You may already know that it costs less to generate referral business (business that comes your way from a third party who mentions your solution or encourages someone to connect with you about your solutions).

However, are you fully utilizing your ability to generate referrals?

Referral business doesn't come without work, but you likely have more time and energy that you can invest in your business success than you do money (i.e. generating leads from paid advertising and other such paid media).

I'm not suggesting you only use referrals in your marketing mix -- some balance of paid lead generation along with referral marketing can rapidly boost your sales goals, but if you're just starting out in business you'll want to build your network of contacts who can keep their eyes and ears pealed on your behalf.  This is the easiest way to extend your sales force, especially if your sales force is only you.

Here's how you can get started on your referral marketing effort:

  1. Review your current contacts.  Who do you already know that could be a good resource for introducing your to others in your target audience?  Reach out to those existing contacts and simply let them know that you're trying to drum up some business and you would like their help.  Try to make it worth their while.  Be prepared to offer referrals or other help to those contacts you ask to help you, and actually follow through with what you say you'll do.  Perhaps, you can offer a small incentive for their help...maybe a "finders" fee -- a percentage of the sale price if any business they refer to you actually closes.

  2. Use LinkedIn to find and connect with others in your industry and target market.  Ask them to connect and be sincere about why you want to connect.  Again, you'll want to be armed with the ability to give before you get.

  3. Attend local networking events. Meet new professionals and be curious and genuine about getting to know them. Building referrals is about building meaningful relationships.  Exchange business cards and be sure to follow up with those new contacts after the event, but be realistic and forth right about whether you truly think there is an opportunity to mutually help refer business to one another -- nobody wants to waste their time.

As you build your referral network cycle through your contacts regularly to connect and check in with each of them over time.  These check ins should not have much of an agenda attached to them other than learning more about your contact and their business needs and trying to be a resource to help them.  This will endear them to you and encourage them to want to help you by referring business to you.

The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself
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