Build Your Referral Network for Profit and Pleasure
We all know "word-of-mouth" is a highly effective way to acquire new clients. It's your favorite way to get new clients, right? The phone rings or the email chimes and, "Presto!" You have a new client! If you're doing quality work and taking excellent care of your clients, these unsolicited clients arrive with increasing frequency through your career. But, you don't have to wait and wonder who will call. You can speed the process, target the clients and work you want and increase your satisfaction by building strategic partnerships.
How can you develop these partnerships and build your referral network?
Start with your mindset.
Do you want referrals? Hint: Unless you're about to retire from a solo practice, yes, you do. Even if you have plenty of work and clients ("Congratulations!"), acquiring more referrals will give you the enviable opportunity to delegate work to colleagues or to cherry pick your favorite clients and refer others. Are you afraid of asking for referrals? Why? If you're good at what you do, asking for referrals will give people the opportunity to 1) help you, 2) help the people they recommend you to and 3) help themselves by being a valued resource to their contacts.
Select your partners.
Loyal clients should be your first source of referrals. They're in the best position to knowledgeably and persuasively recommend you and your work. Who has referred clients to you in the past? (If you don't know, take the time now to find out.) Who is likely to know others who need your services? They might be bankers, CPA's, architects, lawyers or other professionals whose clients might need your expertise. Who can you help with referrals? Your potential referral recipients are also potential strategic partners. Consider expanding your network to include professionals in other cities, regions or countries who might need your local expertise. Finally, who do you like and respect? Like attracts like, so people you like and respect will probably know and refer similar people.
Know what you want.
You'll significantly improve the quantity and quality of your referrals if you know what you want before you ask. Can you describe your ideal client? Is it a business or an individual? What kind of a business is it, how large is it and where is it located? Whether a business or an individual, what kind of a problem is your ideal client facing? How will your strategic partner recognize the need for your services, e.g. what kinds of comments or complaints will he or she hear? Do you have a target list of businesses you'd like to work with and people you'd like to meet? Write a description of your ideal client and make a list now of businesses you'd like to work with and people you'd like to meet.
Identify how and who you can help.
You've probably heard the adage, "To have a friend, you must first be a friend." Successful partnerships thrive on mutual benefits. Spend some time thinking about how you can help others, whether they're colleagues in your firm or contacts in your community. What do you think your contacts want or need? Who can you connect? Can you partner on projects to make yourselves more valuable together than either of you would be alone? Be prepared with some initial ideas and your genuine desire to help. Then when you talk with potential partners, you'll gather new information that will spawn new ideas.
Offer, propose, refer, ask.
Don't wait any longer. Now is always the perfect time to get out of your comfort zone and build your referral network. Start small. Offer to make introductions for your colleagues. Propose joint presentations or co-sponsorships with select colleagues. Call people of interest and tell them you'd like to get better acquainted over lunch. Direct the conversation to their needs and ideal clients. If you like them and have the opportunity to help them, offer. Don't promise anything you can't deliver and always follow up on any promise you make. Be prepared to tell them about your ideal client if they ask. Nurture your relationships with periodic communications. Make introductions and referrals when you can and always notify people when you make referrals. Meet with your clients and ask them about your service and their satisfaction. If they're 100% satisfied, ask them for referrals, "You're a great client and I'd like more clients just like you. Do you know someone like yourself who needs my services?"
Express and accept appreciation graciously. When you're able to help others, accept their thanks with a simple, "You're welcome." Always express your own appreciation for an introduction or a referral, regardless of whether the referral actually becomes a client, with a note, a lunch or a small gift and if confidentiality allows, let your source know how the engagement progresses. Reciprocate with introductions and referrals when you can.
Nurture and appreciate your strategic partnerships to grow your business and increase your pleasure.