Content marketing, SEO, social media – there’s an incredible variety of marketing opportunities for modern businesses. Still, word-of-mouth referrals are among the best ways to bring in new clients.
There’s an inherent trust in recommendations, one that consumers take to heart. People take reviews seriously, often using them to inform purchases. Just a few negative reviews can hurt your chances of bringing new clients in, but positive referrals can do wonders.
A strong referral gives you an opportunity to leverage your existing clients and partnerships to build strong client loyalty and bring more and more business your way.
What is a Referral Network?
All businesses rely on a steady flow of new customers or clients, more so for service-based businesses like hair salons and law firms. Having a referral network helps to spread the word about your business and gets it in front of prospective clients who need your services.
Referral networks are typically comprised of clients and organizations that offer referrals within their own networks, either informally or formally. This may include non-competing businesses, industry professionals, suppliers, complementary businesses, and past clients.
How to Create a Referral Network
Referral networks are valuable to any business, no matter the product, service, or industry. Service-based businesses, such as a family law practice or software provider, can use a referral network to fuel exponential client growth and reach new prospective clients.
Determine Your Unique Value Proposition
The unique value proposition is the element of your business that makes you unique and better than your competition. Consider what makes you different and how you deliver better services or better experiences for your clients – that’s your unique value proposition.
Once you have this figured out, you need to commit it to memory. Know it inside and out, so you can communicate it correctly in your pitch to prospects. Plan your elevator pitch, which is a short (around 90-second) summary of your business and its value.
The digital world may favor impersonal communications like email and texting, but in-person deals still matter. As much as you can, seek in-person meetings, video conferences, or even phone calls to build a more personal connection with your prospects. If you’re dealing with long-distance business relationships, a phone call can go a lot further than emails.
When the meeting is finished, be sure to schedule your follow-up meeting. Plant yourself in the client’s mind and set the foundation for the rest of your relationship. Make yourself available to the prospect and ensure they know to come to you with questions or more information.
Create an Incentive Program
Incentive programs benefit both you and your referral partners – it’s a win-win. Your incentive program allows your referral partners to get something in return for referring your business, giving them a reason to share their experiences.
This is a great deal, but make sure you set clear guidelines and criteria. Clients need to understand what they need to do to get incentives, and it protects you, too. For example, ask clients to leave their honest review on your website in exchange for a free gift. If you want, you can offer a free gift for both the client and prospect if they give you business.
Your incentive program should be tailored to your business and clients. Consider what you can offer that’s worthwhile, but not a significant cost for you.
Law firm referral programs can be difficult, since they don’t have products to give away. Some clients only need a prenup lawyer for one case, so it takes some creativity to plan a good incentive. Something simple like a gift card or a donation to a charity can be effective.
Don’t Waste Opportunities
Businesses can get clients from unexpected places. Consider every interaction potential for a client in the future, since you never know who you’ll talk to and who they may recommend your business to. Sometimes, your clients will come from friends of friends, a family member of an acquaintance, or a connection on social media.
Treat every person you speak to with respect and as a possible future client. Keep your business cards on hand and offer them when it seems appropriate. You may also want to give your business cards to your referral partners to display at their workplaces.
Get Involved with Industry Organizations
Referral networks get you clients, but that’s not the only benefit. An effective referral network can build authority and credibility in the industry and enhance your network of industry professionals, possibly leading to better opportunities in the future.
Build your network by:
- Joining industry groups on social media channels
- Give speeches or make appearances at conferences and trade shows
- Give insights on industry forums
- Attending local networking events
Keep the Focus on the Client
Clients are the lifeblood of your business. Though most businesses know to make everything about the client, that can fall away as business pressures take over. If you want to build positive relationships, however, the client needs to come first.
It takes more than friendly service. Your systems need to be designed around offering a high and consistent level of service to your clients across the board. This will not only help you in your early stages, but it will create a framework to maintain those standards as you scale.
Consider all aspects of the client experience, from the initial communications to the post-client phase to the way you handle complaints and issues. Keep the whole process as positive as possible, and make sure your entire organization is on board.
Follow Up with Clients
Referral networks go a long way in helping your business growth, so it’s important that you return the favor. Thank-you notes, discounts, gifts, early access, and other gestures of appreciation can show that you value your relationships.
This is especially important for complementary businesses. For example, a roofer may develop a referral partnership with an HVAC company. When they complete work for a client, they recommend the HVAC company to the client, generating possible business and referrals for them. The clients for both companies intersect, so there’s value in sharing clients.
Fuel Business Growth with a Robust Referral Network
Referral networks are an effective way to attract and sign new clients for service-based businesses. Industry partners, existing and past clients, suppliers, and other partnerships can help your brand exposure and bring more clients your way.
Author Bio: Maxwell Hills is the founder of Hills Law Group, a premier Orange County family law firm with a concentration on high net worth divorces. Max’s entrepreneurial career stretches back to his teenage days when he had his music used in Grey’s Anatomy and ESPN. Today, Max has used that experience to build Hills Law Group with 0 customers and $0 in revenue to a respected firm in the industry.