Sunnie Thornton | Crain's Sacramento

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sunnie Thornton


ThreeFox Marketing develops customized, creative marketing solutions designed to help small business grow to their maximum potential. Sunnie Thornton launched the company in 2007 as a side venture, but after losing her full-time job to the recession, ThreeFox evolved into one of the Sacramento region’s more-diverse marketing firms.

The Mistake:

All of my business comes from referrals. My biggest mistake is forgetting to ask for them as I run my company.

In 2007, I was laid off from the mortgage company that I worked at after two years as the marketing director. When I left, the loan officers didn’t have a way to keep in contact with their clients. Some of them offered me contract work to help them retain and generate new business. 

Eventually, other loan officers heard that I was doing this and also asked for my help. That’s really how ThreeFox Marketing started. The business just grew itself. I didn’t have to do much to get things going.

But then I began to lose track of where all of my original clients came from. I stopped asking for referrals; I stopped reaching out for new clients. And that’s when my business really began to fall backward.

Anyone in business needs to make sure they stay in touch with past customers.

The Lesson:

In the marketing industry, generating new business is an ongoing effort. You’re constantly selling yourself. But I consider myself lucky that any business I do gain is not just a one-time thing. If you’re building a website one time, you can improve it the next. There’s always something more you could be doing, more that the client can be better at.

But you need to keep in contact with people to keep your name out there. It’s been a bit easier for me because my customers are people I’ve worked with, people I’ve been friends with. My communication has been via social media, or word of mouth—through friends of friends. But anyone in business needs to make sure they stay in touch with past customers.

Even if your customer wants a product that they only use occasionally or that is purchased once over several years, make sure you stay in contact. The client might need you again in five years. Or they might know someone who needs you now.

The great thing is, the more business you can help them cultivate, the more business they can cultivate for you. “Now you have some extra money coming in. Maybe you should get some business cards, or spend some time on your website to see what we can do to upgrade.” Stuff like that.

Follow ThreeFox Marketing at @ThreeFoxMktg.

Photo courtesy of Sunnie Thornton.

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