Developing referrals for your new business 

A question I’m often asked by new business owners or those considering going into a business is, “How do I get clients?” The quick and easy answer is networking, but it’s the process is a bit more detailed than that. 

Lately, I have focused more on building relationships with what I call referral partners, which is the specific kind of referral source I want to discuss today. 

First, a bit of background. Stick with me here!

Referral sources and your business

A referral source is just that, the source of the referral. It can be the internet (and your website stats should show you where that contact found your site), a professional referral like from a chamber or other membership organization, or it can be a personal referral.

Some people consider testimonials on a website a personal referral because it came from a real person, but I think of personal referrals more as coming from a known human being. For the sake of this discussion, let’s go with that assumption. 

Personal referrals could be a friend, colleague, family member, etc. Often, the referral is derived somehow from a networking relationship; either the person referring used a fellow networker’s services and can vouch based on first-hand knowledge, or the network partner refers based solely on the relationship built while networking. The latter is what you will largely see from members of groups such as BNI or Masters of Business). 

What is a referral partner? 

Some people consider their fellow networking group members their partners, but for this discussion, let’s narrow the definition on building relationships with referral industries. That is, people from industries where working with someone from your industry makes sense. 

That is what I call a referral partner. No matter what you call it, focusing at least some of your networking efforts on referral partners of this variety is vital. General networking is great and a lot of fun (even for introverts like me). But consider this: would most of the people in that general networking meeting have a reason to be asked for a referral from your industry? 

Take my own industry, for example. My writing and consulting clients have almost been entirely small businesses or nonprofits. In fact, I can count on half of one hand the number of clients who didn’t fit that description in 14 years of business. Most of my professional referrals have been people in related industries, such as website designers, marketing agencies, photographers, and other people who work in the content marketing realm. 

On the flip side, I don’t do any kind of social media marketing, but I’m asked about it a lot. I also don’t design websites, but I do write the copy for them. So I’m asked for referrals for those services a lot of times from people seeking to hire a company to do those tasks for them. 

Because of this, I’ve been focusing my limited networking time and efforts on marketing and design groups instead of the general networking groups. 

Another example is a travel agent. It makes a lot of sense for a travel agent to build networking relationships with wedding planners, photographers, event venue reps, etc. Those are going to be the types of people who will be asked for a good travel advisor referral and vice versa. 

Who is a good referral partner for you? Don’t think of who your target audience is, although you will definitely want to get testimonials from satisfied clients! Think of what industries work well together and will often need to be hired together. Focus some of your efforts on building those relationships, and I believe you will see it bear fruit! 

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