As a consultant, fundraiser, or other referral-based business, taking your work to the next level means being proactive to communicate with clients, prospective clients, and other important contacts.

We all know the importance of word of mouth marketing. According to Nielsen research, 92% of buyers trust recommendations from friends and family (quick aside: who are those poor 8% who don’t?).

If you’re lucky, you’ve been on the receiving end of a phone call that starts like this: “Jane, are you taking on new clients? I was talking with someone over lunch about a problem they are facing, and I think you would be the perfect person to help them solve it. I gave them your contact info, so you’ll probably hear from them soon.”

Of course, a lot of hard work and expertise goes into being the kind of person your friends are willing to recommend to someone else. No matter your degrees or experience, however, it will not matter unless your friend thinks of you in that moment when someone tells them, “We’ve really been struggling with X. Do you know anyone who could help?”

How can you both conduct proactive marketing to stay on the radar for prospective clients while also doing the actual work that makes you worth hiring in the first place?

If you’re like most professionals, your mind quickly jumps to forming a plan, and your plan likely involves complicated marketing strategies — SEO, newsletters, networking events, media interviews, speaking gigs, presentations, and webinars. Dear God, am I going to have to put together a webinar?!?!?

You look at the list, and already feel exhausted. So you give up, and go back to your spreadsheets or your inbox and hope that if you just do good enough work, the new business will come.

There is an easier path to start marketing your expertise for the purpose of increasing referrals, and it’s one of my favorite tools in the professional’s marketing toolbox.

The “You might find this of interest…” email

If you read articles about your industry — and hopefully you do — then when you find a good one, take a quick second to email a link to someone in your network.

That’s it!

No need to hire a graphic designer, web developer, or webinar guru. Just simple, authentic, relationship building.

We have probably sent those emails in the past, and received them, but when you stop for a second and think about them, they are a very powerful marketing tool.

The “you might find this of interest…” email is authentic, establishes your expertise (you are reading smart articles about your industry, after all), and if nothing else gives you an excuse to say hello to someone without an otherwise fairly awkward message like, “Hi Jim, we are begging for taking on new clients. Can you please, pretty please refer me some business?”

It’s not magic. It won’t transform everything overnight. But it’s a simple way to keep in touch, stay top of mind, and plant that seed with more people that you are a thoughtful expert in the field and should be their first call when they or a friend have a problem you can solve.

If you wanted to take the “you might find this of interest…” strategy to the next level, however, here’s a few tips to level up your referral generation machine:

1. Keep a list

When reaching out to key contacts in your industry, do you have a list of who those people are? More than just the contacts on your phone, you need a list of your contacts specifically for professional purposes.

There are lots of ways to do this. Have a dedicated spreadsheet, or a tag / label in your contacts (Google allows you to label contacts and then filter contacts by label).

At Flat Creek, we believe that building authentic, deep relationships is key to growing brand value, and have made it a key part of our CRM platform, Datrm.in. In Datrm.in, you can quickly combine all of your contacts into one place to then segment and even start messaging your contacts directly from the platform. You can also easily keep track of your history of interactions with a contact so you are not over-communicating, but people aren’t dropping out of touch either.

2. Know your contacts

Pop quiz: Would you rather know your contacts as rows in a spreadsheet, or as people? (Introverts: you can skip this one.)

To me, a smart referral-based marketing strategy is really just an excuse to get to catch up with friends. There are so many great people in our industry, I love finding excuses to connect with them and hear what they’re working on. The side benefit, of course, is that we stay in touch for potential projects.

Part of building relationships is getting to know the other person, and as you do so you find better ways to help each other succeed. If I know a friend is wrestling with a specific issue, or thinking about developing a product, as I come across related articles, I can send them their way.

All this to say: keep good notes. We can’t remember everything about everyone we know. Good notes are like an extension of our brains. They help us recall information quickly, which helps us go deeper with our relationships.

One easy way to quickly recall topics that may be of interest to a specific contact is to use tags. In Datrm.in, you can quickly add tags to any contact, making it easy to pull up a list of everyone with a specific interest when you come across a great article you want to share.

3. Be a smart news consumer

This is a problem that befalls many marketing “pros”: the best database and most powerful tools in the world are worthless unless you have something useful to say.

If you want to be an expert in your field, and have others recognize your expertise, hopefully reading, learning, and sharing are all part of your daily routine.

There must be at least 17 news apps for every person on the planet, so there are probably a couple that suit your needs. Personally, I love using Feedly, an RSS aggregator that pulls in headlines from news sites and blogs specific to my needs. I also create lists on Twitter of users related to specific industries.

One bonus of creating Twitter lists: others can subscribe to your list. So as you curate a good list of industry-specific experts, others will subscribe to your list, which, in turn, helps position you as a good resource.

4. Be proactive

Once you have a plan, good notes, and great content to share, it’s just a matter of dedicating the time to do outreach. The upside of sending “You might find this of interest…” emails is that it does not take long. It is just an activity you have to do regularly.

Scheduling even just 30 minutes a week to send a few messages to your key contacts will pay big dividends.

We all know this to be true: there are thousands of people, tasks, apps, and activities competing for our time. If it doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t happen.

Bonus tip: Build your strategy around your contacts, not content

Here’s a fun way to take this strategy to the next level: instead of starting with the content, then seeing who you can share it with, start with a single contact and look for content specifically for their needs. Sending an email like this is extremely powerful: “I was thinking about the project you mentioned the last time we talked, and came across a couple of resources you might find of interest…”

I am convinced that when we proactively look for ways to help the people in our lives succeed, that investment of time and energy in others comes back to us 100x. What is the point of being a service-based professional, a non-profit fundraiser, or a political activist if it is not to serve others and improve the lives of those around us?

If you know of someone who thrives on helping others, would you consider sharing this article with them? Just forward the link with a quick note at the top: “I thought you might find this of interest…”

Want to build better relationships and make an impact? Sign up for a no-obligation 14-day free trial of Datrm.in here.