“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
How does a consultant attract new clients? One approach is to ask for referrals from people you know to people who might be interested in meeting you. Obtaining referrals is an active marketing approach and a must do task for every consultant. It is one of the top strategies I recommend to a person starting out as a consultant because everyone knows people and people like to help others. For some new consultants, it is the easiest way to get that coveted first client.
A consultant executes their referral strategy every day by connecting with people, but a successful strategy is more than merely connecting, it is a realistic systematic process that is followed and tracked for success. It can’t be a hit or miss strategy. Believe me, I’ve tried the hit or miss approach and as the saying goes, “it does not work.”
Referrals occur because of your reputation and expertise. They are a step beyond word of mouth, which is the buzz that spreads from person to person. Referrals occur because one of your connections believes and trust you. They are willing to take the leap to proactively introduce you to one of their contacts.
Although referrals can “just happen,” referrals work best of you, the consultant, if you develop a realistic approach. Here are five of my tactics for you to consider as you develop an approach that works for you.
Change your mindset and get out of your comfort zone. Many consultants find asking for a referral uncomfortable. To this day, I find “asking” uncomfortable and I’ve been asking for referrals, I admit at times sheepishly, for years. I contribute my discomfort to being taught at a young age that it was impolite to ask people, particularly strangers, for help. As a consultant, I realized that to not only survive but succeed I needed to change my mindset. I needed to proactively follow the proverb “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Take the risk and ask for the referral. What is the worst thing that can happen? The person says NO, they will not connect you. But if they say YES, look at all the possibilities! One last point, consulting is a relationship business. Don’t forget to say thank you and try to reciprocate with an offer of help.
Ask for introductions, not referrals. The term referral has different meanings to different people. Once I asked a client if they would be open to providing a referral to one of their colleagues. They thought I was asking them to write a testimonial. On another occasion, a person, not a client, thought I was interested in a proposal for which they would be paid a fee for every connection.
When asking for a connection, a referral, what you are really asking for is an introduction. You are looking to be connected with a like-minded person enabling you to start building a relationship. Instead of asking for a referral, change the word to introduction. Ask your connection for their help via an introduction.
Clearly articulate a good connection. It is hard for anyone to introduce you if they’ve do not clear as to your focus and ideal client — your why, what, and who. If your connection is a client, it is easy to assume they understand what is a good fit for you. Don’t assume. Instead help them, as well as your other connections, help you by clearly articulating who is a fit and who is not a fit.
Develop a list of your top five “fit” criteria and top two “not-a-fit” criteria. Highlight your focus, your expertise, and the result and benefit you provide. But don’t stop there. Provide examples of good as well as bad connections. I have a one page document that I share with colleagues. The one page document helps me help them provide quality introductions to the right people.
Tap into your entire network, not just your personal connections and clients. Start by asking your personal connections, and that includes family, for introductions. Next tap into current and past clients. Finally, tap into the rest of your network.
The rest of your network includes your associations and organizations, social friends and community civic organizations, healthy lifestyle activities, spiritual connections, educational settings, professional services connections, and … well, I’m sure you can think of other places where you spend time. The more people with whom you connect and ask for introductions, the more connections you’ll make and more people will know what you have to offer.
Be accountable. It’s admirable to create a referral strategy but a strategy that isn’t executed does not help a consultant build a successful business. Develop a systematic process. Include in the strategy the number for introductions you will aim for each month and track yourself to it. There are people who aim for one introduction each day, others who aim for two introductions a week, and still others four a month. If you are new and uncomfortable asking for introductions, start small, but start. Increase your monthly introduction quota over time. Be realistic as to what works for you personally as well as for your business.
Like a diamond, a marketing strategy is multifaceted. Creating a referral strategy is one of your marketing strategy facets. What that means is your referral approach needs to work well with your other strategies such as your targeted outreach and “stay in touch” strategies. Be flexible and agile. Change your referral strategy as you and your business changes, but always have a referral strategy.
Hi, I’m Laura (Dallas) Burford. I help independent business professionals (consultants, contractors, freelancers, service-based professionals) and boutique consulting businesses get clients and make money.
What I do: I partner with professionals and businesses on clarifying their focus and then work with them to get clients that they want to work with so that they make money and grow their businesses.
How I do: I leverage a simple and flexible framework known as The Consultancy Model©. For those new, stalled, or reentering the consulting world I have a signature program known as Consulting JUMPSTART Blueprint©.
Why I do what I do: I want to see people to succeed and not fail. Sometimes all that is needed is an extra hand.
Check out the Free Resources page on Laura’s Consulting Guide for free consulting resources.