There are three groups where one can find and groom good referral sources: clients, colleagues and friends/family. Good referrals begin with good relationships. In addition to providing excellent services that fulfill client expectations, developing and maintaining solid professional and social relationships is paramount. The ability to clearly and succinctly describe the services you provide, your typical clients and the problems that your services solve is also important. Finally, be willing to make the first move in the referral game. If you initiate referrals, you are likely to receive them in return.
Know what you want
Before going off in search of referrals, think about what you’d like to achieve when meeting prospects. You’ll want more than some fuzzy idea of how you like to meet people in a particular industry. Clarify which job title is likely to be the hiring decision maker for your service and the usual goals or business challenges that drive the need for your category of service.
Then you can be clear and precise in your referral requests and will be able to craft the right introductory pitch. Moreover, clarity will help associates to think of you as they themselves network. You and your friends and colleagues can then function as a referral network for one another
Know who to ask
If you’ve worked for a client on two or three projects and have developed a comfortable relationship with your contacts, let them know that you are always looking for new business and can they recommend someone with whom you can follow up? You may not receive an immediate answer, but the seed will be planted. Also, there will be no pressure on the client to give a name if they prefer not to do so.
If a referral is made, be sure to get approval for using that person’s name and confirm that if asked, that person feels they know you and your work well enough to provide a good recommendation. Make it easy and comfortable to refer your services. This approach also works for obtaining referrals through social relationships.
Follow up within one month
While your name is still fresh within the mind of the referral source, make the call or send the email and get the ball rolling. Do not let the trail go cold and squander the opportunity.
Failure to appropriately follow up on a referral is deadly. It happened to me a couple of times and I shall not forget it and I certainly will never refer either of them again. In fact, I severed ties with both parties.
In one case, I referred a young lady who launched a bookkeeping business when she was my student at the Center for Women & Enterprise business plan writing course. A restaurant owner friend of mine was desperate for that service and I was happy to make the connection. For reasons that will forever baffle me, the bookkeeping entrepreneur was always too busy to follow up, despite confirming that she looked forward to meeting a prospective client. The young lady was unmoved by urgent emails sent to her by both the restaurant proprietor and myself. The restaurant owner forgave me, thank heaven, and we remain on good terms.
In the other case, a woman with a 20 year career and an MBA called a potential prospect too hastily, before I could confirm the other party’s interest in her services. I suggested that MBA lady check out the website of someone whom I had literally just met and let me know if she saw some alignment.
If things looked promising, my plan was to invite the prospect to likewise peruse the website of MBA lady. If all agreed, I would make the connection. Unfortunately, MBA lady took it upon herself to contact the prospect, whom I had met a mere three hours before, claiming that I had made the referral! I was furious. The prospect did not love it and has been cordial but cool to me ever since.
Thank your referral source
Remember to thank your referral source ASAP. Even if business is not done, it is wise to let your source know that you appreciate their confidence in you and respect their generosity. Whatever happens, let your referral know the outcome. Referrals are vital to the survival of your business. They are a special favor and should not be taken lightly. This simple courtesy will encourage more good referrals for you.
Thanks for reading,