Episode 260: Using People-Led Marketing To Generate Leads

February 15, 2023

Have you become burnt out with your current marketing strategy? Maybe you’re simply tired and exhausted from the amount of work you’re putting in with very little results coming out. In today’s episode, I’m sharing about the marketing strategy I’ve implemented that is generating the most leads in my business: people-led marketing. Listen in as I share how genuine connections bring me referrals and energize me when it comes to marketing my business!

If today’s episode resonates with you and you want to show support for the show, here’s an easy way to do so: Buy Me A Coffee!

What is People-Led Marketing?

If you’re anything like me, you are tired of using social media to generate interest in your services. This is where a people-led marketing can come into play. People-led marketing is an approach to marketing that leverages relationships, people, and human connection over things like algorithms or social media trends.

To clarify, social media serves an important role in your business—I don’t want to discount that. It served me well for years and is where I initially built my business. Personally, I’ve reached a point where I don’t love it anymore. My ideal clients are feeling the same way.

Using People-Led Marketing To Generate Leads

My ideal client is looking to their network for referrals. They’re looking for the connection and relationship off-line. If you’re considering how people-led marketing could generate leads in your business, let’s review how to use people led marketing to generate leads for your incredible business. I believe that connection and community referrals can be such an incredible place to start.

Whether you’re just getting started or you are an established business owner and you’re looking to diversify the way that you’re generating leads for your business, people-led marketing is for you. Let’s review the approach that I’ve been implementing and an approach that I believe can work for more and more businesses out there.

Connecting with People: Talking to Your Network About Your Business

It can sometimes feel easier to throw a few posts up online and get upset when it doesn’t do what you hoped. Deep, personal connections can go so much further though. People connecting with people is the first step to people-led marketing.

Build those connections with your network and industry, see how you can support them, then they’ll be there to support you. These genuine connections are ultimately what generates leads in a people-led marketing strategy.

Therefore, when it’s time to book more clients, reach out to your email list, your friends, and your network. Directly tell them rather than hoping they see it online.

Data-Driven Decisions in Marketing

While I’ve only recently put all of my efforts into people-led marketing, I started the approach a while ago. I’m a believer in data-driven decisions, which is why it was so important to me to track where my leads were coming from.

Referrals are hands down, my biggest lead generation source in my business. This is from industry friends, clients, podcasts, teaching opportunities, etc. Because of this, I decided to create a branding referral network.

The Branding Referral Network

To incentivize my connections for their referrals, I built a referral program. This was a simple way for me to stay connected to those connections, for them to have a clear understanding of how to refer potential clients to me and my services, and then if a client ends up booking, I send the referrer a payment as a thank you.

Creating a Marketing Strategy that Excited You

While data is so important in decision-making for your business, I also think emotions play an important role. In making this change in my business, I’m more energized in my marketing because I’m enjoying it. I’m taking thoughful action that is based on the data, yet I like the connections I’m making.

Inside The Brand Strategy School, I teach this exact approach of people-led marketing to help build your business and create that network of referrals. If you’re ready to take that next step, learn more, and get more support in your design business, come join us in The Brand Strategy School!

Mentioned in the Show

Zoe Linda’s free email mini course on people-led marketing 101! A great free resource for folks to learn to grow and market your business, even if you’re an introvert or low energy. Please note this is an affiliate link and I may earn a small commission on any products or services you buy.

Zoe Linda


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Review the Transcript:

Hi, friend, and welcome to the Brand Strategy Podcast, a show created to equip you with the inspiration, encouragement, and clarity you need to build a brand of your dreams. I’m your host, Bonnie Bakhtiari, brand designer, strategist, and founder of the Illume Retreat from sustainable strategy to heartfelt Encouragement. Each episode is designed to equip you with the tools you need to chase after your dreams because you deserve a brand that empowers you to do what you love, connects with your dream clients, and offers a deep sense of fulfillment along the way. So grab a cup of coffee and join me on this journey, won’t you?

Hey, friend. Welcome back to the Brand Strategy podcast, where today we are talking about an approach to marketing and lead generation that I personally have been testing out, have been loving the results, and I’m excited to share more with you about this today. And the this approach that I am sharing with you today is people led marketing. Today we’re talking about how to use people led marketing to generate leads for your incredible business. So whether you’re just getting started or you are an established business owner and you’re looking to diversify the way that you’re generating leads for your business, this episode is going to share with you an approach that I’ve been implementing and an approach that I believe can work for more and more businesses out there. So first up, as we get into this, I think it’s important that we take a minute to just kind of address what people led marketing is and people led marketing is exactly what it sounds like.

