Attracting and retaining customers is the number one job of every business owner and self-employed professional services provider. One way that prospective customers learn about the benefits of your business is through referrals, which are recommendations made by someone who is trusted by the prospective customer and has successfully done business with you, or who knows you well.
Referrals begin with relationships and four groups of people you know have the potential to become the informal sales force that can help grow your business: clients, colleagues, friends and family. Following basic business etiquette practices will ensure that your sources feel valued and will keep your referral pipeline filled.
Make it easy
Cultivate and prepare your referral sources by making sure that those in your network understand and can put into words what it is you do. Learn to clearly and succinctly describe the services you provide, the types of clients you usually work with and what clients need when they work with you. Identify the job titles of your best prospects and the business goals or challenges that drive the need to hire you. Empower your referral sources to network for you as they network for themselves.
Who to ask
Anyone who trusts and respects your business acumen and professional abilities is a potential referral source. If you’ve worked for a client on two or three projects and have developed a good relationship, let them know that you are always looking for new business and would appreciate a referral to someone who could use your services.
Colleagues that you meet through volunteer work, particularly through service on not-for-profit boards and committees, are another potential source of referrals. Board service gives you the opportunity to not only demonstrate your professional expertise and leadership ability, but also build social and professional relationships. If you don’t have the time and inclination to investigate not-for-profit organizations that interest you and need your skill set, visit your local Rotary Club, which for 100 years has brought business professionals together to perform community service.
Membership in professional associations and business groups, e.g. the Chamber of Commerce, is a time-honored way to build relationships that can lead to referrals. College alumni groups, comprised of people who have known you for perhaps decades, bring to you another potential source of referrals. Attend alumni events and re-connect with your old friends, several of whom may be happy to add a business dimension to the relationship, now that everyone is in the working world.
When a referral is made, follow etiquette protocol and confirm that you may use your source’s name when contacting the prospect. Make contact in a timely fashion and do not squander the opportunity. Failure to follow-up with a referral made is an etiquette faux pas that will not be forgotten by your referral source.
Say thank you
Remember to thank your referral source for the endorsement of your expertise. 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 source know the outcome.
It has often been said that word-of-mouth advertising is the most effective and a referral is an example of good word-of-mouth for you. Be mindful that it is implicit that referral relationships are a two-way street. Strengthen relationships by making referrals yourself for clients and colleagues, family and friends. Easy to follow business etiquette protocol, which is another name for common courtesy and generosity, will bring more referrals, and business, your way.