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“How do I get more leads, Dusti”? If you’re tired of the feast and famine cycle in your business, hate wasting time on marketing tactics that aren’t working, and are ready to enter the sweet land of The Waitlist, this episode is a must-listen.

Welcome to Referral Worthy, the podcast where we explore what it takes to become the go-to service provider in your niche.

In this episode, Dusti shares a list of questions you can work through today to revamp how you’re approaching lead gen, your current client work, and how to maximize your referrals in the process.

Referral Worthy is hosted by Dusti Arab, Fractional CMO and marketing strategist. She's the founder of the reinvention co, a marketing consultancy for personality-driven companies with big online presences and small teams. Learn more at

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Referral Worthy intro, outro and transition music is named We are invincible by Tim Hirst and was found on Epidemic Sounds.

From building a business worth talking about to creating best in class client experiences, we’re here to explore what it takes to make sure you are top of mind and get the referral every time. Join me as I interview some of the most innovative and inspiring business owners in the online space, and discover how you can create more opportunities to ensure your clients are thrilled with your work and make you the obvious choice to send their friends to. It’s time to stop going it alone and start transforming your star power into staying power. I’m Dusti Arab and you’re listening to Referral Worthy. Let’s get started.

“How do I get more leads, Dusti?”

As a marketer, this is a question that I get asked more frantically than any other one. How do I find clients? Where are other people finding clients? What’s still working? What’s not working anymore? Where should I be spending my time?

I have been doing this since 2011 and I have seen everything, every tip and trend and tactic known to man. And I’ve got to be honest, how do I get more leads is a boring question. And for most of you, it’s actually the wrong question.

Tell me if you’ve heard this before. Say you’ve got this great designer. She’s brilliant. She does phenomenal work, her clients love her and she’s coming up on the end of the project. Things are closing out. She gets her final paycheck and then she realizes, “Oh shit, I don’t have anybody in my pipeline right now. Well, I guess I better get to marketing.” So she does. You know she’s a go-getter. She gets started. So she decided she’s gonna hop on social media and let people know she exists. You know, it’s been a while but figures she’s got to show her face, start talking about what she does, all that kind of thing. And then she thinks, “You know, I have an email marketing newsletter that I usually send something out, you know, every once in a while. It’d be good to get back to everybody. Right?” And then she logs in and she realizes it’s actually going a little bit longer than maybe she thought it was since she last emailed. And as it happens, she only emails when she needs money. She’s feeling a little bit discouraged right now because truthfully, this isn’t the first time she’s been here.

It’s kind of turned into a predictable cycle. Some of us call it the feast and famine cycle where when things are good things are great. And when business is slow, there tends not to be a waitlist, there tends not to be anything going so that you have that next person ready to go. And I want you to know, if you are cringing or laughing or crying right now first of all, this is a safe space. Second of all, before the end of this podcast, I am going to make sure that you’ve got a short list of things that you can start doing today so that that never happens to you again.

So most of the people that I work with are small business owners, and those people tend to have businesses that max out at a certain number of clients. So when somebody asks me how to go get leads, before I’ll talk to them about any of the possible options out there, I always ask them this question. “Do you need an audience or do you need clients?”

So most small business owners don’t need to build an audience. What they need to be building is a reputation and have the systems in place to actually be able to support them and maintaining that. But what I keep seeing is well meaning business owners trying to use tactics that are actually geared for audience growth versus the ones that are gonna get them cash and clients in the door stat, which is usually what they need.

If that’s true for you, here’s my next question: “Where are your clients coming from now?” I am not a mind reader, but I am willing to bet that you just answered referrals. And if your answer is referrals, did you just get like that twinge of disappointment there? Possibly you’re whinging internally a little bit that referrals are great when I get them but they’re just so inconsistent , Dusti. Y’all,referrals are the golden goose. I need you to stop shitting on them. Referrals are the best clients out there. They come pre approved from people you love. They are the people you don’t have to work to bring towards you. You don’t have to convince them the way that you do cold traffic or something like that.

It is incredible to me that so many online businesses are so concerned about being referral only like there’s something wrong with them or they’re not doing enough somehow. If you were hiring a more traditional brick and mortar business like a contractor or an accountant or even visiting a restaurant, you’d ask for a referral. And I can tell you firsthand as someone trying to find a CPA during tax season that you can absolutely be a referral only business and still be booked solid.

Let’s pause for a second there. So why does being a referral based business rub you the wrong way? Is it actually being referral only that’s the problem? Or is it that you really just need to be consistently getting a couple more folks through the door every month? What if I told you that’s 100% possible? You’re probably closer than you think you are and that, if you nail it, you won’t have to go back to the feast/famine. You won’t have to go back to social media to sell, and you might even be able to torch your email list. If you’ve got a chill right now, keep listening. All it takes is becoming referral worthy.

