My brother is a fitness nut. He owns gyms, trains in gyms, and basically lives in them too. If you’ve seen “Pain & Gain” with Mark Wahlberg – he’s kind of like that (minus the psychopathic, hostage-taking shenanigans…).
But he’s also a brilliant marketer. And a few years ago he created a system for filling personal training studios and boot camps with new clients that’s 100% free, and works like crazy.
He called it the “Human Billboard” method.
Because people basically become your “walking billboards”, spreading the word about who you are and driving referrals your way. Here’s how it works, in 6 simple steps.

Step 1: Identify
You identify “key influencers” in your area (or online) who serve the same audience that you do – but aren’t your competitors. A “key influencer” is someone who, well, has a lot of influence over people in your area or online.
People flock to them, listen to them, and take their advice to heart.
For example, let’s say there’s a small business consultant in your area with a couple hundred clients. Or maybe an accountant. A business lawyer. Or anyone else who business owners trust and listen to.
These people’s clients are biz owners, so naturally, many could become your clients too, right? 

Step 2: Scope
You scope them out. Learn all that you can about them. Look over their website, marketing materials, etc.
And you see how you could improve upon them. Because even though we’re in 2014, most people still have really ugly, demented websites and branding.
Their friend’s neighbor’s niece once opened Photoshop by accident so they had her create a logo and website.

Step 3: Approach
You approach them and let them know that you’ve checked them out, and their marketing, and you feel you could seriously help them grow their business by replacing their current website & branding with a beautiful one of your own doing.
The best part? You’ll do it 100% free.
The catch? Once they see how awesome you are, and fall in love with your work and the way you do things, they have to try their hardest to refer their clientele your way. After all, you both help business owners, so it’s a win-win.
But they ONLY have to do this once they’ve seen how great your work is firsthand.
That way they know they can trust their clients with you.

Step 4: Create
You do their logo, website, etc. as if they were your highest-paying client. Treat them like gold. Be responsive and available and do a kick-butt job.
You’re creating the conversation that they will have with their clients. If you respond to emails fast, are positive and upbeat, etc. – they will tell all of these things to their clients.
Write their review for them by crafting a unique, amazing experience for them.

Step 5: Conquer
You help them promote you. Give them business cards and help them write an email to send out to their clients. Let them know that you’re happy to keep this relationship up as long as the referrals keep coming. They could get free marketing for life for all you care as long as you’re “winning” like Charlie Sheen along the way.

Step 6: Encore
Rinse and repeat. Find your next “key influencer” and have at it. The cool thing is, let’s say you targeted an accountant for your first go of it. You now know the accounting market pretty well, and you also have a reference / sample to show other accountants in your area.
The more often you create materials for a niche / industry, the faster / easier it gets.

Now, among the usual voices I hear in my head, I can also hear a lot of objections to this method coming in already…

“Work for FREE? Are you crazy?”
“What if no referrals come?”
“What if her friend’s neighbor’s niece who accidentally once opened photoshop is more talented than me?”
Here are my answers:

 To #1:
Most people would consider our agency very successful. When a good opportunity comes my way though, and a good partnership like the one described, I’m the first person to work for free.
Because it’s not really for free. I’m being paid with that person’s trust and if they experience our work firsthand, they’ll have real, tangible experience to talk about when they refer people our way.
Because nothing kills a referral like this…
Person A: “OMG you have to go see this movie! It rocks!”
Person B: “Have you seen it?”
Person A: “Nope.”
Person B: “Why are you in my life again?”
Catch my drift?

 To #2:
If no referrals come, then one of two things happened:
1: Your work isn’t inspiring referrals. Time to work on those skills and make them so awesome that people can’t help but brag about their brand new branding and website to everyone they meet.
2: You targeted the wrong person. They’re not really a key influencer. Or they’re just not cool. Someone has to be on board and happy to refer their customers your way if everything works out. You have to be really selective about who you choose, and you have to screen people when you talk to them. Make sure they understand it’s a win-win and not a win-lose.

 To #3:
I have no words.

Have a different opinion? Let us know.

Felix Obinna

Creative Visual + UI Designer • Awesome Dude. Curator/Writer at cgminds .