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Growing your business through referrals is about more than asking everyone you encounter “who do you know…?” When done correctly, building a referral business involves creating a Target List, defining your Ideal Customer Profile, contacting your Target List and asking for Personal Introductions.  Read on to learn how.

  1. Create a Target List - Compile a list of everyone you know:  family, friends, customers, vendors, church members, prospects, etc.  Use your lists of “fans, followers and contacts” from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to get you started.  Don’t stop there, browse through your CRM, PTA directory, church directories, etc.  Don’t limit yourself.  Your list should have at least 100 people on it.  Next, create a spreadsheet list of your contact names with two columns headed “Willing” and “Able” next to them.  Willing means they know you and respect you enough to meet you for coffee to discuss referrals.  Able means they know the people you would like to be referred to.  For each category, give each person a score of 1 – 10. People with a combined score of 15 or higher go to the top of your Target list.   
  2. Define Your Ideal Customer Profile - Once you have prioritized your target list, it is time to create your Ideal Customer Profile.  This one page document spells out in clear language the characteristics of your best clients. It defines your target market.  Caution: do not be too broad.  Narrow your scope and be very specific about who you would like to be referred to so that the reader can easily determine which people he knows fit the qualifications.   
  3. Contact Your Target List - Next, make the phone calls to set up the meetings.  It might sound like this: "John, one of my goals for 2011 is to spend more time developing referral relationships with people who are willing to help me grow my business, and for me do likewise for their business.  You have been a customer of mine for two years now, but I have been hesitant to call you sooner because I did not want to make you uncomfortable by asking you for referrals.  So would you be open to having a conversation with me about referrals, with no expectation on my part regarding whether or not you end up ever referring anyone to me?"   You may want to ask them these questions: "How do you feel about giving referrals in general? And how might you feel about referring people to me specifically?"  Some people may not be comfortable even beginning this process with you, based on their past experiences.  Better to not even set up the meeting with these people.     For those that are comfortable, meet them for coffee.  Explain that you want to share with them your Ideal Customer Profile and see if they might know anyone that fits your profile. Also let them know that you are OK whether or not they come up with any names today.  You just appreciate them agreeing to meet with you.   
  4. Ask for Personal Introductions – A personal introduction is more than getting a name and number to call.  It is when your target person agrees to call their contact to tell them what you do, and get their approval to spend 5-10 minutes on the phone with you.  If I don’t get a personal introduction, typically the referred prospect is surprised by the call and perhaps even annoyed.  I don't get an appointment, and the person that told me to call might actually end up in a little trouble with the person I just called.  So explain to your referral partner that personal introductions are in the best interests of both of you. 

Are you ready to grow your referral business in 2011?  If so, try out these steps and leave your comments below. 


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