Biz Ladies: How to Acquire Business Referrals


Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Annika Martins, a creative business coach living in Vancouver. She left the marketing consulting world because she wanted her work to make her heart and her wallet happy. Today she shares some of her tips for naturally requesting and getting business referrals. Thank you, Annika, for such a wonderful post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Asking clients/customers for referrals easily rolls off the tongue of many first-time business owners.

How nice for them.

I was not naturally one of those people.

The subject of referrals made me imagine a little kid with an outstretched hand shouting, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”

I figured that if a client wanted to refer me to someone else, they would, and I should just let that process unfold naturally. I was convinced that if I directly asked for a referral, I’d come across as a money-hungry sleazeball.

But since growing my business was an urgent priority, I knew that not asking meant I was missing out on a ton of new client opportunities.

I had to find a way to make asking for referrals feel authentic and comfortable, both for me and for the clients I was asking. Here’s how I reversed the ick-factor:

It’s a GIVE, not a take.

The snotty kid I mentioned above is 100% in Take Mode. Many of us see referrals in the same way: a one-way transaction of taking. Taking more clients. Taking more money.

Like the little kid, this way of viewing referrals puts us in a lower position and therefore makes us feel that we’re begging (or obnoxiously whining to) our customers.

The first step to getting comfortable with referral requests is throwing that old definition out the window and adopting a new one. Try this on for size:

I ask for referrals because I know what I do provides value, and I want others to benefit from the value I have to give.

Notice the change-ola there? We went from Take Mode to GIVE Mode.

By asking for a referral, you are creating an opportunity for an already satisfied client/customer to share the awesomeness of your products and services with other people. People who need what you’ve got. People who are aching to work with someone who gets it, draws it, paints it, hems it, formats it the way you do.

When you ask for a referral, you are extending your give. Focus on the give.

Once you’ve reframed the referral-asking process in a way that makes it comfortable for you, here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Make it immediate.

Don’t wait until 6 months after you sold them the product or finished delivering your services to ask for a referral. By that point, you and your business are no longer top of mind. The best time to ask for a referral is when a happy customer/client is still over-the-moon giddy about you, which is typically right after they’ve used your product or just finished working with you.

Telltale signs of over-the-moon giddiness? They stop by to write a glowing comment on your Facebook page, they retweet you on a regular basis, they include a link to your website in their next blog post or (the obvious one) they send you a long email gushing about the custom order you did for them.

These are the people to ask for a referral, and shortly after they shower you with praise is exactly when you should be drafting your email to them. Their passion for your business is sky high at this moment. If they chat you up to their friends now, their exuberance for your products/services will make their recommendation shine so brightly that new clients will be running to your website at breakneck speed.

2. Focus on the give.

When you’re drafting that email though, remember: Always focus on the give. Instead of “Got any referrals?” it’s more about “This is how I can help others, just like I helped you.” You’re asking them to help you give others the fantastic experience they just had.

You might think that because they bought your product or signed up for coaching with you that they already know what you do and whom you’re looking for, but this is not always the case. Your clients haven’t had to spend much time thinking about how to market your business, have they? That’s not their job.

So in order for them to refer you properly, help them by providing a couple short, attractive sentences that easily sum up the problems you solve and how you solve them. In addition, you may offer other products and services that they’re unaware of so that giving them this bird’s-eye view helps them figure out who would be a good fit for you.

3. Think big-picture.

Keep in mind that more clients/customers isn’t the only kind of referral you could ask for. Think of your business’ big picture, and you’ll probably uncover a long list of areas in which you could use referrals.

For example, one of your clients might be best friends with the president of the local arts council or their brother-in-law may run the TV show you’re dying to be featured on. By getting to know your clients, you might naturally uncover some of these connections in casual conversation, and where appropriate, you could then ask for introductions.

But don’t be discouraged if your conversations haven’t turned up any info like this. If there are particular people or organizations that you’d really like to work with, put the desire out there. If there is a radio show you want to be featured on, ask if they know anybody affiliated with that station. If you’d like to start guest blogging, ask what blogs they’d recommend you publish on.

When a client is profusely complimenting you and raving via social media about how great your products are, that’s a client who truly wants to see you succeed. They want to support you and would likely be more than willing to offer you help beyond a direct client referral, but they’re not going to know what that help looks like until you tell them what you need.

