The old school approach for getting more referrals was to ask past and current clients to give you names of people who might need your services, who you would then contact. For the typical self-employed professional, this is more often than not a recipe for failure. You're uncomfortable making a request like this, your clients hesitate to give you their contacts' names without permission, and when you're the one initiating contact, it's practically a cold call.
There must be a better way to build referrals than this. Relax; there is! Here are three keys to gain more referrals without putting clients (and yourself) on the spot.
- Ask the right people. Your past and current clients actually
aren't your most productive source of referrals. Let's say you are a
massage therapist who specializes in helping people with chronic pain.
Your clients will only rarely encounter people who need you. Consider
how many more people with pain management issues could be referred to
you by a chiropractor, physical therapist, or acupuncturist than your
clients would ever know.
The best people to ask for referrals are those who - by the very nature of what they do - will encounter likely clients for you all the time. People who fit this definition could be self-employed professionals like yourself, employees of a larger company, or affiliated with an organization or school that serves your target market. Seek out people like this to become acquainted with, and your likelihood of referrals will skyrocket.
What can also increase is your comfort level in making the ask. When you get to know people who themselves need more clients for their business, the company they work for, or the organization they serve, the possibility of referrals is reciprocal. This gives you something to offer in return. Even if folks like these aren't in need of referrals, they will often want to know you better, simply because you can be a valuable resource to the population they serve.
- Define who you want referred. The wrong way to ask for
referrals is to say: "I'm an accountant. You can refer me anyone who
needs their taxes done or help sorting out their finances." This kind of
needs-based definition forces your referral source to figure out for
themselves who might need you. Don't make them guess. Instead, outline
for your referral source what characteristics to look for to identify
someone they might refer.
For example: "I specialize in helping small business owners save money on their taxes and stay on track with their financial plans. A good client for me would be an entrepreneur who has an established business and wants to grow." With a definition like this - which includes your target market, key benefits you provide, and characteristics of your ideal client -- your referral source could easily identify a person who might be able to use you AND who you would want to work with.
- Tell them how to make referrals. It's okay to ask your
referral sources to follow certain steps when they refer. In fact, it's
the surest way to make sure the referral works for all three of you. You
might say, "The best way to refer me someone is to send an email
introduction to us both." Or, "When you suggest to someone that they
work with me, leave me a quick message so I'm prepared when they call."
(Notice that either of these approaches will allow you to follow up on
It can also help your sources to make good referrals if you give them language or tools to use. For example: "When you run across people who might be good clients for me, tell them I specialize in working with professionals who are new to being managers." Or, "I'd love it if you would point them to this article I wrote so they can see exactly how my approach could be helpful."
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