I do it, before I ever step into their home.

Nathan Manthei – Gotcha Covered South Minneapolis:  Since I’m less than a year into starting my business, I don’t have a huge network of past clients or prospective referral partners. So, I’m relying on a lot of lead generators.

Being in the home improvement space, my biggest source for new clients has been Home Advisor. I’ve also received a few leads from Google PPC ads, but they don’t convert into sales quite like Home Advisor does for me. I also knew the importance of network marketing for my type of business. I visited quite a few local BNI Chapters and found one with great energy and an excellent mix of other small business owners.

Several companies were natural referral partners for me. In the 6 months I’ve been with the chapter, I’ve closed 3 sales from BNI referrals. An average job costs $2000-$2500, so the membership has already paid for itself. It’s also worth mentioning BNI allowed me to jump start building my network. I’ve received many referrals from the group by asking who do you know that might be able to partner with me to share business and prospective clients. Essentially, their network becomes my network. It’s great. Of course it’s nice to get the referrals that lead directly to sales, but if I’m going to build a sustainable business, I need to rely on referral partners and a well-established network.

In summary, it’s no surprise that referrals and networking are the keys for a small business to find clients.

Where do you find clients? Let us know in the comments, or email us. We’ll create a post from the best answers so everyone can see them.