It’s an approach to marketing that leverages relationships, people, human connection over things like algorithms or social media trends. If you’re anything like me, you are tired of using social media to generate interest in your services. It’s funny, I’ve been in business since 2012, and the way that social media has evolved over those 11 years has been incredible to watch. And that’s meant that my lead generation strategies, my marketing has evolved as well. Um, there used to be a time in my business where I heavily relied on Instagram to generate leads for my business, and that was how I actually booked a ton of my incredible branding clients. And I’m not discounting Instagram, I’m not saying that social media has no value, but I am saying that personally, I’ve, I’ve reached this point where I don’t love it anymore. I don’t love having to spend a lot of time or energy showing up, and I’m finding that my ideal clients are feeling the same way.

They aren’t spending so much time on social media and of, I mean, honestly, where they are finding me and where they have been finding me for years is through word of mouth referrals, through industry recommendations, through those conversations with their business bestie or, uh, someone in a mastermind group or you know, someone in their community. And that is what inspires the connection that we are able to have. You know, and, and I think like when I put myself in the shoes of one of my incredible clients, I’m the same way. Like if I’m looking to hire someone to help me with X, y, or Z and I’m chatting with one of my industry friends about this, and they say, Hey, you have to connect with so-and-so, they have exactly the kind of service you’re looking for. Well, I take that word of mouth recommendation with such great regard because I already have that trust established with my industry friend.

I already know that they understand who I am and what I do and the kind of support I’m looking for. And if they’ve had a positive experience working with entrepreneur, a small business, a service provider in the past, that carries weight. So what we’re talking about today is using this concept of people led marketing to generate more leads for your business. And I have to say that if you want to dive into this topic more, someone who I think is just doing incredible work in helping service providers like you and me figure out how to leverage people led marketing in our businesses through things like referral programs, affiliate relationships and more, is Zoe Linda. They are someone who I like to think of as kind of like, uh, people led marketing genius, and they have curated some incredible services and actual actually some really great digital products too that you can check out.

I’ll, I’ll include all of their links in the show notes so you can check them out. But that’s someone who I’ve actually worked with in the past to infuse a little bit more intention and strategy into my own internal referral program. So with that being said, people led marketing, lots of potential. I highly recommend this approach. If you’re someone who, like I was just saying, you’re feeling kind of burnt out by social media, you’re tired of having to constantly create content that is evolving based on trends to generate the kind of response that you’re looking for from your audience. So if you’re someone who you’re not really loving that approach of relying on social media to generate your sales, and you’re wanting to either move away from social media or you’re wanting to at least diversify your lead generation, I really do believe that connection community referrals can be such an incredible place to start actually inside the brand strategy school, which is my program for graphic brand and web designers, I teach this, like, if you’re just getting started in business, instead of spending a ton of time or energy building, you know, this like massively complex, uh, content marketing strategy, I say, go out and talk to people.

Go and talk to your friends, your family, the people you went to school with, the people that you used to work with. Tell the people that you know, I’m starting this business. This is what I do. Do you know anyone who could use my services or who would like to work with me or would like to buy from me? And you’d be amazed at the relationships, at the possibility, at the, honestly, the sales that are waiting for you within the connections that you already have. I think that in the online business space, it’s easy to feel this pressure to go out and build an audience. It’s easy to feel like you need to go out there and sell, sell, sell, sell, sell to strangers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But especially when you are validating a new offer or you are pivoting to reach a new audience, or you are wanting to generate some attention to your services quickly.

What I have found to be more successful than posting a lot about it on social media is sending an email to my email list, posting about it on my personal Facebook page, letting the people that I know know about what I’m doing and what I need from them, right? Going to, you know, groups that I’m a part of, masterminds that I’m a part of, just, just asking around, Hey, I’m looking to book, you know, a a new client for this quarter for this kind of service. Do you know anyone who would find that to be useful? And that to me feels more sustainable, right? Because it’s people connecting with people. And I’m an introvert, and so I appreciate kind of deep personal connection with people. That means a lot to me. And that’s something that I, I can get that to an extent from the conversations I have with folks on social media, but it’s not quite the same, right?

As like, um, even just trading personal emails with someone or hopping on a Zoom call or a phone call. And so having the opportunity to connect with these people that are a part of my community and hear about their lives, hear about kind of what season of business they’re in, what things they’re working on and how I can support them is a really genuine relational and reciprocal way to drive more interest to what you are doing. And then if you know you can return the favor, then you can drive interest to what they’re doing. And it’s just a lot of fun to getting to, you know, spend that time investing in the people that are already a part of your community versus feeling this pressure to create a lot of content for a platform that may not actually be generating those results for you. So my thought process behind making this switch actually began quite a while ago.

Like we’re talking like last year at least, I’ve always been that kind of person who is really focused on knowing where my clients were coming from. So I’ve always tracked where my inquiries are coming from, from those inquiries who ends up booking with me. So who ends up converting into an actual client and using that data to inform my marketing efforts. Again, this is stuff that I teach inside the brand strategy school. It’s, it’s like literally just this easy formula that I can implement to generate consistent clients whenever I need to or whenever I want to. And so I’ve always known that referrals are hands down, like the biggest lead generation source for my business. And that can look like an industry friend passing my name along to someone, uh, a former client sharing about me with, you know, someone they know. I could be speaking at a conference or a workshop.

