[IMGCAP(1)]The other night I had my last meal of Copper River salmon for the year. These prized fish are available for only a few weeks a year and come from the Copper River in Alaska. I’ve come to cherish the unique and rich flavor that come from these salmon, as there is truly no other fish like it. Preparation is easy too: a little salt, pepper and olive oil and cooked on the grill with indirect heat until the center of the filet is about 120 degrees. Top it with some garlic lime butter and it doesn’t get any better.

Cherishing this entrée got me thinking about how so many of things in life and business are limited—including the time you can ask for a referral from a highly satisfied client. If you consider all the times you can ask for a referral from a client, the best time is shortly after you deliver a great result.

Whether it is a tax-savings idea, operational efficiency improvement, internal controls enhancement or a succession plan that brought great comfort and value to the owner, these are the times when you have earned the relationship capital to request a well-deserved referral. Not that your work doesn’t warrant a referral all the time, it’s that these times are when your “ask” will be easier and perhaps more effective in producing an immediate result.

However, very few of us actually do request the referral. Research on accounting firm clients has shown that among highly satisfied clients who would refer if asked, only a small percentage actually do refer, and the reason is that they simply were not asked. You see, no matter how thrilled your client is, they just do not wake up in the morning and think, “How can I get a referral for my accountant?” And it’s not enough to just ask—you have to be specific. Your client has hundreds of business contacts and by simply saying, “I would greatly appreciate your referral” you have not given your client enough information to help you.

Therefore, to get the referral, you have to come up with a way of asking that is comfortable and easy for you, and you have to be specific about the kind of referrals you seek. I advise many of my clients to engage in a dialogue something like this:

You: “Can you help me with something?”

Client “Of course.”

You: “I hope you were satisfied with the result we recently achieved for you on the XYZ project?”

Client: “Absolutely.”

You: “Great – I am pleased we could deliver great value for you. You may not realize it, but our firm is currently looking to grow and add clients much like you, closely-held contractors in the $5-25M revenue range. Often, these companies are growing and needing more from their accounting firm relationship than just basic accounting and tax services.

Client: “Actually, I remember talking to a sheet metal contractor at a recent AGC meeting. He told me he feels like he doesn’t get proactive or valuable advice from his CPA. Would you like me to introduce the two of you?”   

You: “That would be incredible, thank you!”

So, can you do this? I know you can, but hurry because your window is closing. While this discussion can be executed at any time, it is often easiest and your client is most-endeared to you immediately after delivering great value. Much like the Copper River Salmon season is limited, so is your best window to ask for a referral. Good luck and I would love to hear your success stories!