â€œWhen I introduce you, Iâ€™m gonna say, â€˜This is a friend of mine.â€™ That means youâ€™re a connected guy.â€
â€” Al Pacino as Lefty in the movie â€œDonnie Brascoâ€
I learned some wonderful marketing tips from mobsters.
I grew up in northern Kentucky. My father was a professional gambler, and the Newport and Covington areas were heavily influenced, or controlled, by the Mafia.
My dad said about his bookmaking operations, â€œWe canâ€™t advertise on television or put a sign in the window. We canâ€™t sue if someone doesnâ€™t pay us. All we can do is hope that honorable people refer us to other honorable people.â€
It must have been a good system. Without advertising, he never seemed to lack for customers.
I live in a more refined world of high finance and well-educated financial consultants. Many of my competitors are affiliated with huge corporations with million dollar marketing budgets.
As a small business, I have a marketing weapon that is impossible for a large corporation to compete with.
The friend-of-the-friend referral.
When I am meeting someone for the first time, I try to find if we have a common friend or connection. If you go through the six degrees of separation, most people will connect before you get two degrees away.
Instead of just saying my name, I mention our common relationship.
The common relationship is an immediate door opener and an immediate connection.
Especially if the connector is someone highly thought of.
Since I watched everyone do it when I was growing up, I thought that the friend-of-a-friend referral was a common practice.
Iâ€™ve discovered that most people donâ€™t. They meet a new person, say hello, maybe learn their name and go on from there.
I donâ€™t get it.
Being a friend-of-a-friend is the quickest way to get in my door. Itâ€™s the only way that you will become my Facebook or Linkedin friend.
I have several thousand Facebook friends when you include my business and fan pages. If you donâ€™t have a common friend amongst them, I wonâ€™t add you as a friend unless I know you personally.
That doesnâ€™t count celebrity â€œfriendsâ€ that I donâ€™t really know. I used to have Newt Gingrich and Bob Woodward as Facebook friends but I dropped them as I got tons of requests where one or the other was the only common â€œfriend.â€
Iâ€™ve met Newt four times, getting on and off airplanes. (I used to frequently go on a route that went to Washington via Atlanta.) Thatâ€™s not enough for either of us to give a â€œfriend-of-a-friendâ€ referral.
I did have a friend-of-a-friend connection with John Edwards. I met him in 2003 when he was gearing up to run for President. We met in a crowded room and when I got my chance to say hello, I told him I was a friend of one of his former law partners.
Of the people in the room, I wound up having lunch with him. I wound up donating a reasonably large sum to his campaign, so it was a good friend-of-a-friend deal for him, too.
Johnâ€™s political career didnâ€™t end the way I had hoped, but he and Al Gore (who I got to know well after a friend-of-a-friend introduction) were the two people Iâ€™ve ever gotten to know who had a chance to be President of the United States.
â€œDonny Brascoâ€ is a terrific movie at many levels, but I was always fascinated by the importance it placed on personal connections and being referred by the right people.
The referral process happens in every level of society. Itâ€™s how private clubs and organizations select their members.
Some of my friends will accuse me of name dropping. I donâ€™t care and wonâ€™t change a lifetime habit that has worked pretty well for me.
Unlike my fatherâ€™s world, I can do fancy marketing campaigns and I have good access to the media. From a business standpoint, none of those tactics work as well as being, a friend of a friend.
As Lefty said in Donny Brasco, â€œIt means you are a connected guy.â€
Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the bestselling author of the book, Wealth Without Wall Street; McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist and Huffington Post contributor. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com.