I could be on someone else’s podcast. I could be, you know, they’re, the options are endless here. And it’s a really fun way, like I was saying to, to see, hey, okay, I, I remember I worked with this person a couple years ago and they’re still driving, you know, attention to my services and sending clients my way. I, I should follow up with them. I can’t wait to connect with them and hear how things are going, kind of just touch base again and thank them for all of the, the business they’ve been driving my way. And this is something that, uh, it, you know, at least last year, if not earlier, I was thinking about, okay, how can I more strategically be capitalizing on these referrals? So instead of these just being these kind of random inquiries that that pop up in my inbox, can I be more intentionally fostering a kind of community, a kind of network for these referrals?

And so actually years ago I created what I call my branding referral network. It’s an internal program that I’ve created for my past clients and for my industry friends that people can opt into. And it’s a simple way for me to stay connected to them, for them to have a clear understanding of how to refer potential clients to me and my services. And then if a client ends up booking, I send them a payment as a thank you. And that is an easy way for me to not only tangibly thank these, these people inside the branding referral network for sending new business my way, but it’s also an easy way, like I was saying, for me to stay in touch with them. So, um, something that I do is I send out an email every single month with, uh, you know, kind of studio updates and helpful resources and, you know, any tips that I can share that kind of pertain to the season of life that we’re in.

Um, so this time of year, the content has been very heavily focused on citing intentions and goals for a new year that serve you well and, um, taking the intentional action that maximizes the profit that you’re creating in your business. And it’s a really fun way for me to pour into these people. And it also then kind of opens up this amount of communication that we can have where they can reply to that email and, you know, share their thoughts with me, share updates that they’re experiencing, share ways that I can support them. Because with everything I’m doing, I’m wanting to make sure that this is a two-way street, right? People who are a part of my branding referral network, they’re not just sending people my way and that’s it. I wanna send people their way too, right? Because I believe so deeply in the transformation that can happen when we focus on the community that is right in front of us through the relationships we already have.

If I can be pouring into their business, if I know someone or I meet someone who could use their support or their services, I’m definitely gonna share their name even if they’re not in that space. And so you see people led marketing, it might take more time, it might take a little bit more energy up front to set your intention for how you wanna leverage referrals, or if you wanna create an internal program like I have, that might take more time. But once you have it set up, it is something that kind of builds that momentum and starts to run for itself. So like I was saying last year, I started really recognizing, um, kind of taking this inventory of my energy. So I was noticing like how I felt energetically when I was showing up on Instagram to talk about my services or to talk about the brand strategy school.

And it wasn’t as fun as it used to be. And so I thought, okay, what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna start experimenting with this. So I actually started phasing out of posting a ton on Instagram, which previously used to be a big lead generation source for my business. And coincidentally, I had started to notice that even before I made that choice to consciously kind of phase out of all the content I was created on that platform, that referrals had overtaken Instagram a while ago, as my top lead generation source. And so I was like, looking at the data, this does not make sense. I don’t need to be on this platform if it’s not actually driving traffic to my business, to my services in the sense of what’s making me money, right? And so I started just kind of experimenting with it because as everything in business can be, it’s, there’s all this possibility and potential for it to just be kind of this like fun experiment that you’re trying out.

So I thought, okay, let’s try it. If it’s great, it’s great. If it doesn’t work, I can always, you know, kind of turn back up the, the volume on the amount of content that I’m sharing on Instagram or other social media platforms. So, um, last year went all in on people led marketing in my business, revamped my branding referral network, worked with Zoe to create a more strategic approach and to really polish up a lot of the, um, assets and resources that we were sharing with the people that were opting into that internal referral program. And I’ve been so pleased with the results and I’ve been so pleased to get to continue to connect with people in this way. And it’s felt a lot better. It’s felt fun, it’s felt interesting, it’s felt like I am taking action that aligns with my values and aligns with the kind of community that I wanna be creating with my past clients and my industry friends.

And, you know, it’s, it’s a really good feeling and I, I I think it’s important to acknowledge that like your energy amplifies what you’re interested in and what you’re working on and your business. So if you’re doing something that energetically just, ugh, it doesn’t feel good, it feels heavy, it feels hard. If you’re just like forcing yourself to do it or you are putting it off indefinitely, that to me is a sign that that action might not be something worth pursuing. So in this example, energetically I’m feeling excited about this. I’m pleased that I’m investing back into people, which is how my business started. My very first projects were people that I went to school with friends, um, friends of friends, and that word of mouth grew from there. And that is what created the leverage that took beers for Bonnie Design from an idea to an actual thriving business.

