The Ecology of Networking and Referrals

How to Grow Your Business Through Meaningful One-on-One Conversations

Guest post by Julie Wolk.


Networking gets a bad rap. Especially if you’re not naturally inclined toward floating around events chatting with everyone, even the thought of a networking event might exhaust you or make you cringe.

But here’s the thing…

Our lives and our businesses are made up of and totally dependent on the networks that we are a part of and create.

And, networking can be deeply meaningful and beneficial to ourselves and to everyone we touch.

So let’s look at networking from a different perspective . . .

Take a few steps back and imagine the system you and your business are a part of.

Think of it as an ecological habitat with many different points or hub . . . fruit trees, small mammals, edible plants, pollinators, soil microbes, all exchanging food, oxygen, minerals, water, pollen . . . They are all in relationship with one another. Your business is like one of these hubs.

And likewise, in your business web of life you relate and connect with other hubs (people, businesses, organizations), and you also exchange things, learn things, buy things, consume things, and you offer other things back out to other hubs. You also hire people, collaborate with people, refer clients to people, and vice versa.

In all of these relationships, there is an exchange of energy that can benefit both people, however some of these relationships are particularly mutually beneficial. In ecology, this is called mutualistic symbiosis: a close, long-term interaction between two different species where both species benefit.

Just like an ecosystem, your business thrives in a diverse web of interrelated beings helping each other out.

And the more each hub is playing its right role (or filling its niche), helping some people and calling on help from others, the more smoothly the system works. Community at its best!

In fact, each person or organization in your business web of life has a specific role, or a niche, just like each animal or plant in the ecological system has its role (the word niche comes from the ecological sciences).

Hopefully you have clarity or are moving toward clarity on your business’ niche (read my blog post here about niching or for a more in-depth exploration check out Tad Hargrave’s Niching Spiral). As Tad says, your niche is your role in the community, the gift that you offer to your people.

True networking looks at everybody’s roles and asks:

How can we help each other create a stronger, trustful, more intimately woven web for the mutual benefit of all?

And how can we go beyond traditional networking to what the Interaction Institute for Social Change calls “network building,” where we actually connect other people in our network to generate even more good, like a spider weaving its web.


Getting Practical: How to Strengthen Your Web and Generate More Business for Everyone

*Start this project today if you want to quickly generate some new leads, opportunities, and energy for your business.*

So how do we do this on a practical level? How do we deepen and strengthen our business’ web through meaningful networking?

First, you do NOT have to go to networking events (unless you want to). The strategy outlined here is a one-on-one networking strategy, and requires a phone and perhaps a coffee shop.

This is a simple marketing strategy aimed at building a genuine referral network (and seeding other potential collaborations) that I have all my clients do, especially if they are just starting out, adding a new service, or reinventing their business (which is pretty much everyone).

It’s probably the most simple, old-school marketing method out there, but it’s worth explaining because in this digital age, we actually forget the power of picking up the phone and having one-on-one conversations, let alone face-to-face meetings.

It can also be done before you even have a website, and it will generate new opportunities faster than most other marketing methods.

(Note: It’s important that you are clear on your own business and niche before doing this. See the articles above on niching.)

Step One – Make a List

Make a list of 20 people that you could help and that could help you. List the people you already know first, but it’s also great to create a new hub in your web by reaching out to people you don’t yet know! Try to think of people for whom there is a clear mutual benefit. The most obvious example is someone who could refer people they know to you and you to them.

For example, I have made intentional connections with life and career coaches so that if a client comes to me for help who’s not quite ready to start a business, I have people I can send them to help them figure out their next steps. On the flipside, these coaches know that if a client decides in the course of coaching that they want to start a business, they can send that person over to me.

Other mutually beneficial relationships might include people you could co-sponsor an event or program with, package up your work with, co-teach with, market each others programs, or collaborate in some other way that sounds fun to you.

Once you have this list, use your own version of the short script below to guide you in your first calls (it will become more natural the more you do it).

Again, you need to be uber clear on your offering and audience so that the person you’re speaking with can understand where they might fit in.

The Initial Phone Call Sample Script:

Hi So and So,

I’m not sure if you know about my business, but I help X kind of people do Y kind of thing (state your niche).

I really admire what you do/am interested in what you do, and I would love to hear more about your business and tell you some more about mine, so that we can help each other, either by referring to one another, collaborating, or through other means we haven’t even discovered yet!

Do you have few minutes to chat right now?

If yes, great! If not, then set up another time. If it’s someone who you feel there is a lot of resonance and potential with, take the time for an in-person coffee date.

Then . . . you get have a meaningful and useful conversation with this person about your work and their work, and how you might help one another . . .

