Stop for a minute and think about your people.

I don’t just mean your employees.  I mean ALL your people: your customers, your contractors, your investors, and, yes, your employees, too – everyone that has a stake in or influence on the success of your organization.

These aren’t just faceless numbers on a page. They’re people with lives, families, friends, hopes, dreams, fears, and tangible needs. And all those traits factor into their decision-making processes, including what they buy, who they buy it from, what they recommend to others, where they work, how they work and where they invest.

If you are serious about building your brand, you need make sure you are working to build strong relationships with all your stakeholders, and developing a strong community relations program is a great way to do just that.

What Is a Community Relations Program?

A community relations program is a marketing strategy that fosters a human connection between your business and the community. It’s about how you interact with other organizations, businesses, and individuals in your area — especially the ways you give back and support the communities in which your organization operates.

The concept of community relations has been around for literally centuries, but only became a formalized public relations strategy within the last four decades. Different organizations take different approaches and call it by different names. Corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility and community stewardship are some of the terms that essentially refer the same concept.

Why Is Community Relations Important?

Customers today – especially those younger than age fifty — prefer to buy from, work for and/or invest in companies that are making a positive difference in the world. Research has repeatedly underscored that demonstrating that an organization promotes not just making a buck but making a difference is actually good business.

Here are three reasons you need a strong community relations strategy:

1. Engaged employees

The way an organization treats the community suggests good things to its employees about how it perceives and respects them. According to a survey produced by Apparo in 2017, organizations that encourage their employees to volunteer through pro bono work during paid business hours create motivated employees who feel that their company respects their development. These employees also feel energized by the opportunity to be creative with their skillset for a good cause.

2. Loyal customers

Consumers think consciously about the products and services they buy. In a Nielson survey, 66% of participants said they pay more for products and services from socially responsible companies. When examining the population of participants willing to pay more, 56% said “a brand being known for its social value” was a top purchase driver. Another purchase drive, “a brand with community commitment,” was marked by 53% of those will to pay more. Customers will be loyal to your company if your values align with theirs.

3. Positive public image

Active CSR positions your organization as a leader in the community, and a positive role model for others to follow. Moreover, when companies stand out for the good work they’re doing in the community can lead to positive press coverage and favorability from government officials and regulatory bodies.

So I ask you: If you don’t have a community relations program in place, what are you waiting for?

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I hear it all the time from my consulting and coaching clients: “Eddie, you keep telling me to be aggressive in building referral sources, but I am just so busy I don’t see how I can!”

Of course, they fail to see the lack of logic in that grumbling: If they were so busy (or at least busy doing the things that produce profitable revenue), they wouldn’t need me to help them grow their business!

I calmly tell what I have repeated to hundreds of business people over the years: All of us make time for things the that are really important to us, so if growing your business is important, you will make time to do things that will lead to growth. And few strategies are more effective at doing so than developing a referral network.

Referral marketing takes time and attention, but the businessperson who gets serious, gets organized and gets going will see real results in fairly short order.

Here are 3 keys to keep the referrals flowing in:

Key 1: Be Proactive

Waiting for someone to reach out with an unsolicited referral is like looking for rainbows: They appear occasionally, and are beautiful when they do, but they won’t pop up very often. You need to resolve to take forceful and frequent action to develop a network of strong potential referral sources.

Don’t leave this to chance. Take a few minutes and scan your contacts Pick at least five per weekday to pick up the phone and call with an invitation to lunch or coffee. Yes, I said a phone call.  You can follow-up with an email, but a short initial phone call will yield much better results.

Key 2: Be Persistent

In today’s crazy-busy business environment, it’s really hard to stay in touch with potential referral sources. Despite our best intentions to stay on their minds, we look up and weeks or months have gone by sense we communicated.  We need to find smart ways to increase our persistence.

One of the easiest and smartest is just making notes in our calendar to reach out to folks at regular intervals. For instance, there’s a list of accountants, lawyers, and equity investors that I have in my calendar to contact to grab coffee three times per year.

Here’s another powerful but easy technique: Set up a Google Alert for a specific phrase that would be of interest to your referral source. When one you think will spark her or his interest, forward the information item to them with a short personal note. Works like a charm and only takes a couple of minutes!

Key 3: Be Purposeful

When you have a direct conversation with your potential referral partner, your mindset should be focused on one purpose: “serve, serve, serve, not “sell, sell, sell”. Trying to sell them not only won’t work, but will all but guarantee that they won’t send business your way in the future.

Look for ways you can serve them. Ask lots of questions about their business. Find out who they consider to be their ideal customer and what’s the best way for you to connect them. Connect them with other resources or pointing them in the right direction to fill a need they have.

Service providers who want to generate major growth in revenue and profits understand that building a strong referral network is like finding the proverbial pot of gold. If you want some of those nuggets, start putting referral network tips to work TODAY.

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How to Unleash The Power of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

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In working with my coaching and consulting clients, my primary focus is getting them to concentrate on working ON their business and not just IN their business. In that vein, one of the concepts I drill down on is the importance of focusing on customer lifetime value (CLV), which many have found to be the […]

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How to Keep Tabs on Your Competition Online

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Every smart business makes it point to pay attention to the competition.  While you should never spend exorbitant amounts of time dissecting every minor move nor murmur that your competitors make, you do need to know broadly what they are up to. Are they launching new products or services?  Are they entering new markets or […]

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