And so knowing that I’m returning to those roots and, and having fun with it energetically, it feels good and it feels like I’m taking thoughtful action that is based on the data that I’ve seen in my business, right? I track where my leads come from, I know past clients, industry, friends, word of mouth, that’s the biggest traffic driver and, um, lead generation, source and my business. So I’m gonna do more of that. Where can I focus more on generating real reciprocal genuine relationships? And when it feels aligned, when you know, someone feels like I’m a good service provider to recommend to an industry friend or someone they know they can share, but it’s, it’s very laid back, it’s very integrity driven. So no one is ever feeling pressured. No one is ever feeling like they have to say my name in these spaces or share about my work.

Likewise, I only recommend products or services to people that I know or here on the podcast if I believe in them, if I’ve used them, if I know that that’s gonna add value to someone’s life. And it’s just a different approach that takes, kind of takes it back more to like the basics of running a business versus getting cut up in, you know, these really intricate and sophisticated content marketing strategies and um, posting calendars and things like that. And, you know, with all of this, there’s no right way to run your business. There’s no right way or one best practice to generate leads for your business, but this is something that I started experimenting with and I’ve seen, I’ve seen success with it and energetically it’s amplifying my actions because I’m, uh, able to show up and do it consistently. I’m able to keep pouring into it because I’m excited about it and I want to do it and I want to grow this, this network that I’ve developed.

So with that being said, if you too like me, are wanting to experiment with something different, and if you’re looking at the data in your business and you’re seeing that, oh, I do actually get a few sales or a few clients from past clients or industry friends, that tells me that there’s already the opportunity waiting for you to try this out and to implement a little more people led marketing in your lead generation strategy. If you’re just getting started, like I was saying earlier, rather than, you know, going all in on creating a ton of content for social media, try connecting with the people that are already in your community and see what kind of opportunities are waiting for you in those spaces. And those clients can not only generate revenue for your business when you’re getting things up and off the ground, but it also energetically can kind of spark this momentum that then you can leverage and kind of allow to propel you into the content that you create for social media.

And I mean, with that, with all this being said, I recommend at least diversifying your lead generation approach so that you are not relying on one platform for all of your leads. We know that the social media landscape is constantly changing the apps that we have access to, the trends that are trending, all the things are changing, and we don’t necessarily have control over those platforms or even the audiences that we’re building there. So that’s why things that you can manage internally inside your business, like an email list or an internal affiliate program or an internal referral program, can be especially useful. And like I was saying earlier, it is such a fantastic way to focus on, on relationships on humans because at the end of the day, our businesses exist to serve people the work that we do. Whether you are a designer, a photographer, a wedding planner, a coach, a floral designer, whether you make physical products, your work impacts other living, breathing humans.

And so it’s important to think about how can I center the people that I serve, not only through my services or my products or my client experience, but also through my marketing, right? And there’s just a lot of possibility there. So with that being said, I hope that this gives you an idea or two to process in the coming days and weeks, and I hope you try it out. I hope that this is something that just brings more connection and community into your business, and then as a result, you’ll see that also that is helping you to drive more sales to the work that you love doing. As always, I hope that this resonates and that this is something that gives you some good things to experiment with and play with. And hey, whatever does not resonate, feel free to just leave it right in this space.

We only take action based on what feels good to us, what feels aligned, and what honors how we define success. Anything else, you can just table it for later or never , and that’s totally fine. I’m grateful that you’re a part of this space, and I’m grateful to be able to have this corner of the internet to share these thoughts with you and to be honest about what I’m playing with and experimenting within my business and the kind of results that I’m seeing. So, so friend, don’t forget that I’m cheering you on from Waco and I already can’t wait to hang out with you here on the podcast next time.

Thank you so much for joining me today, friend. Before you go, I would be so grateful to receive your feedback on the brand strategy podcast. If you enjoyed this episode or the podcast in general has helped you grow your brand, I’d really appreciate it if you left us a review in iTunes. Your positive reviews enable the brand strategy podcast to continue to grow and reach like-minded creatives just like you. Thank you for all your support and encouragement as together we pursue building brands with purpose and intention. Until next time, I’m cheering you on from Waco.

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My name is Bonnie – I’m a brand designer, strategist, and writer which all adds up to one eclectic conglomeration of qualities that enables me to serve you well! Past clients have dubbed me "the Joanna Gaines of brand design," and I've had more than a few call me a dream maker, a game changer, and a design wizard (my Harry Potter-loving heart didn't hate that one, let me tell you!). At the end of the day, I'm a big-hearted creative who will get teary-eyed as you share the heart behind your business; who will lose sleep over the perfect font pairings and color selections to bring your brand to life visually; and who will work tirelessly to empower, encourage, and equip you to share your work with the world intentionally. 

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