How to Ask for Referrals in the Professional Services Industry
You’ve heard the adage time and time again – “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While I don’t agree with this statement 100%, there is validity in the importance of who you know. So, rest easy – the art of how to ask for referrals is not about being connected to the top 1% of executives in your community; you simply need to help others.
Yes, I said it. You have to help others.
I jumped head-first into networking at 20 years old when I started my own company. I began by joining a BNI chapter – a networking group that meets weekly to foster professional relationships and for members and guests to exchange referrals or leads.
One of my biggest struggles was asking for referrals. Maybe it was pride, maybe it was my growing confidence – maybe it was both. I felt as though asking for referrals was subconsciously saying that my business was struggling and that I was unable to stabilize my sales funnel. However, my business insight was misaligned. Asking for referrals or leads is a normal, day-to-day business activity that helps your business grow and evolve to the next level. I was just going about it the wrong way.
It’s Not About You
Many professionals have this misunderstanding that networking events and opportunities are about selling your services to those you meet, but would you rather close one sale based on meeting one person, or would it be better to nurture a relationship with someone and, in turn, earn residual leads? Fingers crossed you pick the second option.
I challenge you to go to a networking event, meet people, and focus not on your business but on the business of those you meet. Ask those people what a good referral looks like for them, ask people who they need to know, and which companies are their "dream" companies to work with. Provide insight, identify opportunities, and share qualified, trusted contacts. After the networking event, follow-up with them to close out your action items, and see what happens.
Give and You Shall Receive
The key to success in growing your business with referrals is to give referrals. Why? Because the more you help others in business, the more likely they are to help you. If you continuously feed referrals, contacts, and advice to a networking partner, they’re motivated to help you grow your business in thanks for your support. You’re an irreplaceable part of their business because you give them the vital nutrients they need to grow. Their motivation to help you will get you referrals as well as very qualified leads; they'll also be evangelists and advocates for your business. You’re helping fellow community members to thrive while simultaneously growing your reputation and your business.
A Real Life Example
Nine years ago, as I began my business venture, one of the first movers and shakers I met was a woman named Mel Miller. A financial planner, I distinctly remember meeting Mel at an eWomen Networking event in Concord, North Carolina. Immediately, I was drawn to her vivacious personality and her aura. More, I was astounded by how much she wanted to help me to become successful.
Over the years, Mel and I have stayed close. We run in similar circles, I’ve seen her at dozens of events, I view her as a confidant and true friend, and we support and work together within the same non-profit organization, The Sandbox. To this day, Mel continues to ask me how she can help me. And when I need a good contact, I go to Mel, immediately. Her referrals have helped me sell my house in less than a month and painlessly buy a car in excellent condition and for a great value in the last year.
About 2 years ago, Mel and I had lunch together. I don’t recall how we got on the topic, but Mel showed me my contact properties on her phone. Through the years, and as we got to know each other more, she added notes about me – how we met, what I do, and reminders about me. Mel meets a lot of people every day, but she took the time to note key information about me. That has never left me.
Every chance I get, and when someone needs Mel’s services, she's the first person I refer. Honestly, Mel has become a standout to me – I couldn’t tell you another person that I could or would refer. When I need the services she provides, I’m beelining for her. I like her, I know her, I trust her.
How did Mel win me over? Leaving her personality traits aside, she won me over by caring about me, my business, and my best interests. She wanted – and continues to want – the best for me, so I’ll always want the best for her.
Referrals aren’t about you. They're about helping other people become their best. Are there some people out there that will take advantage of this giving nature? Sure. But for every bad egg, there are a dozen others who defy the negativity and embrace what it takes to be a true professional.
So, I ask you – who will YOU help today?