This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.
Most of us know that referrals are a wonderful source of business. And we hope for them. But do you have an active program to help you get referrals?
Even a brief online search yields articles by the thousands. Why is referral marketing so critical? For solopreneurs there are several important aspects. People who are referred to you already have some trust and belief in your capabilities so it is easier to convert them into clients. Having existing clients, other business owners, and friends refer potential clients is very cost-effective.
What are you already doing to actively encourage referrals? Many of us know we want referrals but actively seeking them is not something we do well, if at all. Hoping for referrals is not a real program.
Building your referral business effectively requires a plan.
Step 1: Identify those existing clients and people in your network who are the best prospects to provide referrals. You want people who think your work is great and those who know you and your work well enough to be a trusted reference. Remember to consider past bosses or peers and people from volunteer work you do plus those contacts you have built in other businesses. Trust is a critical element in all referrals. No-one wants to jeopardize their relationships with a poor referral.
Step 2: Define the specific types of referrals you want – who are your preferred clients? You must develop a simple profile to ensure your network knows who to refer to you. Although I work primarily with founders and CEOs to help achieve their strategic goals, many other people assume what I do is recruiting. A profile of your desired client helps the people you ask for referrals understand and remember who is a good candidate for your services or products.
Step 3: Review all your existing marketing materials. What do you have which you could use to help your referral program? Think: LinkedIn profile, website, blogs, newsletters, brochures, business cards, and so on. As you create your plan, you want all your materials to support this process.
Step 4: Decide how you will ask each person you identified in step 1 for referrals. Is this a phone or email or in-person communication? That is likely to vary among the people on your list. What will you provide to help each remember your ideal client and understand your business — so that they have something to refer to?
Step 5: How will you thank people for referrals? Big companies and retailers often have contests and rewards but that is not usually something a solopreneur does. A simple written thank you letter or card is very effective. You might also consider, when there is a client who consistently refers you to others who become clients, sending a simple gift or offering a discount on one of your services or products to them.
Step 6: Define your actions and time-line. An effective program is not built overnight. Trying to contact all your potential referrers at once is more likely to lead to poor follow-through than great results. So create your plan and time-line carefully. Then ACT!
Each month in this column, we will feature Alexandria solopreneur’s tips to help you be more effective in your own business. We encourage you to consider networking with the people whose tips you see here. If you are willing to contribute a tip, send them to Pframe@SHRinsight.com and identify them as such. We will use your name and your business name along with the tip.
To jumpstart this, we have two tips this month:
“Don’t operate in a vacuum. Collaborate (your only competition is ignorance) and network with other business owners for exposure, relationship-building, providing and receiving counsel, and cross-referral opportunities. As with all successful business leaders, solopreneurs will know to whom to reach out when needs arise and those same people are likely to respond in kind. Give, get, and thrive.” Peter Baldwin, MarketForce Strategies
“The very best networking experiences I have had come from meetings, lectures, book launches, exhibit openings, etc., where I am truly interested in the event/subject matter/topic. These events attract people with whom I already have something in common, so I have a guaranteed ice-breaker. That way, every networking evening is a winner! Even if I walk out with fewer valuable contacts than I would like, I have been enriched, challenged, engaged by the experience.” Ann Timmons, Communications Artist