How do I go about generating referrals? A route map

After 18 years experience working with others on their referral marketing I’ve distilled all that knowledge into a 5 point guide that if you follow you will generate a regular flow of introductions to your ideal clients.

Get out there and be seen.

Woody Allen summed it up when he said “80% of success in life is just showing up”.

He was being self deprecating but he had a point. If no-one knows you’re in business, and they don’t know what you have to offer then no-one is going to refer you.

So from day one get out there and be seen, in person, on-line and, maybe, still in print.  From day one let everyone you know know what you’re planning to do

Don’t wait until your idea is fully formed; these people may help you with useful feedback, advice , resources and contacts that may improve on your original ideas and save you pain and expense further down the road.

Most importantly your first referrals are likely to come from someone you already know well. Why because they like you and want to help. If they’ve been on the journey with you from the beginning they will feel they have some stake in your success and be even more inclined and better equipped to help.

Don’t stop at family and friends, you need to show up at your relevant business community groups, events, expos, seminars etc. Getting to know others and start spreading the word about your expertise.

It’s going to take time for these people to get to know you so the sooner you start the process the better.

On the other hand just showing up at networking events and pitching for sales rarely works long term.. When I ask someone why they stopped going to a particular networking group a common response I get is  “ It was great. I met lots of people and had a good time but no work came from it.” When I delve deeper usually they hadn’t applied any of the next stages on their journey but had jumped right to trying to close a sale. So what next?

Have a Referral Strategy

The best definition of strategy I’ve seen comes from Carl von Clausewitz, the 18th Century German General. “Strategy is marshalling your resources to achieve your objective”

Now is the time to be clear on what your objective is. What do you want to achieve for this business and your life? You’re going to have a totally different plan populated by different types of people if your long term vision is for world domination to running a small local business. More on that further down the page. However your vision is for more than just planning; it is what inspires you and gives that emotional edge that others recognise in you and inspires them to want a stake in it by helping you

You also need to define what you do, your mission. It’s a favourite question when business people meet for the first time. How can someone refer you unless they understand what product or services you offer and how it helps those clients.

It may sound counter-intuitive but referrers love specialists. Why? Because they are easier to refer to. One of my favourite examples of this from my own practice is the company that specialised in cleaning lorries. Always plenty of work but over time they got to be known as the person to call with anything that was “difficult to get clean” and got referred from around the world.

These two points, your vision and your mission, lead you naturally to your ideal client. Your target market. Many small businesses shy away from defining their niche and rely on a blanket term “Anyone “ which sounds desperate, or Everyone needs my services. Usually they are frightened of lost opportunities. Now there are lots of reasons to have a market niche but here lets focus on how describing an ideal client helps generate referrals.

Most referrals that could come your way never happen. They never happen for one simple reason. The people who could refer you didn’t notice the opportunity.. So your job is to place in your referral sources’ heads a clear unambiguous picture of what your ideal clients look like. Who they are, the characteristics of their business and most importantly what their problem, concern, need for aspiration is that your product or service is the solution.

The resource you need to marshall to reach your objective of meeting these clients are other people. This is the second reason to define your ideal client clearly as it defines who is willing and able to refer you.

Who is able to refer you

The only people who can refer you to the clients who need your services are those who know them and that they need you. And the only people who can do this regularly are those who know lots of the people you need your services.

So surround yourself with other people who are fishing in the same pond as you or people who regularly mix with your type of client in business or socially. Beware this can be more subtle than you realise avoid mixing complementing each others skills with workign in the same types of clients

Take Marketing for instance. It seems natural for marketeers to cross refer with copy writers, web designers, graphic designers, photographers..After all they complement each other in skills. But is the photographer usually does pet portraits and the marketeers does engineering and dislikes dogs then referrals are not likely to flow either way

Who is willing to refer you

The other person may see you regularly at events, understand your vision and mission , recognise your ideal client when they see them and be fishing in the same pond to do this regularly but still not refer you. They have to be motivated to do so.

 Apply the three G’s

The best way to motivate someone to help you is to help them and the same goes with referrals. If you want others to refer you then refer them. However this is not without its risks. Applyling the three Gs helps speed up this process and makes it a lot more likely to happen.

  • Be a Giver There are three types of strategies we use in interacting with other people. We can be givers to anyone, takers and give nothing or matchers who will give if you start first.. Take the initiative and be a Giver. And go first  This will encourage the Matchers to join you.  
  • Be Generous  Give more than once to get the ball rolling. Other people haven’t; read this article and are less skilled than you in spotting opportunities to give.
  • Be Genuine Trust is a huge part of giving referrals. It requires trust around the whole referral triangle. And that comes from building your relationships. The best way to develop that trust is to be honest and genuine in all your referral dealings.

Only refer someone because they are the best fit with your client .

 Always give your best service to both the client and your referral source.

Don’t waste your referral sources time with referrals to clients who don’t want or need their services.

Be consistent and patient.

Referral relationships are built on trust and this takes time to build. Seasoned businesses on the networking scene have seen newcomers come and then go quite quickly. Be prepared to demonstrate your staying power before established people in the network will invest in you

Be prepared to keep applying the 3Gs and go back and check your whole strategy is robust, clear and understood by others.  

Oh and right throughout the process make sure you’re actually asking for help.

If you ask most people for help, if they can give it, they will. If you don’t ask most people will assume you don’t need it.

Jacky Sherman
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Jacky Sherman

In 2003 Jacky left her post as the CEO of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and set up her own coaching company. Realising she knew little about marketing her own business and as a result felt very de-skilled. She found the support and help she needed from two main sources. First she undertook formal training with Asentiv, the business development company that she bought into a few years later. The other source was the willingness of other business owners on the local networking scene to share their knowledge and contacts with a newcomer who freely admitted she was not a natural networker. Now semi-retired she pays forward that generosity by mentoring others who have come out of employment as experts in their field but also confess that marketing themselves is foreign and at times uncomfortable territory. She finds a way of helping the most unnatural networker build a business in a way that is natural to them.