Imagine designing an office space for growing entrepreneurs. As you create the space, you vision a modern, clean, comfortable, and welcoming environment. You sense that your business will grow as you begin leasing out spaces because you’ve placed much emphasis on attractive surroundings and comfort, and you’ve talked it up at networking events. What you might have overlooked, though, is a rock-solid human piece of marketing that can add solid footing to your business’s growth—a referral foundation.

The Value of Referrals

As a consumer, do you look for online product reviews before you make a purchase? Those five stars and positive comments are a form of customer referrals. Wouldn’t it be a shopping game-changer if you, or other potential customers, could dip into “real” word of mouth referrals rather than online reviews that might or might not be authentic?

Word of mouth is authentic and priceless (free). Referrals, especially when they come from other small businesses—entrepreneurs—who protect their own reputation by not referring individuals to sub-par services or products, are trusted recommendations from individuals.

Referral Foundation

Referral foundations are systems that businesses create through stored contacts and shared information for the purpose of building a network that generates leads, sales, and referrals.

Your first step in creating a referral foundation is to provide excellent services and products. To get the word out and pour the cement for the foundation, you need to build a system of solid contacts but remember, effective networking entails a long game, not a short game. The name of the game goes deeper than simply collecting contacts—the purpose is to build business relationships.

Networking: Referral Foundation Building Block

Relationships cannot be built without networking, and to make it a foundational source, you should network with people that share common goals and interests, and those that genuinely want to see others achieve success in life and business. You want to get in front of people, share about your business, and reciprocate with a genuine interest in what others offer in their businesses.

Referral Foundation Basics

So, how do you build a referral system through networking? Tackle these first steps to gain clarity and launch a positive beginning to your referral system:

  1. Identify your goals. What do you hope to get out of a referral program? Are your goals based on growth and revenue? Do you want to build trust within the community? Do you want to turn contacts into relationships, and develop a system of retainage that can help the growth of your business long-term? Do you want to turn leads into referrals and sales? Define what you are marketing…is it your business, yourself, or your products?
  2. Your ideal customer or client. Identify your ideal customer or client (your target market). Where do they live? What is their age range? Where do they shop? What are their needs? What are their interests? Where do they live?
  3. Identify your referral sources. Make a list of your business supporters. Include past customers, current customers, leads, strong leaders in your field or industry, vendors, and others that you hire or support.
  4. Prioritize your referral list. Analyze your list of referral sources. Who genuinely advocates for your business and would do so without a monetary reward? This is your starting point, your core sources that become the initial roots of your referral foundation.
  5. Reach out to your referrals. Now that you know who your current referral base is, develop a plan to reach out and continue building the relationships. How are you going to make further contact? Are you going to call, set an appointment with, email, or perhaps connect on social media? What will be your next step(s)?

At this point, your referral system might offer discounted packages or products, or you might simply highlight current news about your business. These next steps should be based on your purpose and goals for creating a referral network.

  1. Manual recordkeeping or technology. Whatever your processes are for following up with leads or contacts, always have a record-keeping system in place. A simple spreadsheet might work for your business, or you might purchase a customer relationship management system (CRM) that provides storage and tracking of your leads-from contact information, common interests, to what stage you are in (email, phone call, etc.) with your leads or contacts.

These are the very basics of building a referral foundation system, but at the base of this is your initial contact which effectively starts with networking with other business owners and prospective clients.

Networking 101: Convert Contacts to Referrals

P.J. O’Rourke once said, “A firm, hearty handshake gives a good first impression, and you’ll never be forgiven if you don’t live up to it.”

You, as the business owner, hold the reigns to the driving force called first and next impressions.

Your listening skills, genuine interest in others, and knowing the “why” of your business—combined with concisely communicating that to others, is the start to turning a contact into a relationship, and eventually referrals.

When you exchange business cards with a person that you just met, and not just anyone…someone that shares or shows interest in your business, ask if you may contact them, and state that you enjoyed the conversation and look forward to interacting with them in the future. Make this a friendly and upbeat connection.

Don’t wait too long to reach back out to your contacts. Don’t be spammy and hook up with them on all your social media platforms (bombardments lead to negative disconnections). Do follow-up with a warm email explaining that you enjoyed meeting the person and how your business or connection can be mutually beneficial. Don’t be lazy and skip on the recordkeeping system—always track the steps you’ve taken with your contacts to prevent repeating actions or missteps. Remember, you’re building valuable relationships!

We’re Here to Help

We get the importance of networking with entrepreneurs and small business owners who have a heart for not only their own business growth but that of others as well—people supporting people.