So what does it mean to be referral worthy? By definition, it means that what you’re doing is remarkable. It’s worth talking about, it’s worth sharing. It’s worth your time to make sure that your friends and peers and other people who need that particular service know that you exist. And that’s the thing we all dream about. We want to be the person who is first on somebody’s mind when they think of our particular niche or specialty. That’s what we want.

What does it require then? Why aren’t you getting more of those kinds of referrals right now? What makes a service provider, a business, worth sharing? It’s more than one thing. It’s pretty multifaceted, and that’s what we’re going to be unpacking throughout this podcast and the interviews I’ll be conducting.

But today here’s what I want you to take away from this. First of all, it requires clarity of messaging. You have to have a clear offer, my friend. If you have trouble explaining what it is you do, other people are also going to have trouble explaining what it is you do. The offer itself needs to be clear. What do people get? What is the transformation? Where do they start? Where do they end? If there is a deliverable of some sort, what is the deliverable they get at the end? What is that process going to be like?

And speaking of which, that is the second piece that it requires – a great experience. We have our onboarding, our offboarding, the systems managing it, maybe you have an assistant. Are they great to work with? Was the project done on time and to spec? All that kind of thing. Next, follow up. After care. Are you collecting testimonials? Do you actively ask for referrals? This is something you can automate if you don’t feel comfortable saying it out loud by the way. You can absolutely do this or if you forget. I forget to get testimonials and do follow up. So now it’s all just automated as part of my workflow.

Something else really key here is do you forget that people exist after you’ve done business with them one time? Because I have to tell you, it is much easier to sell to someone you’ve already made happy one time than it is to go and get new clients. There are numbers around that. Just trust that it’s true for the moment. You have to remember that the fortune is in the follow up every single time. I learned that phrase from Tiffany Noel Taylor, and it is absolutely true. The fortune is in the follow up. People don’t want to just feel like they’re being sold to. They want to feel like a collaborator in the process. They want to feel like a friend. And that’s absolutely, for me, I love doing business with my friends. Like I love giving my friends money. And we pay full price with our friends, we don’t forget that folks.

Next up, is what you’re doing unique? What’s the vibe? What’s the positioning? I’m not talking about the offer itself. I want to be really clear here. We don’t need to be reinventing the wheel but I am talking about you. As in “Bitch, I am the secret ingredient.” I need that kind of feeling from your brand. If I can pick out of a million copywriters, what is the thing that’s going to hook me where I’m just like, “Oh, that one she’s got the thing that I want. I want some of that magic, some of that juju splashed on my coffee.”

And last but not least context. Context is key for getting referrals. So are people saying your name in groups that you’ve never been in? Are they saying it in the right groups? Are you talking to the right people? Sometimes we can be doing activities, networking, etc. and we feel like nothing is happening. And you’re probably right, maybe nothing is happening, you know. Are you actually going to the places where your clients are? Those are some of the things that I want you considering when you’re thinking about building a referral worthy business.

Now briefly, I do want to introduce myself and talk a little bit more about what it is I do, who I work with and why it’s so important to me that when you’re thinking about marketing for your business that you focus on referrals first if you’re a creative service provider. I’m Dusti Arab. I run The Reinvention Co. It is a small marketing consultancy, specializing in working with personality driven companies with small teams. So like, New York Times best sellers who have a course associated with their book, big personality, they show up on social media a lot. Those kinds of people, that’s my bread and butter. I have also worked with a lot of much smaller businesses throughout the years and what I have found is that no matter how things change, they stay the same.

So when I first came online in 2011, the thing that really propelled me to even start a business was all of the incredible people I was meeting. So I started blogging back when I was 22. And what I found was, even though I’d grown up in a ruralish suburban community of like 20,000 people, I always just felt like, you know, the odd man out so to speak. And when I came online, it’s like, Oh, my God, there are all of these weirdos out here just like me. And that has been the staying power for me of working online and being a part of these spaces and watching things iterate the way that they do.

So despite all of the trends, all the different social media platforms, everything that I’ve seen in all of this time, what I have found time and time again for me what’s true is that the best people come from the best people. To quote my friend Brianne Dick, the best people know the best people. For me, working with collaborators and friends and then having some of those people become clients after I’ve known them for a couple of years, that is where my joy work is.
It’s where I’ve gotten all of my biggest clients, all of my best clients. Once in a while you’ll have somebody come through who just finds you but most of the time, that’s just not how it works. If you’re going to spend a bunch of money with a consultant, you want to work with somebody who somebody else has had a good experience with. There are so many charlatans working on the internet that you have to go through and like vet people, you know, you can’t just hire anyone. It’s why referrals are so critically important to the kinds of businesses we build.

