I was recently asked about building a referral network for the Business Accelerator for an in real life conference at Hera Hub in March. It’s a theme that is tricky for people and since it falls under business development, I thought of course!  Then my next thought was, but how. I have a referral network, which I built at some point. But I don’t remember doing it or a time when I didn’t have it. So, can I teach someone else?

Have you ever learned a skill or lesson so deeply and intuitively that when it came to teaching someone else that same skill or lesson, you were stumped?

I compare it to learning to read.

When my oldest son was learning to read, he would ask me how reading worked, or how I learned to read. I couldn’t tell him. I know at one point I couldn’t read then…I could.

Someone, many people, taught me but I don’t remember not being able to read or the steps I took to read. Watching him learn to read was just as miraculous. I think a lot of children’s milestones happen like popcorn. There’s nothing for a while. And then a few pops. Then wow it’s really happening, then holy moly get it, get it, it’s never going to stop.

Hank did that with reading. He desperately wanted to read and we read to him and told him that he was learning. He just didn’t see it. He put together letters, then words, then played sight word games. He went to pre-school and school with peers and teachers focused on the concept.

He kept asking, “When am I going to learn to read?” We told him, “Now. This! You are learning.” And now he just reads. He asked to bring his library book on the bus so he could read on the way to school. He’s a reader.

You’re a reader, too.

I mean, I know you are because you’re reading this (and because my website is accessible, even if you’re not reading with your eyes, it still counts). You also likely have a referral network already, you just don’t think about it that way.

You have people you would reach out to for a referral to a doctor, a plumber, a contractor, an (ahem) business development consultant. And people reach out to you specifically for something, too.

I have a referral network, so why am I not getting referrals?

So when business owners ask this question, I almost always revert to one of my favorite topics – differentiating yourself.  At Diversity Masterminds®, Heather and I have a module about how to differentiate your company and stand out in the crowd. If people don’t understand what you do, they can’t refer you.

Some of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make in this department are:

  1. Saying you can do it all. That may be true but people won’t remember you for that. They WILL remember that you solve x problem for y people.
  • Not giving enough specifics.  Sometimes I hear business owners say that what they do ISN’T that different than anyone else doing it. Heather even tells a story about a business owner who had an opportunity to introduce herself to a group of potential clients and followed someone else saying, “I do the same thing as she does.”
  • Having a dated, wordy, visually unappealing capability statement/one pager on your company. A capability statement has the information for your company at one glance. It’s helpful to forward to potential referral partners who can pass it on when they recommend you because people do not want to write 500 words every time they make a referral.

When you pull this together, Heather and I recommend a professional designer to do your capability statement and have a wonderful designer that we work with to make it beautiful. We also recently partnered with an augmented reality company, Revealio, that can not only make your capability statement stand out, but make it come alive.

There are lots of simple things you can do to make it easy for you to show someone in your referral network what you do and that you have the credibility to deliver.

I get some referrals but not enough that it’s a strategic channel for me.

I shared a couple of tips with the Hera Hub audience that again, are simple ways to review if you’re making the most of your referral network. If not, there are some handy tweaks.

  • Ask! This was really hard for me at first because it feels very corny and awkward. It took me a while to readjust my mindset. I was able to get over it by thinking about it from a different perspective and Hank, my oldest is a part of this story too.

If you’ve read this newsletter before, you likely know we spend a large part of the summer at my family’s lake, especially in the past two years when we basically moved up there. One night, Hank left the dinner table because his tooth was hurting him so badly. What was a kid’s cavity became a major pain. He couldn’t eat and we were four hours from his regular dentist.  One of my cousins lives close to the Lake and her mother recommended I call her and get an appointment with her dentist. I did and we got an x-ray and a prescription for the tooth infection the next day. The dentist was lovely and Hank felt much better.

My cousin was happy to recommend someone to me. I had a pain point (well, Hank did) and she could refer me to someone to fix it.

You can look at referrals to your own business the same way. People are delighted to be the one that can help the people they know eliminate those paint points. You just have to let them know clearly what those pain points are (see above) and that you’d love a connection to people that have those paint points.

  • Build asking for referrals into your client offboarding process.  Again, I do struggle with this so I know it’s not easy.  When a client has a success, I like to get a testimonial from them. It’s win-win.  This is additional visibility for them. It adds to my credibility. Once I get a nice testimonial, it’s easier to ask for an introduction to “One or two people that are struggling with taking advantage of their diverse business certification to meet bigger clients.”

Being specific helps them identify someone like they were before they met you. The bonus of these types of referrals is that the sales cycle is usually shorter because your client has done the sales work for you. And all you had to do was ask.

I hope that in reading this you realize that a) you do have a referral network b) you specified your clients’ pain points and how you solve them and c) all you have to do is ask.

One thing I realized is that I need to include more examples of things that Ted, my youngest,  has taught me. But he doesn’t know he can read yet so I have some time.