It might seem obvious to some, but to get business referrals, you should be referring business. So how do you refer business? This article lays out the top 5 tips on referring business and what each of the situations hold in terms of referral challenges.
The old “I scratch your back if you scratch mine” idea should start with you giving, not trying to receive. Everyone already has a business network, even if it is tiny. This is something you should be looking to expand every day, fostering relationships, knowledge and parallel skills both in and around your industry. Not growing your network is like not growing your knowledge. Your business network is part of your career (if you are an employee) or business (if you are an owner). From new job hunters to executives looking to make the transition into their next business venture, the likelihood that you will rely on your business network to cement opportunities is enormous.
For business owners and directors, I’m probably preaching to the converted in terms of the significance and leverage your business network already provides. By referring business, the likelihood that you’ll also get business referrals back improves with every mutual opportunity.
Like everything in life, there are those who are naturals at building relationships. So the tips below have been garnered from those who’ve come through out networking platform meetandmine.com as champions at networking and referrals. Significantly, referrals are broken down into key types. Each type below is actually an opportunity you can create or be aware of, which will allow you to refer business.
I’ve written a lot on the reasons behind networking and the trusted source (click the tags above for my other articles on this), so here are the top 5 ways to refer business. Most importantly, when looking to refer business, you should know a reasonable amount about the business or individual you are referring. It shouldn’t be someone you don’t have an existing relationship with, or the looming question of “Why should I talk to them?” will always arise.
We know major challenges occur when trying to refer business out of your ‘known’ skill-set. For example, if you are an accountant and trying to refer an associate’s business in graphic design, it is likely that it is outside of your own experience: what do you know about graphic design? But if you are looking to refer a bookkeeper, chances are you do that frequently, and the challenge is to refer business or relationship’s you already trust in terms of service quality. The trusted reason referral is well aligned to your business, industry and market. It could also be well aligned to you personally, for example, to recommend a good bike store if you are an avid rider. The trusted reason referral makes a lot of sense to everyone involved (the business you are referring, you as a passionate supporter and the referee you are connecting to the business). Often companies know a great deal about their clients business, and there are obvious opportunities to foster referrals for others – do it! A great example is in financial advisory, where firms audit their customers and hold a lot of data and insights on them, but don’t necessarily write loans for them or do their accounting. While these type of trusted referrals are well established in the industry, the relationships with partner firms you can develop should be viewed as core to your business networking.
The trusted reason is an opportunity you can create easily in conversation by bringing up the topic, as the referral allows you to start the referral topic without being prompted or perhaps directly prompting. Also listen out for trigger points that may not be direct questions – we often talk about pain points people are experiencing: “Ah we really need to modernise our logo” – these opportunities should spike your interest and allow you to segue into a referral easily. The pain point referral allows you to expand on the trusted referral and qualify the reason you are sharing the referral. This often happens when people mention insurance to me – something I would rarely mention in conversation unless I’ve crashed my car again! But someone talking about a claim or theft or fire or security hack etc is a perfect pain point I can transition into a referral. Listen out for pain points, as they are easy wins. If you don’t have a relationship you can refer to someone there and then, you can always come back to it on email or social media later.
Talking about people’s business opens up opportunities. General chit-chat about both your business challenges and others’ is an easy way to look for pain points and trusted referral opportunities. When I’m discussing business, I’m always thinking how I can help the other person, either directly with advice I can share on digital, but further how I can connect them to my network and share their wider knowledge.
Above I mentioned that I wouldn’t refer insurance as it isn’t in my sphere. Here are two times it was. First was a security insurance policy that related to digital and online software. This is of course a huge topic in my space, so I shared this with my entire EDM database and ran a webinar with Nathan (my insurance broker) to my network on the topic. This resulted in immediate leads and conversions for Nathan, but more importantly for me, it shows my care in the space and how this particular cost-effective solution (hundreds of dollars a year) reduced the risk for millions of dollars in potential digital security issues. The other time was when Nathan mentioned he had been having huge success in the beauty industry halving people’s insurance policies. I immediately let a few of our clients and friends in that space know they should talk to him. Look out for those hot topics from your referral network both in person, from their email or social or web publications. I know this can be over-whelming, but the responsibility is also theirs to share the information with you that is relevant (as you’ll surely opt out of their digital services if not continually relevant).
Finally, probably the hardest referral is when you just want to help a friend get new business. This is more like a cold referral, as you don’t really have a reason to be referring the business. Honesty is the best policy here: “Do you know anyone who needs a bricklayer? I’m trying to help my mate Fred boost his business”.
Remember to get approval first before referring someone and have the person who is going to ‘get’ the business do the work (do the contacting).
In general, introductions are better when there is a reason: “I spoke with Nathan, who has told me about the price drop in the space. Let me know if I can connect you both for a coffee.” Be very careful when pushing a cold referral that is not related to your space; was not prompted; or my most rigorous warning – for someone you haven’t qualified as trusted, as this can be a huge negative for you. Anyone who does not deliver and service a referral you send them perfectly, just like someone who does a crappy job for you – I’d never refer to them again.
Finally, care about what happens on the other side of a referral – follow up both parties when you have a chance to find out how it went. This will provide positive feedback for your future referrals.