More Than WE Know

Women Entrepreneurs sharing Information, Inspiration and Support

The Secret to Rapid Referrals

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 20, 2007

referral-partners.jpgIn recent posts on networking, I advised against immediately selling your services directly to the people you networked with. Instead I opined on the benefits of meeting new people, investigating new opportunities and exploring new ideas.

“That’s all well and good”, readers responded, “but how does that help my bottom line? I already have friends, what I need are customers!”

So, today, I’ll reveal the next step in successful networking that will lead you to an increase in referral customers. But, to be most successful, it should be undertaken only after you have developed a relationship with the newfound members of your network. If done right, they will be eager to participate in a referral exchange with you. Afterall, they are also looking for referral customers but may not know where to start.

So, let’s say you’ve met someone who is in a business with a similar target market as yourself. For me, as a small business development specialist, that might be an accountant, an attorney, a web designer, a logo designer, a print shop owner or a loan officer. For you, it would be anyone who could also provide services to your clients. For an interior decorator, it could be a realtor; for a chiropractor, it could be a golf coach; for a computer repairperson, it could be a virtual assistant.

And don’t forget that your customers have a personal life as well – they are in need of a hair dresser, a manicurist, a tailor, a pediatrician, a dentist, a tennis instructor and a life coach.

It almost becomes a game to think of all the types of people who interact with your target market on a regular basis and could be potential referral partners with you.

Now think of the network you’ve begun cultivating and identify one person you would feel comfortable referring to your own customers. Contact that person and ask them to describe their ideal client. If it is similar to yours, suggest that you both be on the lookout for that type of client for each other. You’ll recommend their services and they’ll recommend yours. Offer to give them some of your business cards and ask for some of theirs. That way they won’t have to remember your contact details.

Sounds simple, no? It is, but you should also be prepared for a couple possible pitfalls.

1) Some entrepreneurs make it a rule not to provide specific referrals; Don’t take it personally. They may have had a bad experience in the past, or they may have too many acquaintances in the same profession and prefer not to single one out. You might want to start the conversation by asking about their opinions on referrals. If it is positive, you can pursue the discussion, otherwise you can leave it at a general level.

2) Some entrepreneurs may tell you they don’t know you or your services well enough to recommend you. That’s okay, too. Leave the door open to discuss it again after they know you better. You may also want to give them a discount to try your services for themselves.

But, let’s imagine you’ve both agreed that it would be mutually beneficial to create this arrangement. Then the next time you have a customer who could use your referral partner’s services, pull out their card. Turn it over and jot on the back,

“Please take special care of Jane. Regards, Liz”

There are multiple reasons for writing a personal note on the card. Consider how much more likely Jane is:

1) to keep the card

2) to make the call

3) to let them know who referred her

There are also other more formal referral arrangements you could consider:

  • agree to give a discount to customers you provide to each other
  • provide a compensation to each other for providing referral customers (ethically, you should disclose to your customer that you are compensated for referring them to this person)

If you are still feeling a bit intimidated or overwhelmed about setting this type of relationship up yourself, you can join a formal referrral based networking group, such as BNI, Intl.

BNI chapters exist in most cities in the US and in 38 other countries. Each BNI chapter admits one member from each profession. They require that each member be working in that profession full-time. Applicants must be recommended by someone already in the group, or at least, interviewed by a group member before joining. There is a fee and a commitment to attend weekly meetings on a regular basis or send a substitute guest.

Remember, the best way to set up a referral relationship is with people you already have a relationship with. And the best time to build a relationship is before you need it. So, no matter what stage your business is in, or how many clients you’re serving now, carve out some time to network and build relationships. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you had an experience making a referral or receiving a referral? If so, I want to hear about it! If not, let me know what is holding you back!

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