No matter what type of consulting services you offer and what industry you specialize in, there’s one marketing tactic that applies to all: the power of the word of mouth.

Advertising in magazines or on television, investing in digital ads, and social media outreach all have merit, of course. But when positioning yourself as a sought-after consultant, word of mouth referrals will still be your best ally.

For my company, Lincoln Strategy Group, this strategy has been paramount. In fact, we didn’t even have a website for the first three or four years we were in business. Though we can’t rely totally on word of mouth anymore like we once did, it just goes to show how relational the consulting businesses is and how powerful personal connections are even in our increasingly digitized world.

Here’s a closer look at why word of mouth matters in the consulting and advocacy business:

Promoting Relationships

At the very basic level, word of mouth advocacy works on the premise of positive connections and relationships. People are more likely to trust a recommendation that comes from a friend, family member, or other acquaintance that is sharing a real experience. Think about it: if someone you trust recommends a movie, restaurant, or vacation, that goes a much longer way than, say, a billboard would.

As more people show interest in your consulting services and enjoy great results after working with you, they will be likely to share the news with their social and even professional circles. If someone comes to them with a request for a recommendation on where to go, your business will be at the top of their mind as they remember their positive experience.

This is why building a solid relationship with your clients is so important — you never know who they know and who they may share their experience with. You want to do everything you can to foster and nurture relationships with your clients so that you have opportunities to tap into your clients’ social and professional circles.

Encouraging Referral Connections

When you really click with clients, you’re uniquely positioned to establish relationships with other power players in their industry. This is a great opportunity for referrals, and once you’ve established trust, all you have to do is ask.

After all, if you’ve helped a client get great results, it’s likely they will want the same for people in their personal or professional network. You may ask them to refer you to contacts in exchange for you doing the same. You just never know when someone in your client’s network will need your services, causing your client to remember your request and refer you. This is another situation where building strong relationships with your clients is paramount, because an excellent reputation travels fastest by word of mouth.

Bolstering Authenticity

Maintaining a positive reputation as a consultant is critical to your success, and it takes more effort than you might think to build a positive and purposeful brand. Seriously–business as usual is not enough to communicate your worth. You’ll need to be better than good, and really sell your vision to your associates, partners, and clients.

Unlike businesses that may sell products or other people’s services, you are responsible for developing a strong image that attracts the right clients. When people whom others admire are happy to share reviews and testimonials about their experience with you, you earn instant credibility. This creates a sense of authenticity that makes people more comfortable with the idea of doing business with you. Now, imagine they are not just comfortable, but excited! That’s what you should strive for, and rave word of mouth referrals can get you there.  

Empowering Decision-Makers

Like I said, Lincoln Strategy Group is incredibly relational. There may be 3,000 companies in America that need the services that we provide, and they will be contacted by all sorts of consultants and companies pitching their services. Having just one friend or contact in that company’s network can be enough to position our business front and center among the competition.

If you know someone in the decision-making ring of a company, even better. When this happens, it can be game-changing. In my experience within my company, I’ve had decision-makers make a recommendation internally — they simply say something like, “You know what? I’ve worked with these guys before. They did a great job.” That’s almost always the first thing we look for when connecting with people, too. When we have relationships, we start having conversations, and the people we know are top of mind. When it comes time to make a decision, we know exactly who we can trust to do the job.

Relationship advocacy is one of the keys to success in the consulting business. Since you are working in the ‘people business,’ helping others get ahead with your expertise, building strong relationships, encouraging word of mouth referrals and recommendations can help you maintain a steady roster of clients. To find success in consulting, consider ways you can start a conversation, stay in touch with contacts, and develop a robust referral network to help your business thrive.