So, you've come to the conclusion that in order to grow your practice or the firm you need to increase the number of referrals you receive. What took you so long?

Look around and you will see that the most successful individuals in any firm are the ones who have built a strong and deep network of referral sources. The question that naturally comes up next is, "How do I increase the number and the quality of those referrals?" There is no answer to that question that will give you instant, overnight success. However, I've outlined eight simple concepts to remember when building your referral network that will lead to sustained, long-term success:

1. Have a clear understanding of what it is you can do for a client and be able to clearly articulate it to your referral sources in 90 seconds or less. The better you can tell your referral sources how you can help their clients, the more referrals you will receive. The same goes when attending networking events. It is critical to know your strengths and be able to communicate them effectively.

2. Schedule time each work day to develop and nurture your referral sources. This can be spending time at networking events, brainstorming for new sources of referrals, reading trade or industry news, taking your referral sources out for lunch, checking in with them via phone or e-mail, etc. The key is that you have to build referral-building activities into each day. You can't be passive about it - you must make it part of your personal culture.

3. Always look for personal introductions. Getting a name or phone number is great. But just like in the world of dating, how often has getting a name or number ever really turned into a face-to-face meeting? Instead of settling for names and numbers, ask your referral sources to make a personal introduction. How about over coffee, lunch or dinner? Personal introductions are so much more powerful and you're more likely to get a chance to get a follow-up appointment. If your referral source is reluctant to make that personal introduction, at least have them warm up the referral by contacting them and letting them know that you will be calling or contacting them in some manner.

4. Look for win-win situations. Networking and referrals cannot be a one-way street. Yes, you want to get as many good referrals as you can. But you also want to look for situations where you can help your referral sources in return. In order to be successful, you have to be as good a giver as you are a receiver. Do your homework, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to refer your clients or acquaintances, be a good neighbor.

5. Anticipate the needs of your network. Be proactive. Read the papers, trade journals and Internet. Watch the news on television or listen to it on the radio. You need to understand what is happening in the world of business and then look for ways that these events will impact your network. Once you've done that, you can then look for ways to help. Whether it's through your own services or referring someone else's services, you'll earn good will and help someone in your network at the same time.

6. Follow up with your referral sources. Send them a thank-you note after they've made the introduction. Keep them informed on what happened with the referral. Update them regularly on how things are going on your end and what you may be working on that could impact their other clients. If things go well with the prospect and beyond, they'll be more likely to refer more opportunities to you.

7. Be professional. This seems so fundamentally simple, but it bears repeating. Be professional in the way you interact with your referral sources and be professional in the way you interact with the prospects they send your way. Trust me on this one; it's the only way to go. Too many good opportunities are wasted because people forget this simple concept.

8. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Networking and building a good referral system is not a one-time event. There is no magic behind it. It is something that needs to be done consistently over time. Making it part of your everyday business activities will help you become a better networker and ultimately lead to more referrals coming your way. Plus, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become.

Building your practice and developing a robust prospect pipeline takes time. But it is one of the most important components to growing your business. And, as we all know, if your business isn't growing, it's probably dying. Take the time to work on your business, to develop referral sources and find ways to help your clients and those in your network. It's not overly difficult, but for some reason many professionals find other things to do that seem more important.

Make referral nurturing part of your everyday professional life, put your network to work for you, and you will see the rewards.

 

Timothy Allen is a marketing account manager for Wipfli LLP in Madison, Wis. Reach him at tallen@wipfli.com.

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