Word of Mouth is Cheap and Unreliable

I love word of mouth. Who wouldn’t want a happy and satisfied client singing your praises to other businesses with similar needs? In many ways, it’s the cheapest form of customer acquisition.

Yet you can’t scale your service business on word of mouth alone.

I learned that lesson the hard way by growing my first consulting firm largely on word of mouth. The business grew quickly at first but that didn’t last. When a client would inevitably move on — for a variety of reasons, including mistakes I made — I didn’t have a foolproof way of landing another.

With word of mouth alone, you don’t have control over whether another client is in the queue or when they may show up. Also, the next client to come along may not actually be a fit, which can tempt you to take on work that is uninteresting or, even worse, something you won’t do well.

According to Single Grain, 87% of shoppers now begin their search online so you need to be where they are to capture their attention. But how?

Introducing the Marketing Funnel

It offers a way to visualize the journey of a potential customer from an unknown entity through becoming a first-time client of your business.

There is no shortage of information available today on marketing funnels. It’s overwhelming and the last thing I want to do is scare you away from learning more and (hopefully) embracing it to build a better business.

We’ll go with the three-stage variant to get started. It’s simplified and helps build a mental model before layering on more advanced versions or adding in different shapes that demonstrate repeating and virtuous patterns. I’ll share those in the future as they make me geek out.

You’ll likely start to hear marketers talk about “TOFU” (top of funnel), “MOFU” (middle of funnel), and “BOFU” (bottom of funnel) metrics and processes. This is the model they’re referring to below.

  • Awareness - when your prospect first becomes aware of your business. They are attempting to understand their problem and find potential solutions. You can help them find you by writing articles that tackle their questions and sharing your expertise on social media.

  • Consideration — if the picture above was drawn to scale, this stage would be far larger (and longer) than the others. This represents when your prospect is learning which type of solution they need and whether your solution qualifies for further due diligence. Your business can offer webinars, ebooks, and other free resources.

  • Decision — now your prospect understands their needs and wondering if your business is “the one”. You can help by offering case studies, white papers, testimonials, and demos.

For more information, Autopilot has a great guide explaining the evolution of the marketing funnel.


When I first began writing this edition, I used the working title of “If your marketing funnel doesn't filter prospects you're really just making soup”.

Why? Because I really, really wanted to call out that non-marketers hesitate to filter out *any* prospective clients. Maybe due to FOMO but more likely due to not knowing when the next prospect may come knocking, if ever.

So I’ll leave you with this snippet of my very first draft 👇

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Newsflash: You can’t possibly be a good fit for every potential client that walks through the door or finds your website or learns of you by word of mouth.

If your funnel looks like a soup can, you’re doing it wrong. You either need to grow the top of your funnel or shrink the bottom. Perhaps, both. Letting everything through is a mistake.

Have a great week!!