Build business with referrals.

Connected HandsSmall businesses can take off when referrals drive business and news spreads by word-of-mouth.
But other than making sure the quality of your product/service is up to scratch, what can you do to get word of mouth working to your advantage? A golden rule for referrals is that you need to ask for them! And be as specific as you can. Here are four ideas to inspire you to action.

Start your own Referral Plan

Don’t just think about referrals – plan for them! Write down a list of the people who may be willing to refer you. Customers and suppliers should be considered, but review all of your business associates. Consider who in your business can participate in a referral campaign – involve as many of your staff who can contribute, and get them to list people they know as well. Write down the specific request you want to make – what do you want people to to do for you? Do you want them to call or email about you, or do you want permission to mention their name when you call? You should also be specific about what sort of person you want to be referred to. Talking about the specific type of person can trigger the thought. Set up simple targets and pin it up on the wall – how many requests for referrals will be made this month?

Join a face to face networking group.

Joining a networking group can mean investing time and money to get the value from the group, but are potentially a very effective referral mechanism. Community based groups such as Rotary are not designed as networking groups, but function well in this area. Consider BNI (Business Network International) however if you are interested in a group explicity focussed on small business referrals. A BNI group gets together to learn about each other’s business (in some detail) so they can have confidence in referring each other. Expect to pay $800-$900 to join for the first year and half that again each year, plus possibly the cost of your breakfast each week, so it doesn’t come cheap. But find the right group and you have a great opportunity to build a regular base of referrals. While any profession or type of small business can join, BNI is very popular with mortgage brokers, insurance brokers and financial planners. In case you are interested, I was an active member of a BNI chapter until recently, but don’t have any financial stake in the organisation. Its a good outfit, and I’m happy to refer them 🙂

Join an online networking group

An online networking group can take less of your time, and the trade off is you don’t get the same level of personalised attention. However, why not try it and see? I’ve just joined (today) the Propulsion business network to see how it works, but there are many others to choose from. Expect to see many, many more.

Never eat alone

If you really want to get *really* inspired about networking, get a copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s intense Never Eat Alone from Amazon. Read this chapter excerpt about Connecting with Connectors or have a look over at Keith Ferrazzi’s blog. I found this a great book, not because I was inspired to implement every suggestion (a scary thought), but because of its clarity and sheer volume of influential concepts. The Networking Action Plan outlined in the book is a practical, action oriented approach to networking, and one every small business could probably benefit from.

So, there you have four ways to get started on referrals and building word of mouth. What has worked well to build your referrals?