Marketing & Branding Advice

New Business Karma: Simple Ways to Build & Nurture Referral Sources


Whether you are new to marketing and business development or a seasoned pro, if you work for a professional service firm, you know that the majority of your new business comes from referrals. If you can increase the number of referrals, even by a small percentage, it can drastically affect your annual sales. So, how can you encourage your clients (without becoming annoying) to refer you more? Here are a few ideas that stem from the most basic “givers gain” mentality:

1. Be a Connector

Sending work to a client is a sure way to encourage them to reciprocate. But since it’s hard to refer work on a regular basis, try making connections as well. I have connected clients with vendors I know and trust, and it’s beneficial to all parties. I try very hard to help clients whenever they are in need of a specialist, even if the specialist is outside my areas of expertise. A client called me once and said “This is a crazy question, but you seem to know everyone. Do you happen to know a good chiropractor?” I didn’t, but I knew who to call to get a name. It only took me a few minutes but that client has thanked me many times since.

When making connections, be careful. Your clients and prospects most likely get enough unsolicited emails and calls, so never release contact info without asking first.

2. Mentor

Mentoring can take many forms, and does not have to take a lot of time. Giving back to younger or less experienced people interested in your field is a long-term investment, but can sometimes have more immediate returns. I’ve met some wonderful students, faculty, and professionals while volunteering on a graphics advisory board at a local community college. I have had a few excellent interns from the school, and have received a few referrals from others who mentor there. Your interns today may be your clients tomorrow. Plus, it just feels great to help others learn.

3. Make it Personal

If you haven’t heard from a client for a while, or even if you have, sending a handwritten thank you note is a nice way to stay top-of-mind. Invite the person to lunch, or offer some other means of getting together. At the end of the note, you can mention that you always appreciate referrals, but that may make the note seem more like an “ask” than a “give.”

4. Leverage Partnerships

As seasoned professionals, we all have strategic partners we work with regularly. We naturally give them work, but often forget (or feel uncomfortable) asking for work in exchange. But your partners should never be offended if you ask, and can sometimes help you break into new markets and industries where they have more experience than you.

5. Find Common Interests

More than anything, I love it when I can spend time with clients and prospects doing something we both enjoy. Whether it’s sharing a good meal or going to see a concert or exhibit, finding common interests is the most fun way to give back, it’s win-win!

Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, May 10, 2017.

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