How to “date” a referral source

I wouldn’t call it a date exactly. (My wife doesn’t allow me to date.) But having a coffee with Mike many years ago was one of the best things I’ve done for my business.

Here’s what happened…

I was hired to write a website and some other marketing pieces for a sales tax consulting firm. During the project, I discovered that my client also hired a freelance designer — a guy named Mike — someone I didn’t know. So I picked up the phone and invited that stranger out for a coffee.

We met a few days later at a local Starbucks and chatted about family, beer, and the ups and downs of freelancing.

We never discussed referring business to each other. Not once. It was just a friendly, chummy meeting.

But a couple of months later, Mike called and said, “Hey Steve. I’m working with a new client who needs some copywriting help. Would you mind if I gave him your name?”

(Hmm, I don’t know, Mike. I’ll have to think about that. Pretty busy these days. Well, okay, sure.)

Actually what I said was, “Yes, please. You’ve got my number, right? Here’s my email. Should I call him?”

That referral ultimately resulted in a new client for me. In fact, over the years, Mike has referred tens of thousands of dollars in business my way. I’ve also recommended his firm on many occasions.

Now I’ve never asked Michael why he recommends my services so often. (I don’t want to jinx it!) But I suspect he does for two reasons:

  1. He knows me and my business well.
  2. He feels comfortable referring me to his valued clients.

Aren’t those the reasons why anyone refers anyone? If you know a good babysitter, for example, aren’t you going to recommend her to friends who want a night out — sans enfants?

So, with that in mind, here are some simple tips for building a relationship with a potential referral source.

  • Make the first move. Invite a referral source out for a lunch or coffee.
  • Don’t talk about giving or getting referrals. Really. Don’t.
  • Make sure you can clearly explain what you do — your “elevator speech” — and who your ideal client is. Otherwise, he or she won’t know how to refer you.
  • Stay in touch. Build the relationship.

In my business, I try to have a lunch or coffee with a potential new referral source every other week. I don’t get referrals from every person I meet with. Far from it. But over time, this strategy has slowly but surely resulted in a significant increase in the referrals that come my way.

And I meet some great people.

Can you think of a more pleasurable way to build a business?

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