Creating a System for Easy Repeatable Referrals


“The way to get on in the world is to make people believe it’s to their advantage to help you.” – Jean de La Bruyère, seventeenth-century essayist and moralist

When it comes to referral networking, it’s all about developing relationships with people who know, like and trust you enough to refer you to their friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. While this sounds simple, you continue to talk yourself out of making that phone call or sending that email.

At the core of your hesitation lies the fear of rejection. You make excuses in your head and convince yourself that you’re bothering people or selling a multi-level marketing program even though your business has nothing to do with multi-level marketing. To overcome this fear, you need a system to help you create a referral-generating machine.

Create an easy, repeatable SYSTEM for Referrals

A referral system is essential for acquiring and retaining clients. Nobody likes to ask for help, but having a system in place removes the fear and excuses, empowering you to take the next step and get the sale. As you are developing your referral machine, remember that a good SYSTEM:

  • S – Saves
  • Y – You
  • S – Stress
  • T – Time
  • E – Energy
  • M – Money

A good referral system includes ten key steps. From identifying your target customer to partnering with complementary businesses, implementing the ten steps below should help you get started.

Step One: Identify Your Target Client

You have to know who you want as a client in order to ask others to refer them to you. I remember a cosmetics representative years ago said, “My target client is people with skin.” Anyone with skin is too generic and not memorable. It doesn’t help other people know who to send your way.

You must narrow down your target market and get as specific as possible. Since the cosmetic company offered no products for men or children, a better response would be, “My target clients are women who are 35-55 years old who want to look younger,” or “My target clients are stay-at-home moms who want to look sexy for date night.”

Step Two: Treat All with Respect

When you’re at an event you may not know whom you’re talking to, what position they hold or how they could impact your life in the future. Treat everyone you meet with respect and they’ll often return the courtesy.

Back in the day, Exxon Chemical was one of my clients. I visited their facility a couple of times each month. Often times, I had to wait for the lab or purchasing agent so I would fill the time by chatting with the receptionist who was a college student at the time. When she realized her company was using two purchasing agents she asked me why I wasn’t the sole supplier. To make a long story short, I soon became the sole supplier of that product to her company and 10 years later she was my purchasing agent!

To this day my old company is still selling that product as the sole supplier simply because I took a few minutes to get to know the receptionist and treated her with respect. You just never know whom you’ll run into and how it can change your life!

Step Three: The Elevator Speech

If you’re like many business owners, you think about your elevator speech on the way to a networking event or you make it up when someone asks you. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

To craft a good elevator speech, tell a story about how you helped a client like this one: Suzy came to me worried about her investments. As a financial advisor I was able to help her get her 401k accounts consolidated, invested and aligned with Suzy’s financial goals. She ended up reaching her goals in just three short years. If you know people who could use some help consolidating their 401k accounts, I’d love an introduction.

The goal is to let people know who your target client is so they can refer those people to you. If they have someone in mind, ask for an introduction.

Step Four: The Business Card Secret

This is going to sound crazy, but it works. Never pass a pile of business cards around the room when you attend a networking event. Passing cards doesn’t create a connection between you and the other person. Instead, listen to the commercials of the other people and target 2-5 that you want to meet whose business complements yours. Focus on having a conversation with those people centered on how you can partner together.

Step Five: The Conversation

People like to talk about their business. When you’re at a network event, don’t throw your business card in their face. Instead, ask questions to get to know them on a personal level by learning about their hobbies, interests and family life. Find one thing that you have in common and connect with them on a level that’s not strictly business related.

Step Six: Gratitude

Thank the people who refer business to you with a handwritten thank you note. Don’t wait until the lead becomes a client. Send a note when you receive the lead. When the lead becomes a client send another note or better yet, send a thank you gift like flowers, gift cards and gift baskets. The referrer will feel appreciated and will likely send more your way.

Step Seven: Creative Ways to Request Referrals

Don’t limit yourself to requesting referrals on occasion. You can request referrals in every communication you send. I once met a company who included a request for referrals every time someone from their team sent out an email, invoice, letter, and thank you note that read:

By Referral Only…means: We invest 100% of our time and energy to delivering first-class service to our clients. As a result, our valued clients, suppliers, and friends refer their family, friends and work associates to us for advice on buying or selling real estate. Were interested in building strong lifelong relationships one person at a time.

Not only does the messaging help retain current clients, it reminds clients to refer people to them.

Step Eight: Free Offers

Everyone loves to get something valuable for free. The simplest way to do this is with an offer on your website. A free 30 minute analysis, free sample of your product, one-hour use of the conference room, free book or a $25.00 gift card are all simple ways to encourage referrals. Remember to include social sharing buttons on all offers that you have available. This encourages others to share it with their social networks.

Step Nine: Find Power Partners

You don’t have to network alone. Find complementary businesses and create a program to benefit the referring company. Home services like landscapers, pool service, air-conditioning, painting and pest control companies can help each other. Even if you don’t create a formal program, customers will appreciate that they can use a complementary business that you know and trust.

Step Ten: Referral Sources

Other businesses are always great referral sources, but they aren’t the only ones. Think about your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues that may need or know someone who needs your product or service. Think of creative ways to inform them about your business and how they can benefit from your referral program, such as throwing a party, BBQ, renting a snow cone truck for the neighborhood, phone call, direct mail piece, email or through social media.

When it comes to referral networking, you can never give enough referrals to the people in your network. That establishes you as a trustworthy source and grows trust between you and other businesses. When people know, like and trust you, they will refer business to you. Get out and meet people with your easy, repeatable referral system in mind so your next step can be finding talented people to help you with all of your new business.