For many small business owners marketing is tough. They spend too much time on marketing strategies that are not fruitful, or not effective enough. Dave Makar wants these business owners to grow their businesses while working less, playing more, and creating referrals for life.
"When my target market hears that they say, 'That sounds like me. I work too many hours prospecting for business that is not an efficient use of my time. I would like to work less and enjoy my business more so it's more like play, or have more time to enjoy my life. And create referrals that consistently come to my business'. So referrals come to you, which has impact on the rest of your life," Makar says.
Makar currently owns the only Referral Institute franchise in New York State. He conducts classes, workshops, and one-on-one consultations to teach business owners how to build referring partners that will help them build their businesses by word of mouth. Makar says this approach quickly has measurable results.
"I used to think that Christmas and my birthday were my favorite holidays," he says. "Now I get the most satisfaction from April 15th, tax day, because that's when my clients see how well they did after working with me. I've had clients come back and say they had a 200% increase in their business, or go from $70,000 to $240,000 in revenue. I've had clients tell me their goal was to double their revenue, and they reported they had a 167% increase in their business. Some who had been in business for years jumped 30%. Another one said they jumped 50% just by doing this work."
Originally from Berlin, Massachusetts, Makar watched his parents work at jobs that he says were just jobs. He wanted to find a job that he was passionate about that would help people. But it was years before he would find that passion.
He earned a degree in computer science, then worked as a software developer and trainer for four years until 2003, when he took off on a road trip to see the country. While visiting Arizona a friend called from Maine to ask him to develop a Web site for his business. That was the start of 544 Productions, a Web site development company that he owned until 2009. But Makar says that was still just a job, not a passion.
Eventually he heard of BNI. The brainchild of Dr. Ivan Misner, BNI is a business group that holds weekly structured meetings to form networking partnerships and increase its members effectiveness at portraying their business and generating referrals. He joined the Johnson City chapter in 2005.
"This was a whole different way to do business," Makar says. "You didn't have to do cold calls. You didn't have to knock on doors. You don't have to just show up at peoples' businesses to sell them something. Instead I could build relationships with professionals, and once they get to know and like and trust me they refer people to me."
In 2006 and 2007 he created his own referral marketing plan using Misner's books as a guide. The plan was effective: 98% of his business came from referrals, and roughly two thirds of his clients came from BNI. In 2006 he co-founded the Ithaca Thumbs-Up Chapter of BNI with Jamie Ferris, of P.W. Wood Insurance. The chapter has since become one of the most successful chapters in New York State.
"As I was making my own plan I started to tell people in BNI you should do this, you should focus on these marketing things... I thought someone should consult this material. It would help a lot of people," Makar recalls. "Four years went by and I found out BNI had created this spin-off company in 2001. The closest person to Ithaca doing this was a guy in Manchester, New Hampshire. I thought if nobody was doing this in New York State maybe I should do it. I loved this material. It completely changed my business. It changed my life."
Not long after he went to California for three weeks of training. He met other consultants from around the world and around the US, then started his business in 2010. Makar had finally found a business he could be passionate about.
He started in an office on State Street. Because there was no classroom there, he used a space at South Hill Business Campus, then moved his office there as well. Last August he moved to the P.W. Wood & Son insurance office, Ferris's business, in the Village of Lansing. Ferris remains one of Makar's closest referral partners.
"I would recommend this to all my clients," Makar says. "If you're trying to build a referral relationship with another professional spend as much time as you can with them, even to the degree of sharing a space where you see them consistently. This is really great because I see Jamie every day. We talk about how we can support each other and each other's colleagues. We can make sure they are getting what they need on the risk management side that he covers and the marketing side that I cover."
Makar keeps up with the latest solutions by attending two conferences per year, a weekly telephone conference to brainstorm with other consultants, and a private group for Referral Institute consultants on Facebook. For now his franchise is a one-man business, but he has the benefit of the entire network's experience and knowledge to help him help his own clients.
"It's going really well. The more that I follow my plan, the more that my business grows," he says. "We teach about 160 concepts. I've tried most of them and other Referral Institute consultants have tried them. We use these tools to grow our business. My first year was good. The second year I had a 100% increase. This year I'm looking at probably another 25% or 30% increase. I'm going in the right direction to grow this."
Makar holds an introductory workshop once a month. 'Referral Success 101' is a two and a half hour introduction that combines meeting and networking with other professionals with marketing skill training. Participants learn things they can apply to their business right away, including networking on the spot during a break.
"You don't have to learn a lot and then wait months to implement it," Makar says. You leave that class with a to-do list to be more effective at marketing your business by workd of mouth. I had a class this morning with two people who had very different types of businesses. They serve very different types of clients, but it turned out one of them could actually use the services of the other. Another participant's spouse works for a company that was a potential prospect for another member of that class."
The introductory class leads to a follow-up consultation to explore an individual's goals and make a plan to determine the best way to achieve them. That may take the form of more classes and training, or a series of one-on-one sessions with Makar.
"We typically work on what is it that you offer? Can you clearly describe it in a simple way so people can take that message? Who should hear that message? Who are the people that are most likely to say that is a service they can use? And why do you do this?" he explains. "Because people like to find out why you are passionate about delivering this service."
Makar seeks clients who are driven to grow their business and make an impact on their region. He says that clients who previously hated business networking events are now energized by them, and they lead to more business while doing less work to generate it.
"I don't want business owners who are passionate about what they do, who invested their time to learn a skill... it's hard for me to watch them spin their wheels and not be able to deliver to the right people or to live the life that they want," Makar says. "When I ask are you working 30% or 50% more hours they say, 'No, work less.' That's my goal, to help people grow their business and work less."