Business Owners in the Delaware Valley Dish on the Secrets of Word-of-Mouth!

This post is the first of three in the series Brand Propheteers: 10 Ways to Get the People You Already Know to Rave About Your Firm.

Propheteer: The very best driver of word-of-mouth for your company: a cross between prophet (someone who preaches) and volunteer. VisionPoints’ term for the raving fans we want you to have more of!

Good morning, choir. I’m preaching to you today. A lot of folks who read the Maximum Customer Experience Blog are also blog authors. Many of you are the owners of small businesses. Most of you are pretty tech savvy. At least one of my delightful readers claims to live in a small, techy cave. I’m lucky to have some raving fans out there, and goodness knows I am a fan of many of you myself!

Your intrepid Experience Designer 🙂 has spent the last month wearing out the shoe leather in search of insights only other small business owners can give us. I began by thinking of local businesses I am already a Propheteer for. Places I recommend whenever I get the chance. I talked to colleagues about the places they never stop raving about. Then it was on to researching and making a list of desired interview subjects, walking into each business, and asking if they could make time to talk about a skill that each one has mastered: The fine art of creating brand Propheteers. And you guys thought I just wandered around!

I interviewed more than thirty local business owners this month. Each one is the head of a thriving, well-established company, with years of of experience to draw on in our discussion. They’re going to tell you what they know about those raving fans.

To everybody who gave their time to this article, Thank You.

You’ll find names and links to those who wished to be listed in the footnotes. This was a hoot to do, and with four more interviews coming up in the 2008 series, I feel thrilled to have started out in such engaging company.

The Golden Opportunity Not One Owner Mentioned: Stop Preaching to the Choir!

We’ll get to those 10 Ways that my wonderful interview subjects told me about. First I want to tell you something you don’t want to hear.


Owners who run their businesses from their armchairs, as many of you do, or who stay too wrapped up in their own office or store, are missing the golden opportunity of making local contacts. You want word-of-mouth? Get brave and meet people. You may have heard the stats: most people do not read blogs (71% of U.S. adults, according to The Pew Internet & American Life Project). Many still don’t use the Internet at all (25%, from Pew’s Dec 2007 survey of U.S. adults). Plenty of truly fascinating people right near you don’t even own a computer—and your next client could be among them. Whether you’re a writer, a developer, a widget-maker, a retailer, or a restaurateur, your clients are not like you—or they wouldn’t need you!

If you insist on only finding customers who know what you know, and do things the way you do, you face a slow climb with a very narrow path. Open yourself up to your local community and discover a broad range of needs, opinions, and attitudes.

Put yourself out there, and start today. It gets easier, but not if you don’t get started! If you’ve been staring at your computer screen for months, wondering why more people don’t contact you, get out and make it happen.

People You Already Know?

Word-of-mouth. (WoM if you like a good acronym.) The Internet is slowly changing how some of us get our recommendations. These days it isn’t always a friend who recommends a product or a service to you. Journalists have always written reviews for magazines and newspapers. Today, you may also be influenced by an online review or a blog article.

The big secret of WoM is that the most powerful recommendations still happen off-line. We want what our friends, family, and colleagues want, more than we want what other amazon users want us to want.

In face-to-face encounters, we get all the cues: the smile, the voice, the gestures as a colleague describes describes her fabulous new p.r. person; the follow-up questions, the comparisons, as a teen discusses the must-read book; the spontaneous details as a friend remembers his restaurant Experience. No matter how reliable the magazine, newspaper, or online review, we still find personal referrals the most compelling.

Getting people you already know—customers, employees, business contacts, family, and every stakeholder you can think of—to rave about your firm is the Holy Grail for small businesses: completely sincere, personal, unpaid “marketing” that your Propheteers do for you as ambassadors for your company. What do you need to make that happen?

You’re Going to Need What They’ve Got

Today we’ll look at the three qualities these owners whom I interviewed all had in common. If you want to be a leader in a thriving, well-established company years from now, you are going to need what they’ve got.

Joy. I got reactions from skepticism to enthusiasm at my request, but when I returned for the interview, each owner glowed while talking about his or her company’s progress. This is no exaggeration. We talked about good points and pain points, but through it all it was clear each company had no finer Propheteer than the owner.

A quick list of terms I jotted in my notebook to describe owners as they were talking to me. Do you recognize yourself?

  • Vibrant
  • Fiercely dedicated
  • Total enthusiasm
  • Helpful
  • Passionate
  • Unabashed cheerleader
  • Happy
  • Friendly
  • Off-the-cuff
  • Delightfully homey
  • What a booster!
  • Nice
  • Making this a treat for me

Curiosity. About their customers, about market trends, about the local business climate, about what others are saying, about me, about life. I was a bit surprised that in such established firms there was not a bit of boredom. These folks never stop growing on the inside, and it shows in the business.

Uncertainty. The biggest surprise to me was that every owner I interviewed had pain points so real they jarred me as I was talking with them. Lots worried about staffing; some worried about changing times; some worried about the still-growing power of the Internet; some worried about time constraints on them; many worried about managing growth.

My take-away from this: Forget “never let them see you sweat.” If you aren’t sweating something, you don’t care enough. If you’re a small business owner with fears and insecurities, you are in some awesome company. Owners who succeed are running fast. They are energized and made bold by the demons that chase them, and they’re confident enough to discuss pain points—that’s how solutions come to light.


I didn’t find the mold from which small business leaders are made. The folks I interviewed varied widely in almost every personality trait: from shy to brassy, from low-key to energetic, from soft-spoken to booming.


Is it too trite to say “do what you love”? I don’t think so. If you want to succeed at what you do, never stop learning, never stop worrying, and love your work beyond all reason.

“I’ll Have What She’s Having”

Why quote the older woman in the deli scene* in When Harry Met Sally? It’s the funniest example of the power of word-of-mouth ever filmed. If Sally’s raving is a little too much for your business, you won’t want to miss the next Brand Propheteer post. In part two, we’ll begin to uncover those 10 ways to get the people you already know to rave about your firm with just the right amount of enthusiasm.

What one quality do you think every owner who gets fans to rave must have? Have you got enough joy, curiosity, and uncertainty to handle the road ahead?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Ready to read the next post in the Brand Propheteers series? Part Two Is Tricky


*Played by director Rob Reiner’s mother, Estelle.


Special thanks:

Diane Abrams, Brandywine Dance Shoppe, 3617 Silverside Road, Wilmington, DE

Betty Bronstein, Artisans’ Gifts and Furniture, 2113 Concord Pike, Wilmington, DE

Carol Harvey, Hansel & Gretel, 3603 Silverside Road, Wilmington, DE

Ed Hawkins, Hawkins & Sons Custom Home Appliance Center, 400 New Road, Elsmere, DE

Donna Rego, Bellefonte Café and Trading Company, 804 Brandywine Boulevard, Wilmington, DE

Helen Walker, Designer Stencils, 2503 Silverside Road, Wilmington, DE