What's your referral strategy?

One of the most common things I hear from clients is how they’d like to get more referrals. But when I ask them what their strategy is to make that happen, they look blankly at me. Effectively, most people are waiting for them to drop into their lap.

So how do you put a referral strategy together? These 7 pointers will set you off in the right direction:

1.   Where is best for you to network?

Different networks suit different purposes. If you are just interested in making some contacts, then a casual contact network will work well for you. If you are looking to generate referrals, then a strong contact network (limited by profession) would be best. However, if your business has you flying round the world most weeks, then you would never be able to maintain the commitment required to get the most out of the group. Service clubs, industry networks, and women’s only networks all have their pros and cons, while of course there is the huge potential of the online networking world.

The best networkers tend to choose two or three networks. You’re not then putting all your eggs in one basket, nor stretching yourself too thin. This leads us neatly on to…

2.   Only commit to what you can

It’s not worth trying to network in too many places or groups. When will you get any actual work done?!? We’re not going to be in business long if we don’t serve our clients. Secondly, and more importantly, comes the fact there’s only so many relationships that you’re going to be able to maintain at a time. 

If you keep only meeting new people, your network will spread widely – but it won’t go deep enough. The quality of relationships won’t be good enough to share business. You’ll be too busy to keep up with your contacts, or you’ll start missing networking events, which will damage both your visibility and credibility.

So as you develop your first networking strategy, the best suggestion I can give is to start slowly. Work on developing consistency to your networking. If that means networking once a month, go for that while you practice. Once up to speed, network more regularly. In terms of results, little and often is so much better than lots and sometime, so pick one network and work it properly.

3.   Get your diary out

Networking requires commitment (another reason for only committing to what you can). For myself, I’ve found that the key to committing to networking is to make sure that networking activities are diarised. This is crucial, because once appointments are in the diary, then business people don’t usually break them. This includes putting preparation time in the diary. 

For example, I would recommend to any networking group member that they put in an hour a week in their diary every week. Then they can make sure they’ve practiced their 60 second presentation, and thought about any referrals or visitors to bring to the meeting that week.

4.   It’s not just about finding NEW clients…

If we are serious about the relationship building process, then we need to make sure that our networking includes time not only to meet new people, but to maintain contact with existing connections. 

But sitting down for a one to one with a networking contact will pay dividends. So when planning your time in your diary for networking, make sure you include catching up with your existing contacts. 

Just as it is easier to keep existing clients than to find new ones, think about leveraging the relationships that you’ve already got.

5.   Know what you want

The best way to leverage the relationships that you’ve got is to know who you’re after. The more specific you are about it, the better.

So a key part of your strategy needs to include developing and maintaining a top ten list of dream clients. If you don’t know who you want to speak to, how will anyone else? Not only that, but make sure you have a think about which stories you’d tell to make sure you can back up your referral requests.

6.   Plan to help others

The key to successful networking is building meaningful relationships, so your strategy must include time to work on relationships. The best way to do this is to help others!

So, find time to look for referrals for people. Find time to have 1-1s where you focus solely on the other person’s business. Find time to look through your online contacts to generate potential referrals. 

If you keep helping other people, giving without expectation, it will come back to you in spades.

7.   Track your ROI – What is networking worth to you?

If we’re going to spend business time building relationships, there must be a return from that time invested. If you are not getting a return on your investment, then that it is not a sensible commercial decision to not consider how you are networking.

So, how do you know what your networking is worth to you? You’ve got to track it. The most sensible measure has to be the number of new clients or the amount of new turnover generated.

Of course, you may have joined a network for reasons other than generating turnover. Maybe you’re after access to resources and contacts, or for information in an industry specific network. In these cases, the return may not be in monetary form.

However, whatever you intend to get out your networking, particularly if it is in the form of actual business, it is vital to keep track of what you do generate. It’s easy to remember what what’s happened in the last week or so. But over months and years, it becomes harder to track, unless you do something about it. How do you track the business you are generating?