So for me, it’s not just business. I don’t really work with people who feel that way. Like when they take somebody’s money, they’re high integrity, they care about that person, they care about the project. And I’m not saying that you have to be 100% completely invested in every single project you do by any means, but I think having that level of community care builds better businesses, and I think it’s better for all of us and it means that your referrals are going to be incredible.

So I want you to think about where your last referral came from. Were they a good fit, a great fit or not a fit? If you got a referral, but you didn’t close that client, I want you to write down why. And if you don’t have a clear answer, like they said timing was bad or they couldn’t afford you or whatever, go ahead and just write down your best guess. Now I want you to think about the last time you referred somebody. And if you can’t think of like a service provider or a person that you recommended, I want you to think of a place. So restaurant referrals. When we’re recommending somewhere to go eat, we’ve got our favorites. We’ve got places we know staff, all that kind of thing. What makes something referrable for you? What are the things about it that make it exciting where you want to go again? Is there anything that you could take from your experience there that you could pull into your business somehow? Could you make it a little more fun or a little more interesting?

There’s one more thing I’d like you to consider about brick and mortar businesses in particular. Lots of those businesses have an inherent cap on the number of people they can serve at any one time, right? A restaurant’s a great example of this. Like that restaurant can scale they could open another location, whatever. But the truth is, they don’t have to, they can build out a reservations waitlist. It could be months long. There’s a place in Portland right now you can’t even get a reservation because it’s a James Beard Award winner. And when those things happen, it creates demand. That could look like a waitlist for you. You don’t have to take on more necessarily. You can reach capacity, you can stay there comfortably instead of insisting on growth at all costs.

And despite what you may have heard from internet marketers, shitty business coaches, you know, basically anyone who’s benefiting from your internalized shame, that is success for a lot of folks. That is allowed to be enough. You are allowed to have a right sized business that fits your lifestyle and brings you joy. You do not always have to be pushing and hustling. So for more established like personality driven brands with someone charismatic leading them, they often have a product suite that requires volume, like a book, in addition to whatever their core service offering is, which might be a course or a mastermind or whatever. That’s why I do some of my best work with. I love getting to play in that. But frankly, there are a lot more of you out there who I’m pretty sure care more about doing great work with people you really love to spend time with on a you-sized scale. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Not everybody needs to be an influencer or a thought leader and that is okay. Instead of stressing about your list size or getting good at social media when you hate it, what if, stay with me, you just focus on your next 10 clients. I know what you’re probably going to say next. “But Dusti, where are those people? I’m not having enough of those conversations.” Ooh, I got you.

First of all, where did your last 10 clients come from? This is something you should be tracking. If you’re not tracking this, start just like a basic ass list or a spreadsheet. However your brain works best and start tracking this stuff. What about your best clients ever? Where did they come from? If the answer is referral, next to them I want specifics. Where did that referral happen? How did it happen? Who was the person saying your name in the right place at the right time?

Let me give you an example of how this could potentially play out. So this was kind of a roundabout referral. I was recently recommended by a friend in a Facebook group of peloton riders as someone who they thought would be able to point this other person in the right direction regarding course creation, even though she knew I wasn’t doing it anymore. The Reinvention Co used to be a course creation agency. Her guess was that I would probably have somebody that I was actively referring to, and guess what? She was right. So as a result, I was able to pass on that referral to someone who was qualified to handle it. What that says to me is a couple of things. Most importantly, is that my previous messaging was specific enough that when somebody was familiar with it, they knew exactly who to send me. If what you do is not that specific, that is likely a factor for why your referrals are not as consistent as you would like them to be.

Next question. If you were starting over from scratch, what would you go do to get your first 10 clients? What are the actions you would take? Who would you talk to? I will always recommend that you go out and have a direct one on one conversation with somebody who actually needs what you have to offer, instead of posting a hundred semi-relevant things on social media with varying levels of performative vulnerability. I can tell you right away which one of those activities is going to make you money faster.

Now, last question, how has your follow up been over the last six months? Go make sure you’re not leaving folks who have already expressed interest in your offer in the dark. This is usually the fastest way to revenue.

I hope these questions are a helpful jumping off point for you, particularly if you’re looking to get some clients through the door, stat. I absolutely understand how stressful it can be when you need money in the door yesterday. But I also know, small business folks are some of the smartest, scrappiest people I know, so get out there, make sure you’re asking for the referral. Until next time.

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