Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Referrals & Word-of-Mouth Marketing

If you are a business owner, you love word of mouth like the next person. Don’t get me wrong, I love it too. It’s an incredibly strong form of marketing, and the quality of leads that arise out of something like word-of-mouth marketing is fantastic to say the least. That said, if you are relying on word-of-mouth leads to fill your pipeline, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Why do I say that? Well, it’s easy. You’re essentially just crossing your fingers and toes and hoping that the next check just lands on your doorstep. (How awesome would that be??)


Stop crossing your fingers and stop relying on word-of-mouth marketing.


And yes, if you have a well-established business, those word-of-mouth quality leads might be coming in. And you should be loving every one of them. And they might be coming in for a solid month or two. But what happens when that pipeline dries up? What happens when word-of-mouth stops?

That’s right, nothing.

No leads, no business, no incoming money.

Then the panic sets in. Hard.


And that’s what I have seen for a lot of businesses this year. I have seen countless creative business owners (photographers, website designers, coaches, course creators, etc) basically all saying that they are receiving fewer leads (and fewer bookings) than years prior.

And it wasn’t until I started having real-world conversations with each one of these business owners that had these same complaints that I found a commonality.

The common item was that they were relying heavily on word-of-mouth, referrals, being on some form of preferred vendor list, or something similar.  Basically, they’re just “hoping” that something comes in because they weren’t actively going out and doing what’s necessary to be omnipresent with those potential customers.


Now you have two choices, really.


  1. You can either keep crossing your fingers and hope that a new lead comes in later that afternoon, you can hope someone found you through your Instagram hashtags and happened to fall in love with your work, you can keep hoping that what you’re doing is right by keeping your current clients happy enough that they become your brand evangelists.
  2. Or you can be proactive and go after the leads you are wanting to have in your pipeline. You want that flood of leads, don’t you? Not that little trickle.


So, how on earth do you make that leap, and what do you do?

  • Build out your SEO.
    • Like, yesterday. Building out your SEO to do your best to hit number 1 in some of those search terms you’re hoping to rank for is really going to help you get seen more often by people who are actively searching for those key phrases. So, really think about your ideal client and figure out what they are typing into Google. It’s those searches that you should be creating content for.
  • Put money into advertising.
    • And yes, I know that you might not have a lot of money as a creative entrepreneur right now – but paid advertising has been a huge reason why my multiple brands have seen success. And yes, it costs money. But you are a business owner. And you have to think of these things as investments into your business and not just as raw costs.
    • Not sure where to run the ads, or where to have a digital storefront/listing? No problem. Hire a coach, a consultant, or ask around to some colleagues. Certain advertising platforms work better in different geographic markets. That’s why I’m not saying right here to go put your money into XYZ.  It’s different in every market. And it’s different based on where your ideal client spends time online. So, think about that – where does your ideal client spend time online? Is it on Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? Google? Somewhere else? Somewhere niche specific? Wherever it is, get in front of them with the right marketing message, ad copy, and funnel them in through your offer.
  • Build out your relationships.
    • Tried, tested and true, building relationships with key colleagues is a great way to have work tossed your way. So, keep doing it. Just don’t rely on it.
    • And as a note here – it’s so important that this is a two-way street. Don’t just sit back and collect all these leads from your colleagues without ever giving anything back to them. If that continues to happen, don’t expect that referral stream to be flowing your way much longer. Make sure it’s a two-way street, so to speak.
  • Actively work towards changing your cold audience into a warm audience.
    • As a small business owner, you most likely have your Instagram page set up, you have a website, but you’re just not sure how to have one talk to the other well. You’re not sure how to get people off Instagram or Facebook and onto your website where they can ultimately make a decision to buy your stuff. Am I right?
    • Well, I am here to say that you can do these things by offering them something of value. Your lead magnet. Your freebie offer. Your incentive. Your limited-time sale. Your thing that is solving their problem or fulfilling their desire. And depending on the price point of your product or service, there are a few different methods that you can start approaching here — but either way, do your best to get in front of that cold audience and turn those cold audience members into a warm audience.
    • You can do this through your email list by capturing their emails, you can build free communities on Facebook, you can do this through a Podcast, you can do this through your Instagram feed and InstaStories, you can do this through your Facebook business page, personal page, YouTube, … you name it. There are so many different amazing options out there for you in the world that are within arms reach. You just have to stop watching Netflix and start taking action.


If you just skipped around – don’t get me wrong here. Word-of-mouth marketing is absolutely amazing, and should definitely be a part of your marketing strategy. But only a part of it. Not the whole kit-and-kaboodle.

That’s why I created my photography business coaching program, and why I am always adding new podcast episodes on the Podcast.  Who knows what’s next. 🙂

As a goal, set yourself a deadline of the next big thing you want to accomplish. And push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Get it done, and celebrate when it’s finished. (Remember, done is better than perfect.)

– Kyle Goldie


Stop relying on word of mouth referrals in your marketing


While you’re here, check out some of these other helpful articles around the blog that might pique your interest:

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I help photographers (of all types) as well as educators (course creators, consultants & coaches) make more money, work fewer hours per week, and improve their work-life balance. All without ads.

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