If success for you means hitting certain revenue or employment goals, or if you take inspiration from those with rapid and sustained growth, I’d like to introduce you to Zach Benson, founder of Assistagram, a personal Instagram management agency (and former participant on the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance ).
Seeing a shift from traditional advertising and marketing to social media marketing, Benson decided to jump in.
However ironically, instead of spending money on marketing his own services, Benson thought of ways to help those around him by offering his services at a huge discount. He did this simply as a way to build quality relationships and testimonials, and as a result, let the word-of-mouth spread.
He shares, “Lots of businesses and people are trying to sell their products and services online, but are struggling, so I started this company because I want people to win. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone succeed at doing what they love.”
What can you learn from Benson’s journey growing his company without spending a dollar on marketing?
Here are his top 9 tips for utilizing your network to help you grow your business to whatever size you choose:
1.Find a mentor.
If you’re just getting started in your career, Benson suggests starting with your college professors. “Email them and say-’I really love(d) your class and I am learning/learned a lot, and I want to learn more. Can you recommend any books or online resources to me?”
Or, Benson “… reached out to other successful entrepreneur friends and asked them for business advice and feedback on my model. I asked a lot of questions and just listened. You don’t have to make the same mistakes that someone else did. By simply asking questions and taking in their lessons, you can shave time off your learning curve.”
He continues, “I found most of my mentors via experiences I had in life. If I thought someone was smart, I’d compliment them and tell them that I would love to learn. Or, after I read a book, I’d email the author and say that I loved the book and ask if I could do an internship with him/her to learn more about their area of expertise.”
These small outreaches via compliments often turned into mentorship.
2. Hire right
When growing your business, having the right team in place to support you and the promises you’re selling is integral. If you don’t, you’ll burn bridges quickly. Benson explains, “Hire people whom you trust, who have integrity, are all about over-delivering, and are passionate about helping people.”
3. Express a genuine interest in everyone
“Everyone has value and worth to offer,” shares Benson. “ I always start conversations with anyone, anywhere, because you never know whom you’ll meet. And remember, it’s not always that person, but whom that person knows that could lead to a big opportunity. I am always giving people compliments, encouragement, and taking interest in random people’s lives. In turn, this is how I’ve met a lot of new friends and business partners. These connections helped expand my network and I found a creative way to stay in touch with all of them, and my business grew.”
4. Get featured on top-rated Podcasts
Want a straightforward way to start building your brand by leveraging other people’s audiences? Benson explains, “I connected with people via email and Facebook and figured out a way to help them for free. In turn, they often invited me to be a guest on their podcast. Then their listeners heard me talk about Instagram growth strategies and reached out to me. This is how I got my first few clients.”
5. Slow down to speed up
It might feel necessary to cast a wide net and try to bring on every sort of new client. “Instead of trying to get as many clients as possible, my team focused on doing things right and offering the best service and experience for the most value for the few clients we had when starting out.” This turned into quality outcomes, which, in turn, created loyal clients who are excited to refer you.
6. Focus locally
You can grow in whichever market you’re planted. Benson says, “I grew up in Iowa and have lived there pretty much my whole life. So, I reached out to my contacts who knew newspaper editors and news hosts to write about me and feature my story. I knew that I could leverage this local press to get national press in the future, as well as get attention from local potential customers.” Whether press or the gatekeepers to the audience you’re targeting, it’s always wise to leverage those relationships first.
7. Connect with influencers
The term “influencer” is thrown around a lot, which might be confusing. Benson explains, “I connected with influencers with big businesses and did work for them for free, or almost free, when I was starting out. I’d ask trusted people in my network to make introductions where appropriate. I’ve learned that successful people are super-smart with their money. I realized, therefore, that if I show them that I respect them and can help solve one of their problems, or help them with something they are really focusing on, and help them smash their goals, then the referrals come naturally. They then become a spokesperson for my services.” It’s always more powerful to have someone else sing your praises.
8. Grow your network by traveling
It may seem counterintuitive to travel when you’re in growth mode, However, Benson says, “I decided to travel often because I love it and because of the opportunities to expand my network. I choose a country, find a big business/tech/entrepreneur event going on, and attend. Most of the time, I pitch myself to speak, or get in as media because I have a large Instagram network. Then, I interview people in attendance and find a creative way to stay in touch with them. I also network with hotel staff and guests when I travel. It’s become a huge part of my success.”
9. Don’t ask for referrals
Perhaps there’s concern that if you don’t ask, you won’t get. However, “Don’t ask for referrals, just focus on doing a fantastic job. If you do, your customer will become your cheerleader and promote and praise you everywhere they go, turning into new clients.”
Originally published at www.forbes.com