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Do you play golf?

I don’t.

Its appeal is lost on me.

I could probably learn to like it but, like cigar smoking, I see no reason at this point in my life to cultivate a new, expensive habit that might only serve to annoy my wife (I’ve got enough old habits that do the job just fine).

But last week, my friend Shawn was in town visiting for a few days. Matt, Rick, and I wanted to do some kind of “boys' activity” with the four of us, and so we settled on a trip to the driving range prior to dinner at a local bar.

The range is off to the right side of the main course, safely separated from everything else by an immense net, a hundred yards long and (I don’t know) a couple of hundred feet high. The parking lot runs the length of the net.

After entering the lot, we drove all the way to the back, looking for a place to park. (Can you sense that something bad is about to happen?)

Suddenly (you were right), a golf ball slammed into the passenger side window, just inches from my head. It didn’t break the window, but wow, it sure was loud!

But how did it get to us? The net is very high and we were directly behind it.

On further examination (and once we verified that I had not inadvertently soiled Rick’s upholstery), we discovered a break in the net. Not huge–just a few feet across–but a break nonetheless.

That ball (hereafter known as “The Magic Golf Ball”) had travelled 150 yards, passed through a two-foot diameter hole, and struck a moving vehicle.

I’m no Jimmy the Greek, but I’m willing to bet that the best golfer on Earth couldn’t have made that shot on purpose even once in a hundred tries.

But what if we changed the circumstances a little bit? What if we had a thousand golfers, and a thousand moving cars, and a thousand holes in the net?

Under those conditions, I doubt it would take more than a couple of minutes for somebody to hit a car in the parking lot. Same situation (more or less), just way more chances.

Relationship marketing

At its best, this is how relationship marketing works.

In other words, it’s not about trying to thread the needle by closing the perfect client, with the perfect offer, on the perfect day. That’s fine if you can do it (I can’t).

Instead, relationship marketing is like having 1,000 golfers working on your behalf. It’s a numbers game, and the more numbers working in your favor, the more likely it is that somebody, somewhere, is going to send a prospect your way.

What matters, therefore, is keeping in touch with enough people–regularly and repeatedly–and in a way that helps them understand the work you do.

How to build your networks

That means…

  • Keeping all your contacts in one place. If you don’t know who you know, how do you know if you’re keeping in touch? I like Contactually, but there are plenty of options out there.
  • Simplifying your explanation of what you do. Elevator statements can be impressive, but nobody but you will ever remember yours. If you want referrals, the world at large needs to have a brief, simple label they can slap on you.
  • Working at it every day. Relationship-building is like exercise: It’s easy (and even fun) if you do it all the time. Long periods of inactivity, however, limit your results and cause a lot of pain.

The bottom line

Here’s the bottom line. You can build your business sequentially and all by yourself, targeting people and companies that seem like likely prospects and going after them in whatever way you can.

Or, you can focus on maintaining and expanding your relationships. Do that well enough and regularly enough and before you know it, all kinds of people will start hitting your ball through the net.

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.