Of course you want to be selective about whom you choose to reach out to in this way, but keeping your needs/desires for your business a secret isn’t helping anyone. If a client sends you a testimonial that makes your eyes water, they care. They want to see you grow. Tell them how they can help.

4. What if they can’t think of anyone to refer?

It happens to all of us. We’re swamped and our brain is on overload, so we draw a blank. Perfectly understandable.

But don’t give up. Maybe they can’t think of anyone right now, but in 3 weeks or 3 months they will have met new people or bumped into old friends, and your ideal client might be somewhere in the bunch. Get their permission to follow up at a later date and see what turns up.

Maintaining a connection like this also gives you an opportunity to check back and see whether they need your services again at some point in the future or might be interested in the new product you’ve launched. Whether through social media or occasional email conversations, keep in touch with these clients who raved about how much they loved working with you.

5. A “thank you” email is enough, right?

So you implement all these strategies and voila, by the end of this week you’ve got a big, fat, juicy referral sitting in your inbox. Woohoo! Naturally, you quickly follow up with a heartfelt note of thanks to the client who sent you the referral. Obviously. But are you stopping there?

If we’re working from GIVE Mode, consider more tangible ways you can show your appreciation. It might be a discount on their next purchase or a free hour of design work. Even just retweeting their latest blog post is a way to support them. It doesn’t have to cost you anything, but do your best to creatively show your thanks beyond a simple “Thank you” email. When it comes to showing sincere gratitude, going above and beyond the basics is always a good thing.

Asking gushing-over-you clients/customers to connect you with new people so that you can give them the same great value is not slimy at all. Getting those devoted former clients/customers to spread the word about your business is one of the strongest ways to build your credibility and attract new customers.

By choosing to approach referral requests as an opportunity to give others more of the valuable stuff you have to offer, you transform the process from sleazeball to sincere — and isn’t that a business model we can all get behind?

What’s been your experience with asking for referrals? If it’s something you feel you do well, please share your tips and strategies below.

Becca

What great advice! Thank you. This feels much more authentic …. where as before this is something I’d imagine as being a bit awkward.

Dodie Jacobi

I have a great business with hundreds of fans, but I don’t have a systematic way to harvest referrals. Yet. I just completed a workshop with John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, and now his latest book, The Referral Engine. Some good, easy-to-implement ideas like yours! Thanks for the inspiration.

Elizabeth Floyd

Great advice! Love how it is all about timing and being there to support and help out the clients while giving them a chance to do the same for you.

Katie Bateman

I think the same ideas could be applied to asking for client testimonials, which also help your business (especially if you are just starting up). Asking happy clients to give you good quotes for your website lends legitimacy when you don’t have an extensive portfolio. Or even better – case studies!

Annika

Great point, Katie! This approach could definitely be applied to testimonials too. Thanks for pointing that out:)

JP

I’m inspired! Taking it a bit further…Why not make it NOW? :) We don’t need to wait until we’re finished delivering our product/services Suppose a customer is WOW’d prior to delivery, maybe a problem is solved in some amazing way… To grow your referral base (get fewer can’t-think-of-anyones) go for the ‘give’ the instant a customer expresses appreciation.

Jen

It’s so refreshing to read an article that is helpful and practical – thanks for sharing!

M. A. Moore

Thank you Stephanie for another great article in Biz Ladies! As a stay at home mom starting up my own business, your articles offer great business ideas and inspiration! Thanks and as always, looking forward to the next article!

Robin

Asking for referrals (or really ANYTHING) doesn’t come naturally to me either — I tend to keep my nose to the grindstone and just expect success to follow my hard work — so this reminder of just how important it is to involve other people in my biz’s growth is giving me an a-ha moment.

Bobbie

This is something I have really wanted to approach but have been
afraid to! I think getting my feet wet by starting with those who as
you say ‘want to see you succeed’ is an excellent place for me to
start! Thanks so much for this post!

Annika

I love JP’s point about not even needing to wait. You’re so right, JP! Go for it!
And I’m cheering for you Robin, Bobbie, Jenn, M.A. The referrals thing can be sticky but focusing on giving to more people has been a great help for me. Good luck!

Tanielle Lobo

Word of mouth recommendations from previous happy customers really make our day.

I also love your point no.2 about “focus on give” because this turns the tables around making it more about the customer offering their friends or family a great product or service that has worked and benefitted them in some way.

Thanks for sharing and inspiring. :)

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