Tips for Meaningful and Useful Networking Conversations:

The basic gist of this conversation is:

“Here’s my role in the community, what’s your role in the community, and how can we help each other?”


  • Speak clearly about your work . . . what exactly you do, who you serve, how you do it, and why you do it.
  • Speak from your heart. You authenticity is even more important than the perfect words.
  • Be curious and ask lots of questions about this person’s role in the community, so you can more fully understand how you can help one another.
  • Give generously and genuinely trusting that people have something to offer you too.
  • At the end, if it’s a potential referral partner, say something like, “I keep a list of people that I trust that I can refer people to. I’m going to add you to that list.” (And then of course, make a list of these people). This encourages them to think about you as a serious referral partner and do the same.

Give yourself a deadline for finishing all 20 calls or meetings. I suggest one month or less. Doing it in a condensed period can generate a lot of energy and opportunities for your business in a short amount of time.

Very Important Networking Follow-Up Tips

True networking requires repeated connection with the people in your network over time so that you may deepen trust and relationships.

So how do we do this? Follow up! Building a strong network of mutualistic symbiotic relationships must go beyond the first meeting into long-term community building:

  1. After you have a conversation with someone, follow up with an email thanking them for their time, the deepening connection, and any future referrals to one another (or follow up on any other collaboration next steps that are needed). Clearly write: Here’s a link to my website in case you meet someone who could use my help.
  2. Add them to your email list. I don’t care if it has six people on it – create an email list (go to Mailchimp and get a free account). Your email list is the simplest way to stay in touch with your growing community, maintain your connections, and remind them that you exist (so they can send clients to you!). All you need is a short monthly newsletter with one or two valuable bits of information in it.

It’s time to embrace meaningful networking as a foundation of a thriving business.

In the end, the more we can all find ways to support one another, the more successful and impactful we will all be.

If you’re interested in creating or growing your business through the lens of the Natural Business Cycle, please get in touch for a free 30-minute consultation to see if we’re a fit for individual coaching.


About the Author:

JulieWolk_Hollyhock15Julie Wolk, Business Coach, CPCC, helps purpose-driven entrepreneurs (coaches, consultants, teachers, healers) who are excellent at their craft but struggling on the business side, get super clear on their vision, strategy, and action plan so they can make more money and a bigger impact. She developed the Natural Business Cycle, a unique and overwhelm-reducing business development model based on the natural world.


The Four Keys to Getting New Clients

Each of these components can help you attract more brand new clients and each level can help you get the most out of your existing relationships.

The first component is the niche. The niche is your target market. It’s who you’re going after. This is the center of any marketing. When I talked to Dominic he and I were both commiserating that whenever we would get confused in terms of helping clients or clients would get fuzzy about a next step, not being sure what to do, it always came back to this. About looking at the niche of who are you going after.

The second component is the irresistible offer. What are you offering to this niche? A lot of people make the mistake in marketing of thinking, “Oh, I’m going to design this product and service,” and then it’s like, “How do I market it?” is a separate step.

I think if we’re going to be successful in business we need to step back and think of the marketing in the design process itself. Meaning, how can we make the product so irresistible inherently, that it’s easy to sell, versus just a generic sort of bland, boring product and service and then figuring out how we can sort of sell the sizzle and not the steak. That’s the second component is the offer.

The third component is the hubs. This was one of the things that really made so much sense to me when I was talking with Dominic. A lot of people at my trainings would say, “Well where do I advertise? Where do I market? How do I find people?”

I never really knew how to answer that. I always give kind of vague answers but now the answer’s really clear for me. Where you find them depends entirely on who you’re looking for. One group of people is going to hang out in one place. Another group’s going to hang out in another place.

It’s not just about where to find them. It’s also about a way to build trust with them. That’s a lot more powerful than other things you may have tried. So that’s the third component, the hubs.

The first is the niche. Second, what are we offering them? Third the hubs, where do we find them?

And fourth, word of mouth strategies. Again you’re already getting passive word of mouth but are there things you can do to accelerate it and get more word of mouth? Yes.


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Nine Qualities of a Good Hub

Once you’ve identified the niche you want to attract, it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself, “Where do they already spend time, money or attention? What are the events, groups, businesses that they already trust? Who are the individuals they respect?” After all, if you can align yourself with those groups – those hubs – well, you’ve made your life much easier.

But what makes a good hub in your niche’s network?

9 things . . .

1. credibility: they are trusted and respected by your niche, they are influential to the life, work, opinions and practices of your niche (e.g. maybe they’re pushing the envelope, on the cutting edge and an industry leader or maybe they’re committed to the basics etc).

2. reach: they have a large sphere of influence and reach a lot of people within your niche

3. list: already established, well organized and set up communication mechanisms through which they are regularly in touch with your niche (e.g. email list, mailing list, blog etc).

