Asking for Referrals, Getting Them and Keeping Them, Part I

    April 9, 2003

I’m a professional coach. I’m not in it to see if I like it, or how much I can make how fast, or because it’s the latest fad. I’m in it because it’s my profession. I love the work and I’m in it for the long haul. It took years to learn the skills and build the practice base and my product is people’s lives. Therefore, yes, I take it seriously, and I think most professionals do. When I refer someone to someone else for professional services, this is going to reflect on my judgment, and also on how I care for my clients.

Referrals are the lifeblood of a professional.

Here’s what I’ve learned about them:

1. Ask for them outright. Explain what you do and say you’d like referrals. That’s all you have to do. Ah, but What if I were to ask you right here and now to refer clients to me? “I’m a personal and professional development coach. I’m accepting new clients and I’d like to you to refer your chiropractic patients to me. Here’s my bio.” Would you do it? Of course not. Your whole practice is built on how your patients perceive you, and if you refer them to an idiot, it reflects on you. Until you’re sure I know what I’m doing and that I’ll treat your patients right, you aren’t going to do it. Your practice is too important to you.

2. You have to do the courtship before you pop the question. It takes time. If you want referrals, first you have to build your reputation and build it carefully by providing excellent service. When you’re good at what you do, and know it, asking for referrals is second nature. Occasion will arise where it’s the natural thing to do, i.e., “You know, I could help Fred with that. That’s exactly what I do. Why don’t you have him call me?” When you have the confidence, you’ll know exactly when and how to pop the question. And if the trust is there, you’ll get the referral, which brings up point number 3.

3. Create an atmosphere where referrals can occur. People refer people to people they like and trust. This means getting out and about, talking with respect about what you do and about the clients you work with, and letting other people see who you are. Join the Chamber, go to seminars, attend Rotary, work out at the health spa, attend the symphony, but these aren’t just social events. When you’re in a profession, you ARE the product and it’s a 24/7 proposition. It’s possible to be rude and irresponsible in your private life and be a good surgeon, but people won’t see it that way. It’s possible to get drunk at a party and harass members of the opposite sex and still be a good coach, but people won’t see it that way. It’s possible to be late for lunch, forget names and abuse the waiter and be a good accountant, but people won’t see it that way. Be who you are when you’re out, but be the professional who you are.

4. Basically you aren’t going to get them until you don’t need them. That’s one of those things in life. If you’re desperate for clients (or anything else), you’ll drive it away. People can sense it. I was helping someone write a grant and their reason was “because we’re desperate for money.” That’s a reason why they want the money; it isn’t a reason why someone should give it to them. The same applies for referrals. Which brings up point number 5.

5. What’s in it for me? It’s not about you. There are a few good-hearted souls who just go about helping other people, but not many. Everyone else is thinking of the repercussions. If someone refers someone to you, what will they get?

In Part II we’ll answer this and other questions.

Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach, Marketing consultation,
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