In my previous posts, I defined word-of-mouth and its importance for your business. The “mouths” in word-of-mouth are those people who are willing to share your “word.” So who are they and how do you find them?

The mouths that matter are people who are trusted by others, close by, and made up of two primary groups: customers with whom you have a personal relationship, and other local business owners with whom you’re well-aligned.

VIP Customers

As a business owner, you know the importance of making a personal connection with your customers. If your interaction with them is limited to the collection of payment as they’re getting ready to leave your business, you are missing the boat.

You and your employees need to get out in front of your customers, understand their needs, and leverage your expertise to help them make good decisions.

Whether you’re a chef taking a lap around your restaurant telling customers how you sourced ingredients from local farms, a CPA offering a free course on 429 Plans at a local bookstore, or a retail boutique owner helping someone understand what colors look best, these types of interactions make a lasting impression that people will want to share with their friends.

Paul Desruisseaux, owner of Greensolution Carpet Cleaning in Woodstock, Georgia, explains the power of word-of-mouth this way: “It’s important to keep in mind that word-of-mouth is the most effective way and the best form of public relations to grow a business, especially for young businesses. Happy customers as well as unhappy clients do share their experiences with friends and family members. So, we need to do what we say and be the best at what we do. My approach is that I not only sell a product or service, but guarantee the satisfaction of a customer by taking pride in what I do and do it as if I were doing it for myself.”

A great test to see if you have built a relationship with a customer is to simply ask them if they would be interested in joining your preferred customer email list.

While not everyone you have built trust with will offer up their email address, the majority will. Having the ability to stay connected with your customers after they have left your business is one of the key ingredients to being able to grow your word-of-mouth potential.

Special Topic: Do You “Own” Your Relationships?

When building customer relationships online, it’s important to take ownership of the connections you’re able to make.

In recent years, Facebook has tweaked the algorithm it uses to display content to its users, limiting the organic reach of posts from businesses pages. While you can rent your “likes” back by paying Facebook to boost your posts, the impact of organic reach on its own is less reliable than it once was.

This experience illustrates a core concept in word-of-mouth: Simply put, you need to own your customer relationships. While encouraging your customers to “like” you on Facebook may have seemed simpler than asking for their email address, you didn’t own that relationship with your customer.

Aligned Local Business Owners

Alignable local businesses owners either share a common interest (the owner may be a customer of yours or vice versa) or share an affinity with you (they are in the same shopping plaza or are someone you regularly talk to).

In both cases, building relationships with other business owners unlocks access to a wealth of word-of-mouth opportunities. Most local business owners know that acting as a resource for trusted local advice is another way to build a strong relationship with their customers.

As Peg Doyle, owner of Wellness and You in Westwood, Mass., puts it, “I’m very committed to recommending businesses that I know and trust to my clients — I feel like that’s just another way to take care of them and be sure they get into the right hands for their needs. It’s also a way to support my neighborhood businesses.”

So how do you get to know your business neighbors?

Traditional methods include joining your local business associations, participating in community events, and stopping in to nearby businesses to say hello and introduce yourself.

You can also build these relationships online with a platform like Alignable, the small business network I co-founded that makes it simple to discover and meet with owners of businesses in your town or neighborhood.

The important thing is to get out there and be recognizable in your community, and to pay it forward by recommending the local businesses you admire to your own customers!

Next steps…

Do you have a list of VIP customers that you’d like to further your relationship with? If you haven’t already, ask these customers to join your email list next time they are in your store or office. You’ll be able to continue to grow the relationship through the offers and information you share, and when you’re ready, you can ask these customers if they’d be willing to share a review or recommendation on your behalf.

You can also find other local businesses to partner with by signing up with Alignable today, for free. Get started today and you could soon be generating the word-of-mouth you need to reach new audiences and grow your business.

About the author: Eric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable, the local business network where small businesses and organizations connect and collaborate with others nearby. Eric is a local marketing expert and enthusiast who spent 10 years as an executive at Constant Contact. He authored The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing and believes that local businesses are always stronger together.