Best marketing?


I was thinking about this the other day - because I have to admit at being rather lax of late with my own marketing plan…

So many people on the UK VA survey quote “networking” or “social media” as being how they get their clients… But if I asked you to look at your client list and tell me how you got your top 3 paying clients, what would appear?

I have a sneaking suspicion that we say the most effective is the one we invest the most time in, rather than being the actual marketing stream that brings in clients…


  1. I bought a business including this client - the vendor approached me after seeing some PR I’d had
  2. Google search - local company wanted to work with someone local
  3. Client recommendation - another journo we worked with recommended us

What’s your top 3?


Ooh good one Caroline! Let me see

  1. Someone I know recommended me
    2)journo who I knew via a journo online forum
  2. Someone I met at a live networking event



Oooh, yes indeedy. Good one Caroline. Erm…

  1. Referral from lovely bank manager
  2. Yellow Pages/ Can’t remember which, but it’s a free ad!
  3. Face-to-face networking

All over the place really!


…don’t have to think too hard

  1. Client I did work for as support staff when employed.
  2. Referral from existing client.
  3. Referral from existing client.


This is very interesting - and it somewhat confirms what I had in my head - that although the activities you do spring to mind when you think “Marketing”, they aren’t necessarily the marketing streams that bring you the most clients.

E.g. I do practically zero PR as I get flooded with wannabe VAs every time I do any and it takes me ages to wade through them all… And yet, there is my biggest client!

  2. Client I worked with for an associate VA and have now taken on myself (mutual agreement)
  3. My previous NHS boss (and inspiration for setting up as a VA).


We each have a similar source - referral from someone who knows us, eg, existing client/previous boss, and face-to-face networking!


Good idea Caroline - makes you stop and think!

  1. Client I obtained when another VA style business closed
  2. Internet search
  3. Internet search


Mine are all face to face networking!


Hmm interesting - as I’ve been considering this.

I’ve only had less than a dozen clients so far…

Top of the bill is word of mouth or personal recommendation.

One came through another email list I’m on - asking for help and I responded (as did several others!)

However, my website + ad in specialist publication I think gives a more professional image. Also, they’ve been mentioned by people who’ve approached but not turned into clients.

I’ve not spent much time on Facebook or Twitter or similar, haven’t even put any ad into the yellow pages etc. until we’ve moved house as we’ll be in a different area.

Thanks for the timely thread Caroline - I’ve been wondering about what to do next!


This is the interesting bit isn’t it? I.e. we may get interest from these activities, but do they bring in clients who pay big bucks if they aren’t converting into our top paying clients?

I used to do a fair bit of networking and I definitely got clients from it, but they never ever paid that well in terms of the amount of work I got for the time and money I put in. I now don’t do any networking unless it’s something I’ll actually enjoy - it’s not a valid ROI (for me personally).


Yes - I’ve decided to advertise in ‘the Friend’ for the first year (it’s a fairly cheap investment in a magazine I’d read anyhow) more to get my name out and give that legitimacy (tis a proper job she advertises and everything) than because I expected huge number of clients. It also directs people to the website which is there to give people an idea of what I do.

Having had to explain to someone that I didn’t travel between offices to answer people’s emails and phones recently made me very aware that most people still think what I do is some sort of technical wizardry :wink:

For my particular niche - it is also difficult for most churches/voluntary organisations to decide to pay someone, when they used to get that work done for free. All of my clients so far have had to get over that concept. The ones who contacted me I suspect haven’t yet.


Mine list is:

  1. Already known to me
  2. Already known to me
  3. Recommendation from a previous client who heard about me through someone else who had worked with No 2!

I’ve had one client via my website, none through social media, none through networking: all were previous contacts or word of mouth/referral/recommendation.

I consider social media a sort of ‘drip drip’ marketing approach - basically keeping myself in people’s minds in case something comes along - so I don’t spend a lot of time on it, neither do I go to networking groups apart from London PA Network, again mainly to keep up with people I know and have bit of fun. There’s one major event for my niche area in SE England and I go to that annually but am finding fewer opportunities there as many people/charities I used to know and visit no longer exhibit.


I like this image - it is the sort of marketing I was thinking the ad/blog would achieve for me.


For me its referral, referral, referral every time.

My business has literally been built on the back of word of mouth and networking so the ROI I get from it is huge.

I was having this conversation with a group of business people the other day and it’s interesting hearing the comments that some people have had no work from networking but have got work from referrals or word of mouth - what do people consider as ‘networking’?

For me, any interaction that I have with other business owners is ‘networking’. I am not a member of any formal networking groups, I have tried it in the past but for a number of reasons, including the fact that I am not in one place long enough to justify paying annual membership fees, I didn’t want to commit. I have rarely picked up customers directly from one specific networking event so if you look at the ROI on me attending once specific event, it would be low, however, I know that of the last 9 customers that I have picked up, every single one of them has come via word of mouth referral of people I have met at networking events, conferences or business groups - so if you look at it holistically, the networking I do has brought in almost all of my customers.

I personally think that a lot of business owners are missing out on a lot of opportunities by not being aware of where their customers actually come from. It’s a useful exercise to track back any enquiries or new customers to who they know and how they actually heard about you. You might be surprised by what you find. As an example somebody might appear to have come via the yellow pages, or your website - if you actually look into it and ask them, it may well be that they had seen you on facebook or twitter in the beginning, or heard people mention your name, then when they look in yellow pages and see your contact details, they are perhaps subconsciously more likely to call you first over other people.


Interesting comments, Steph; thanks. I should just clarify that the referrals I have had have been from people I already knew well or from existing clients.

One of my clients has set up ‘Relationology’ and you might find it useful. He doesn’t use or like the term ‘networking’ but looks to build relationships.


Ooh I like that Janet, relationology! I think you can never underestimate the power of relationships in business. Perhaps another similar product to that is - I discovered this customer pipeline for a lifetime toolkit a while back, and it changed the way I think about my customers and my relationships.


Interesting discussion…

  1. known to me/ worked with in the past
  2. networking colleague
  3. referrals through networking colleagues

I have only been in Norfolk 8 years (hubby ex-forces) so have no long established network to gain referrals from locally. I do know lots of folk in buisness though which helps, although I am not up to the levels I would wish to be at yet, still a way to go to be at my optimum client level, but it is early days.

I think with our business referrals have to be the main consideration for work - it isn’t like was are selling a bunch of bananas and you either like the look of them and buy them, or not. People have to get to know you a little, or have a good recommendation of your work and skillset.


That whole being stuck in a room with people in suits… It makes my skin itch!!! I’ve had clients from doing it directly and indirectly and they never pay particularly well or stay very long - if you’ve got enough time to be making superficial contacts with people, you probably aren’t busy enough to justify having a VA on a long term basis :stuck_out_tongue:

Word of mouth referrals I would count as being separate to networking - because usually I’ve done a piece of work that the client is so thrilled about, they’ve raved about us to someone they know!

I do absolutely agree with Steph that people don’t track where their clients come from closely enough - and I suspect that this comes back to the beginning of this post… They spend time at networking events as their main marketing activity and assume that’s where the bulk of their business is coming from - but when you look more closely, it’s probably coming from somewhere else!


I do understand what you are saying re networking Caroline, my group makes time for a weekly breakfast meeting as the ethos behind the group is givers gain, and by meeting each week you get a chance to get to know each others strengths and weaknesses, and therefore feel more confident in giving out a name as a recommended tradesman/ business etc. Members can get kicked out if they are not doing a good job or sticking to their industries protocols too.

Most other networking events I do have to agree, like ships passing in the night!