Referrals are the lifeline of growing any successful business.
But referrals don’t have to be limited to asking satisfied clients for referrals to family members and friends. Learn how to tap outside “centers of influence” for qualified referrals that can translate into lifelong clients.
What are centers of influence?
These are people, businesses, or organizations that work with different circles of influential individuals and have their own loyal following of clients. CPA and law firms, medical groups, fraternal and community organizations, special interest and health clubs, chambers of commerce, and real estate firms, are just some of the centers of influence. Partnering with centers of influence in your city, town or region can be a rewarding alliance that pays off for years to come as their clients are referred to you.
Here’s how to snare referrals:
1) Build a Relationship First; Clients Will Follow – In order for others to refer their clients and associates to you, they first have to trust you, your business judgment and your work ethic. After all, they won’t risk ruining their reputation with a referral to a fly-by-night, or someone with questionable ethics. Only time will prove to them that you are an upstanding business person who, like them, has their clients’ best interests at heart.
2) Identify the Central Centers – Not sure what centers of influence exist in your community? Check the local phone book or your local business journal to find the largest firms, organizations and colleges that provide services to residents. Call and ask who the “key” contact person is at the company/group.
3) Reach Out and Touch Someone – Call or write to the person in charge of each establishment. Introduce yourself, acknowledge that you are also an area business owner seeking to grow your business, and offer to help them and their clients with needs that may arise. Offer to meet for breakfast or lunch (or better yet – at your office, where they can see your business in action) to share with them what you do. If sending a letter, include a short pamphlet or description which explains who you are, what your background and credentials are, what experience you have, and what services you can provide. Offer to meet with them to share in more detail what each of you do for clients.
4) Don’t “Hard Sell” Your Services, Just Make a Friend – Turn the pressure off! This kind of “cold calling” can give planners cold feet. Don’t expect the first attorney you share a cup of coffee with to suddenly refer every client your way. Instead of setting your expectations too high, just focus on making a friend with another business owner, executive or service provider. After that, maintaining the friendship can simply mean occasionally calling to say hello, or even referring one of your clients to them. Setting your sights on simply making a friend will also allow you to weed out those folks you’ve subsequently decided you don’t want to pursue a relationship or referral arrangement with.
5) Anything Worthwhile Takes Time – The key to any successful effort is persistence. Marketing your firm and its services to centers of influence takes time. Don’t treat it as a one-time event, but rather a gradual effort to build your name recognition within your local community, and develop relationships with local business leaders.
6) Define Your Niche, then Target it – If your practice has found its own niche, find the centers of influence that fit that niche. For example, if you prefer to work with parents planning for college education costs, reach out to childcare centers, schools, and pediatrician groups.
7) Linking the Chain – Once you’ve found other business owners with complementary services who are happy to provide (and receive) referrals, consider a joint community event at which each of you can discuss your area of expertise, personally meet with attendees, and share the cost of the event.
8) Become Your Own Center of Influence – You may find that you’ve developed so many new business friends that you can refer most everyone to anyone for anything! If so, consider becoming the CEO of your own Center of Influence for your clients to turn to whenever they need a referral, no matter how obscure.
by: Dan Sondhelm