Imagine with me for a second. You open up your inbox and find a message from someone you’ve never met before. It says, “Hi, Sarah referred you to me. I’m looking for help with…” and goes on to describe the exact thing you help clients with. It’s like your ideal client landed right in your lap.
This isn’t a daydream or far fetched reality. In fact, this same situation happens to me almost every week. And it can be a reality for you as well when you build a strong referral network.
As a solopreneur, referrals should be the lifeline of your business. They drastically cut down on the amount of time you need to spend marketing and trying to get clients because clients are coming to you.
(I reveal all about the magic of referrals in my free workshop, Market as a Pro as a One Woman Show. Check it out here.)
But getting regular referrals hinges on having a strong referral network. Building your network isn’t a quick and easy thing. Just because you are amazing at what you do doesn’t mean that other people will refer you. It takes consistent, intentional actions to build a strong referral network.
Step 1. Know Your Audience
Have you ever tried to buy a gift for someone and realized how little you actually know them? You want to find the perfect gift, but you aren’t even sure where to start because it turns out the things you know about the person are superficial. So instead you end up wandering through a store or aimlessly scrolling Amazon, just hoping that something will jump out at you.
It’s so easy to think that we know our audience because so many business building activities include an ideal client exercise. But there are so many layers to people that we can always learn more!
Your best referral sources will be people who have regular contact with your audience. In order to know who those people are, you have to know how else your ideal clients are spending their time and money. Who else are they hiring? Where are they hanging out? Who are they coming in contact with on a regular basis?
When you nail down the answers to those questions, you can start to build intentional relationships that will become your referral base.
Step 2: Be a Specialist
What’s the name of that movie where the guy and the girl started off hating each other and then fell in love?
“Umm, which one, Dara? Netflix’s got a whole category just on that storyline.”
It’s hard to refer someone when they aren’t super specific on what they do because our minds remember specifics.
If you aren’t specific in the services you offer, who you offer them to, and how you offer them, then you’ll end up being like just another rom-com movie that people can’t remember the name of because it’s too much like every other one out there.
If you want to be easy to refer, then you need to be a specialist.
Specializing, or niching, doesn’t limit your opportunity to get clients. In fact, it makes it EASIER to get clients because it’s easier for people to remember you.
Step 3: Be Intentional
Have you ever noticed in your real life relationships that if you aren’t intentional about connecting with people, it just doesn’t happen? Life gets busy and time slips away, and before you know it, you’ve lost touch with someone who used to be a really good friend.
If you’re building a referral network, you’ve got to be intentional with those connections. Really spend time getting to know people and letting them get to know you.
This isn’t just about having a quick 15 minute coffee chat once with someone. In fact if that’s all you to do to get to know someone, chances are pretty slim you’ll ever get a referral from them.
Relationships aren’t built in one 15 minute conversation. That’s just the initial meeting. If you’re serious about having that person as a referral source, then you have to spend time nurturing that relationship.
Does it take time and effort? Yes, absolutely. But you can spend time reaching out to one specific potential client, and maybe land one client in the end. Or you can spend time connecting with one potential referral source, and who knows how many people they can connect you with.
Step 4: Be a Giver
If you want to have a friend, be a friend. If you want to get referrals, give referrals!
Have you ever had someone send you a friend request or cold DM you, and your first thought is, “I wonder what they want from me”?
So much of the business world is self-promoting and self-serving. If you want to really stand out to the people you’re wanting to bring in to your referral network, then show them you aren’t just about yourself.
Prove to them that you care about their business by referring other people to them!
Here’s one more cliche for you: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. What better way to show people that you care about them and their business then to refer them to your network?
Step 5: Ask for Referrals
Referrals are not guaranteed. Have you ever gone to an incredible restaurant, thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and not left a review? Human nature as a whole is way more likely to tell others about our negative experiences than our positive experiences.
So if you want people to refer you to others, you have to specifically ask them!
It can be as easy as saying “I’d appreciate an introduction.”
When you’re asking for referrals in the context of a relationship, it does not feel tacky or awkward. People are happy to help the people who care about them. Prove you’re invested in their own success first, and the ask for a referral becomes easy.
Building a strong referral network is key to the longevity of your business. But it does take work to get there. Invest in the right genuine relationships and you’ll never be left wondering where your next client will come from!