Need to Know How to Get Referrals?

    February 6, 2003

I’m a 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’m in it for the long haul. It took years to learn the skills and build the practice base. Therefore, I take it seriously. When I refer someone to someone else for professional services, this is going to have repercussions for me and my practice. At the same time, my practice depends upon referrals; they’re my lifeblood. Here’s what I’ve learned about them.

1. Ask for them outright.
That’s all you have to do. Ah, but … What if I were to ask you right now to refer clients to me. “I’m a personal and professional growth coach. I’m accepting new clients and I’d like you to refer your chiropractic patients to me. My bio’s at the bottom of this article.” Would you do it? Of course not. Your whole chiropractic 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 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.
First you have to build your reputation by providing exceptional service and let the other person get to know you and trust you.

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, not being pushy, but letting other people see who you are. Join the Chamber, go to seminars, Rotary, work out at the health spa, but these aren’t just social events. When you’re in a profession, you ARE the product. It’s possible to be rude and irresponsible in your social life and be a good surgeon, but not probable. 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. As Dave Barry put it, the person who’s nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person. 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 anything, 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.

5. What’s in it for me?
It’s not about you. There are a few good-hearted souls who just help other people, but not many. Most of us are thinking about benefits, risks, and repercussions. If someone refers someone to you, what will they get?

6. What could they get?
Here’s something I got when I referred a client to another coach: rave emails from the client I referred. It strengthened my credibility and relationship with my client.

7. Here’s something else I could possibly get.
You know how the new hairdresser asks you who on earth cut your hair that way? Never badmouth the person who refers. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If they aren’t good, you shouldn’t be referring with them. If they are good, say so. Don’t try to steal their client. Use your emotional intelligence and stay in the loop.

8. To get referrals, give referrals.
I have a free drawing on my website with one winner a month. The others I refer to other coaches. In that way I build relationships with others who’re in a position to refer to me somewhere down the line. I refer for other reasons, and sometimes for no reason. I know how hard it is to get started.

9. Premiums, reciprocal arrangements, referral fees.
These are ethical in some fields and not in others. If you can, use them. Offer referral fees. Gives gifts and premiums. Most of all, give thanks! If you can’t, discount your services, give extra sessions, keep your core group at their original hourly fee when you raise your rates and let them know.

Support possible referral sources in their endeavors–donate a door prize for the seminar they’re giving, offer to invite some of your clients to it.

10. Don’t overlook your vendors.
Your vendors get out all the time and they’re selling to people like you. Let them know you’ll buy more XYZ from them if you have more business. The man who painted the inside of my house sent me a great client.

11. Strike while the iron is hot.
A good time to ask for a referral is right after you’ve delivered a good product or service.

12. Explain.
Few of us understand fully what another person outside our field does. Your job is to find ways to bring up the range of things you can do for someone. To do this you need time with the other person. That’s why you build a relationship.

13. When someone refers someone to you, it isn’t over, it’s just begun.
Write or call and let them know the contact was made. Within the bounds of confidentiality, keep your referring parties informed.

14. Let people know when you’ve referred someone to them, because the contact isn’t always made.

15. Establish yourself as an expert.
Give free seminars, write on the Internet, volunteer to speak, donate your services.

There’s an art to getting referrals that’s well worth cultivating. Done right it’s a slow process of integrity and service. It can easily take a year for someone else to feel confident in referring someone to you. It builds slowly but once it reaches the tipping point, it’s exponential.

Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach, Marketing consultation,
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