The art of referral networking
A few years ago, I attended a networking lunch where I encountered a woman (I cannot even say I “met” her) who, upon arriving, literally threw her cards down at every place setting. I happened to be seated next to her, so I was one of the few people there she actually spoke to. Her first words to me were, “I’m a real estate agent, so if you know anyone who needs to buy or sell a house, refer them to me.” Seriously. She never said, “Hi, my name is Sally and I’m a real estate agent…” She never said please. She did ask for (demand) the business, but in the most boorish, unimaginative way possible. I don’t think that business card even made it out of the room – I threw it in the trash at the first opportunity.
If anyone were to value learning the proper way to give and receive referrals, you’d think it would be someone in a highly competitive industry like real estate. However, I’ve encountered bad networkers in many industries, so perhaps it’s more a case that Phoenix-area businesspeople in general often receive no instruction in how to best represent themselves.
As promised, today we’re going to talk a little bit about the best way to give and receive referrals. Generally when we think of referrals, we’ve got business on the brain. You and your best friend own a Greek restaurant and co-wrote a cookbook. If I’m thinking a typical referral, my mindset is, “Who can I send to eat at your restaurant or buy your cookbook?” But there is such a thing as a referral that doesn’t actually involve buying or selling anything. How did my client who wrote the World War II romance learn in great detail about 1940s wedding dresses? The Google can be helpful for research – but do not discount the solid benefits of talking to a living, breathing expert! Personal referrals can be invaluable when introducing yourself to a stranger.
Here are some important considerations when it comes to making the most of referral networking:
KNOW WHO YOU WANT TO MEET. Regardless of the kind of referral – expert, book buyer, reviewer, or prospective client – as we explored in the last post, the first step is knowing who you want to meet. That requires that YOU know this essential information, but also that you convey it properly to the people who would make referrals to you.
LET OTHERS KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP TO. A significant aspect of successful referral networking simply involves letting the people in your circles know how they can help you. Unless you tell them, people won’t necessarily know that you are looking to build your platform as an author and/or speaker, that you’re looking to build your business, or that you are undertaking a new research project.
In the early days of my business, my work was primarily editing and my business was aptly named Words Made Easy. It’s a clever, catchy name (except for the “ee” that occurred in the Web address) and worked well for me for a while. Until a few things happened: (1) I began to realize my author clients had spent a lot of time and money to create great books but didn’t have a clue how to market them; (2) I began to branch out into marketing, consulting, and speaking; (3) I began to think of myself as so much more than exclusively an editor; (4) someone first said to me, “I didn’t know you taught blogging and wrote media releases.” Time for a name change to Write | Market Design and, more importantly, time for me to do a better job at letting others know what I do.
TEACH OTHERS HOW TO REFER YOU. Just as I was surprised to hear people say they “didn’t know I did that” about my business, you might be surprised to learn how few people know or understand precisely what you write and/or who you want to meet. Therefore, it’s incumbent on you to teach them. For instance, I know a man who wrote a book about job search that has been off the market for almost a dozen years because it doesn’t have any references to the Internet. His primary business now is getting vets back to work, but he has lots of skill at job search across the board. Do you think he’d turn down a non-veteran client? Of course not! But if people only think of him as working with vets, they may not think to refer empty-nesters, new college grads, or other job seekers to him.
TAKE SOMEONE TO COFFEE. The best way to teach others how to refer you is not in a quick moment amidst the hullaballoo of a networking event, but in a quiet meeting where you each have time to speak and share in a focused way. You won’t do this with every person you meet at every networking event, but for those with whom you sense some simpatico and synergy, it’s a really good idea. Natural pairings might include a book editor and a graphic designer; a jewelry designer and an image consultant; a personal trainer and a chiropractor; a plumber and an electrician.
TEACH THEM WHAT TO LISTEN FOR. In this face-to-face meeting with a prospective referral partner, besides explaining who, specifically, you would like to meet, you have the opportunity to prime them for keywords or phrases that indicate such a person. For instance, a life coach might want you to listen for people discussing divorce, career change, or sending their last kid off to college. Think about it a bit. What keywords would be indicators of the kinds of people you’d want to meet?
REMIND THEM TO CONNECT WITH YOU. As such an automatic aspect of our day-to-day interactions anymore, it’s rather surprising that we still need to remind our referrers (and those they are referring) to check us out on our social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Here’s a good place to remind you, however: Don’t post anything in these places that you wouldn’t want prospective clients/readers to see! I’ve made the decision to be open about my politics on my social networks because it’s very important to me. But I know the risk inherent with doing so. Someone in sales might be more inclined to keep their politics to themselves. I get that. Think before you post so that nothing will come back later to bite you.
MAKE THE INTRODUCTIONS EASY. Use your common sense when referring someone to a businessperson you know. Generally speaking, the person looking to build the business is going to take more initiative than the person looking for the service (unless, of course, you’re locked outside your house at midnight with the alarm blaring). Perhaps the very best way to make an introduction is in person, but that’s not always practical. So, rather than hurriedly handing someone a name and phone number, what’s the next best way to do it? Make a mutual referral. This involves having contact info for both parties. You can then write an introductory email to both individuals, or call each of them and provide details about the other person.
This is just a tiny overview of the practice of referral networking. Done properly, it can be a HUGE boost to your business or the growth of your author’s platform. There are entire programs developed around the practice, so if you want to learn more, I encourage you to do your research and take that next step.
Next, we’ll explore practical ways to make yourself memorable.
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
There’s still time to get in on our 10-week program: SOCIAL MEDIA FOR AUTHORS. It starts Sept 5 and goes for 10 consecutive weeks. Sign up for single classes or pay for all 10 and receive a 25 percent discount. Week 1: Facebook Fan Pages (9/5/12); Week 2: Twitter (9/12/12); Week 3: LinkedIn (9/19/12); Week 4: Pinterest (9/26/12); Week 5: SlideShare (10/3/12); Week 6: YouTube (10/10/12); Week 7: StumbleUpon (10/17/12); Week 8: Ning (10/24/12); Week 9: Blogging 1 (10/31/12); Blogging 2 (11/7/12).