The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard’s book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
With referrals being the lifeblood of every business professional, people often ask us what they can do to generate more referral-based clientele. While we don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, creating a formalized referral strategy is a great start.
A formalized referral strategy is simply a structured, “locked down” process with the express purpose of deepening relationships and producing referrals. Here are some of the components of a super-effective, easy-to-implement formalized referral strategy.
Write an online newsletter
An online newsletter is simply an email that goes out once or twice a month to your network of contacts, clients and referral partners. The content should be something of value to your readers. If you’re a chiropractor, a newsletter that discusses health, nutrition and exercises people can do to stay healthy would be appropriate. A photographer might consider publishing something about the subtleties — camera angle, lighting — of taking a good picture. A career transition coach might have tips about interviewing, resume writing and how people can find their next job.
The point is this: You want content that’s both valuable to readers and potentially shareable to their friends. By providing useful content through an online, shareable method, you gain top-of-mind awareness among your network.
Related: Repair the ‘Networking Disconnect’ and Pursue Your Dream Job
Create a power team of complementary businesses
A power team is simply a collection of people you have a relationship with, who operate complementary businesses or cater to the same clientele. For example, a real estate power team could include a:
- Real estate agent
- Mortgage broker
- Property and casualty insurance agent
- Closing attorney
- Home inspector
These are all people who “touch” a home purchase deal and who complement each other, meaning that if one finds a home buyer, then all of them benefit.
You could get together every other week and pass referrals among each other. Forming a power team or plugging into one via a networking group can go a long way toward generating more referrals.
Related: 10 Powerful Business Networking Skills to Build Rapport Quickly
Consider a client appreciation event
Our experience has taught us that most businesspeople fail to hold appreciation events even though the potential upswing is great.
Here’s how it works.
First, partner with one or two friends or colleagues, especially if you’re doing this for the first time, because doing so will help ensure success by taking some pressure off yourself. Second, choose a date and time. We prefer two-hour events that include appetizers that the hosts provide, plus a cash bar if appropriate. A good time to have this would be from four to six p.m. so you catch people who are leaving work and looking for a social event. We also like this time because it doesn’t take away from “work time” where people might be less inclined to want to attend.
Lastly, pick up the phone and start making calls. Call past clients, current clients, referral partners — pretty much anyone who you think could benefit your business. All you have to say is, “Hey, just wanted to let you know we’re having a client appreciation event in a few weeks. Free appetizers and a cash bar, and I wanted to know if you’d like to come.” There’s no need to overcomplicate this part. To keep track of the number of people attending, you can set up an Eventbrite (www.eventbrite.com) registration page.
As far as the event itself, keep it simple. During the two hours, you’ll want to mix and mingle and depending on how you feel, have someone take pictures. Afterward, you can post the photos on your website and potentially have people share them on social media.
About 45 minutes into the event, you and your partner(s) can quickly address everyone there and thank everyone for attending. You can also let people know about the specific referral you’re looking for (e.g., more speaking engagements, more realtor contacts), that way they can be on the lookout.
From there, you get a drink and have fun talking with people. Afterward, you can individually follow up with people who said they might have some potential referrals for you.
The real magic actually has nothing to do with the event itself, but rather the dialogue before, during and after. Just by making calls to invite folks, you’ll find yourself running into people who were “just thinking about you” and are “glad you called.” Seriously. It happens all the time. The same thing happens when you’re talking to folks at the event.
Related: 16 Tips for Becoming a Master Networker
Make calls to former clients
Even if you don’t hold a client appreciation event, you can still call past clients to see how they’re doing, which is a great way to generate business and get more referrals. Go back 12 months and write down the names of everyone with whom you’ve worked. Then call everyone on your list to check in and see how they’re doing.
We recommend coinciding this call with an upcoming holiday; New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day all work great for clients in the U.S.
Why? Because it’s a great conversation starter to say something along the lines of:
“Hey, John, long time no talk! How are you?”
“Fine, thanks, how are you?”
“Great! I know it’s been awhile since we’ve chatted, but with Labor Day coming up, I figured I’d just reach out to some folks and see what they’ve been up to. I know last time we talked you were doing X. What’s the update on that?”
If you make an hour’s worth of calls to past clients, we can just about guarantee that someone will say, “I’m so glad you called! I was literally just thinking about you last week. Do you have a second to talk?” Give it a try and see what happens.
Referrals don’t happen overnight. They’re the product of time, thought and a good bit of energy put toward deepening the relationships of those around you. But, when you get organized and structure your referral-generating activities into a formalized strategy, we feel you’ll absolutely increase your referral-based business.
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