Service Marketing 101: One Way To Build a 100% Referral Business

An idea, a mindset, and a formula of "yes, I can"

Yes, I can do that.

This is how I can help you.

I saw my dad say variations on these two things my whole life. Sometimes he helped as a favor, sometimes in exchange for favors, sometimes for whatever someone offered ($10, $50, a case of beer, salvaged building parts), and when he built up to it — real fees (his kids would type up invoices for him).

Yeah, I can fix your car. Yes, I can get a crew of guys to paint your house, build you a new garage, lay cement for your patio, put a ramp on your deck, rewire your RV. Now over 80, he’s still a go-to guy for other seniors in his neighborhood.

Yes, I can change your lightbulbs, haul those boxes out of your garage, stay with you when the dude comes to fix your furnace so you’re not alone with a stranger. As he transitioned from job-jobs to retirement, my dad was never without enough side work to keep him busy and earning money at the level he wanted. No marketing. 100% word-of-mouth and referrals.

It was only after my husband and I had each built up our own 100% word-of-mouth, referral businesses — he in automation software, me in all things books, publishing, and small business — that we recognized a pattern. It was the same intuitive, unintentional template my dad followed, and we have since been stumbling upon examples of expert, jack-of-all-trades types in many fields who employ their own version of it.


Right now I’m calling it service marketing. Here’s the basic formula:

  • Every time someone comes to you asking for something… whether overtly or couched in the form of a hedge or a vexing problem, think yes, say yes, and do yes.

  • Yes, I can help you with that.

  • This is how… Be honest about what you can do and want to do. Sometimes you best accommodate another by directing them to a resource or other person who can also help them.

  • Make the proposal: I can do x in y time for z compensation, and a, b, c, is the process. D, e, and f are some variations you may also want to consider.

  • Leave it in their court to respond. No need to pester or fill up space with extra words. If they agree with the plan, decide how to get it underway on the spot. If they don’t, utter some variation of 1) thanks for considering it, 2) let me know if you change your mind, and 3) tell others.


Let’s run through some examples for authors (I frequently coach authors on this but it’s easily adaptable for your own business):

Random neighbor: I’m having trouble finding anything new for the wedding expo I organize.

  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Let me help at least a little bit (I can help). I actually give a talk on alternative gemstones, which is a hot topic for Millennial and Gen Z brides (this is how). Proposal: My speaking fee in professional circles is $400, but I’m available Saturday or Sunday (time table) of that expo and am willing to do it for $200 if I can sell my book afterwards (fee). I can also do a meet and greet/book signing at a jeweler’s booth if there’s not a speaker’s budget (variation).

Board member, local historical society: We’re having trouble filling our summer programming. It’s hard to get people indoors that time of year, and our honorarium is pretty modest, just $100.

  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Maybe I can help you. I speak on a whole range of gemstone topics… I’d be happy to talk to your members about recent local discoveries. $100 works for me if I can also sell my book after the program. Have you ever thought of restaurant programs or out-in-the-field hikes? I’ve done those before and they tend to draw bigger crowds.

Silent auction inquirer: Hey! Do you think you can donate a couple of copies of your book to our annual Midwestern Geologists Conference?

  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Sure! Any chance the organizers will offer a free pass for a donor (thinking ahead about your networking opportunities)? Actually, how many geologists attend the conference? I’d love to get a copy in each of their hands. Let me see if I can find a sponsor to purchase a copy for every participant.


For you

  • Service marketing may be considered a version of Win to the X that focuses on proposing a service/solution that can be provided under a certain set of circumstances that is favorable to both sides.

  • Learn this tool in steps if jumping into proposing seems too daunting. For every customer, associate, or vendor email, phone call, or conversation that comes with a request or problem, start by practicing “yes,” even if it’s just an eternal yes. Yes, I can do something here.

  • Add in the “how,” remembering that sometimes “yes” means sharing a quick bit of information, offering an idea, or providing a referral, quickly removing yourself from the picture.

  • Move on to proposals and stating fees and other perks you want for yourself as part of a deal as soon as you can. You’re not just serving in service marketing, you are also marketing, building the things you want for yourself, your projects, and your business.