4. mutual respect: you already know them and they trust you, you have an authentic relationship with them, you genuinely respect them and already endorse their work to your clients and friends, you’re a really big fan of theirs

5. cooperative: they are open to endorsing quality things to their list, they’re excited to partner and collaborate

6. active relationship with niche: your niche already spends a good deal of money, time and attention on or with them

7. shared vision: you share a common vision and set of values

8. fresh: you haven’t maxed out this relationship already (e.g. maybe they’ve already endorsed you to everyone they can think of)

9. service: they’re passionate about meeting the needs of your niche

NOTE: You may have to create your OWN hub if none exists and be a host for your community.


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The Seven Kinds of Hubs

Hubs can help you spread the word.

Why? They’re well connected and well respected.

They’re like the one’s and two’s in the photo to the right. Their circles overlap a lot of other people’s circles. An endorsement from a ‘1’ can mean more to you than an endorsement from ten ‘4’s. Placement in the ‘right’ media can save you a lot of time and money.

When you start thinking about your niche market, and how to reach them with effective word of mouth marketing – you immediately need to start thinking about the ‘hubs’ in their networks. You need to ask yourself, “who do they already trust?”

Luckily, it’s not that hard.

These seven questions will take you most of the way there.

1. EVENTS & LOCATIONS: Where does your niche gather, congregate, celebrate and hangout?

2. BUSINESSES: Where do they already spend their money?

3. GROUPS: What formal groups are they a part of?

4. SUPPORT: What resources or groups exist to support them?

5. WEBSEARCH: if your niche were to search for a solution to their problems on google, what would they type in?

6. PUBLICATIONS (on and offline):
Where do they go for news and information that is relevant, credible and valuable for them?

7. INDIVIDUALS: Which individuals do they most trust (whether globally or locally)?


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Hub Marketing: The Three Levels of Your Marketing Strategy

From all my traveling and learning I have learned that there are a lot of approaches to marketing. But only one that really works in the long term.

Hub Marketing.

What does that mean?

Let me break it down into three levels of marketing: cold, warm and hot. I think you’ll see why the ‘hot’ level is the one you want to be at.

Three Approaches to Marketing:



This level is a 10:1 ratio.

10 units of effort for 1 unit of reward. You put in a lot of time and money and get very, very little out.

At this level, you start with all the people you know (family and friends) and then . . . you quickly run out.

And then we’re left with approaching people ‘cold’. Meaning, they totally don’t know us. No relationship. We’re talking to strangers about our business. At this level we’re just getting our name out there. We’re talking to everyone we can. We’re attending random mixers, business luncheons and networking events. We’re asking our clients to ‘tell their friends’ about us (when we remember to do it).  We might even be cold calling (ugh).

But the challenge with this level is that it’s incredibly time consuming and not that effective. And that leaves us feeling desperate and in a constant level of crisis. This is most marketing out there. Most marketing fails because it’s ‘cold’.



This level is a 1:1 ratio.

1 unit of effort for 1 unit of reward. You put in a lot of time and money and get a fair return.

At this level, you start to realize the power of using ‘hubs’.  We realize that our ideal clients are already spending their time, money and attention in other places. There are certain events and locations we’re most likely to find them at. There are certain magazines, blogs and websites they check out.  There are certain people that are already well connected to and respected by our target markets. So we start attending targeted events and connecting with the right people. We strategically build relationships with key hubs.

This is a huge leap for most businesses.

At this level, when you approach people they are ‘warm’ to you because they’ve already heard about you from someone they trust.



This level is a 1:10 ratio.

1 unit of effort for 10 units of reward. You put in a little bit of time and money and get a huge return. Ahhh.

At this level, we not only ‘work’ with hubs – but we become one.

Now, an important distinction. Simply by working the ‘warm’ level long enough – you will become a hub. But there’s a difference between being a passive hub (which the warm level will ultimately make you) and an active hub. Being an active hub requires a bit more effort and ingenuity. It requires a constant curiousity of ‘how can I help my community more? What do they need?’

And not just for your clients.

You become a hub for the scene and for the ‘hubs’ in the scene. You end up adding value to people’s lives long before they become your client. You’re a generosity based business.

At this level, people are seeking YOU out. People are adding YOU on facebook. You’re no longer trying to receive awards – you’re giving them. Your reputation precedes you. You’ve shifted from being the spotlight – trying to chase people around – to be being the lighthouse – drawing everyone in to safety. Instead of being a guest in the community – desperately trying to fit in and be accepted – you are now a host of the community. Instead of being at the periphery trying to get in – you sit calmly at the center.

You become a hub.


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