For many professionals and entrepreneurs, word-of-mouth is the best source of referral business. I know this is certainly true for me. But, as much as I like receiving referrals, I like giving them, too.
Giving referrals allows me to reciprocate to my colleagues, but I also know that my clients are going to get the assistance they need, even when I can’t be the one to provide it.
But how does one create a strong referral network? And more importantly, how does one maintain that network over the years?
Any time you give a referral, you are putting your ‘stamp of approval’ on that person. In essence , you are vouching for their abilities. If they turn out to be a total moron, you’re not going to look good and you’re going to have one very upset client (you may even lost that client).
So before you refer to a new contact, make sure you have vetted them, meaning you’ve used their services (and can speak from personal experience) or you have spoken to people who have (and have received positive feedback).
And similarly, you want your colleagues to trust that you will be able to do the job, right, if they refer to you. So you should also be prepared to demonstrate your abilities. Of course, if they take a chance on you, you’ll get your opportunity to shine. But otherwise, offer to have them speak with past customers (if appropriate), or with other colleagues for a positive review.
You can also schedule some one-on-one time to chat about each other’s work and experiences, and hopefully the conversation itself will help to build mutual confidence and trust in each other’s capabilities.
This is really the easiest part of building and maintaining a strong referral network. But it’s also the one I see destroy relationships the most.
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, even the best and brightest. But beyond your competence and ability, you want your referral partners to know that they can rely on you to make them look good and take care of business. That means following up on leads, keeping appointments, responding to calls and emails in a timely manner, and not the least of all, letting them know when you’ve connected with their referral, and of course, thanking them for it.
If someone trusts and respects you enough to refer their friends, family and customers, you should probably try to do the same. I don’t keep a score board per se, but I know who is sending me referrals and I certainly know who my “regulars” are.
I know my colleagues are also looking for referrals so in addition to saying “thank you” for referrals I receive, I want to show my appreciation by reciprocating. Think about it. How likely would you be to continue sending referrals to someone who never refers to you?
Of course, if you have concerns about someone’s competence or professionalism, perhaps you shouldn’t be referring to them (for your own sake and that of your clients). But then you have to consider ending the relationship entirely. Yes, you will likely lose their referrals, but you have to ask yourself, how much is your reputation worth to you?
On many occasions I face an issue with a client that I know I cannot handle for them. But, sometimes the matter is not quite ripe for a referral. Or in other cases, I’m not completely sure if I would be referring to the right person (in very unique cases).
In these cases, I usually like to reach out to my colleague directly and have a brief discussion about the client and their issue (usually in hypothetical terms, to preserve confidentiality). This allows me to gain a little bit of understanding about how to help the client, and also ensures that I am referring it to the right person for the job.
Similarly, when colleagues call me with a question or issue, I am always happy to have a short chat and share some of my knowledge and wisdom. Of course, I always welcome their client to call me directly, so I can begin to assist in the best way possible. But by empowering your colleagues, you can help yourself and your client, immensely.
This little bit of “value added” for your colleagues can go a long way toward keeping you on the top of their referral list.
Stay in Touch
The title of this post is (Don’t Be) Out of Sight, Out of Mind. This is just a simple way of saying that you need to stay in touch with your colleagues and referral partners even if a long period passes where neither of you have any referrals.
An easy way to do this is to invite them for a meal or a coffee/drink. Of course, if you have many, many wonderful colleagues and referral partners (like i have been blessed to have) you might find that you’re out every night of the week with one person or another. Obviously, this is not realistic or sustainable over a long period of time.
So what else to do? Well I know that I will sometimes send or receive a small gift or a personalized, hand-written note, and this small gesture speaks wonders.
However, my real preference is to host informal events and invite my colleagues. Again, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but if you put the right event together, you can really leave a lasting impression on people. I also like to invite my colleagues to invite their colleagues. It is always a great to meet new people, because you never know where your next referral might come from!
For example, yesterday I hosted a small luncheon for my lady colleagues. Here we are:
No, I was not excluding men from my circle. In fact, most of the events I have hosted in the past have been co-ed. But I felt the need for some positive, feminine energy in my life (and it was a good way to limit the guest list, keeping my costs manageable).
So instead of inviting out 13 people for 13 separate dinners or lunches, I brought everyone together for one meal. Not only did I get to touch base, catch up and break bread with my friends and colleagues, but we all had an opportunity to meet new people and expand our referral base. Not to mention, we had a delicious meal and lots of laughs. Win-Win for everyone!
Whether you’ve been in business for many years, or you’re just starting out, follow these simple tips and you’ll be on your way to building a strong and reliable referral network. And a reliable referral network can you busy and solvent for many years to come.
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