In the early years of my coaching practice I attended weekly meetings at my business networking group like clockwork.  Our membership numbers held steady at about 30 small business owners and we would exchange somewhere between five and seven referrals at most meetings. As hard as we tried, we rarely exceeded those numbers. 

Let's face it, it's not easy to think about who may benefit from another person's business offerings. Heck, we're busy enough thinking about where to find customers for our own businesses, let alone find qualified referrals for someone else! And when an entrepreneur who asks for your help suggests that "anyone who" (fill in the blank) would be a great connection for them, it doesn't give you much to go on. Yet, my networking peers, many of my new clients, and most likely many of you, continue to use those unhelpful words, "anyone who," each and every time you describe your ideal client or referral source. 

After a year or so of attending meetings, accompanied by disappointment in the incoming and outgoing referral numbers, I invited a district manager from Business Networking International to come to a meeting. That day, I learned something about networking that changed the way I asked for referrals forever. It was all because of a little exercise called "The Reciprocity Circle".

The Reciprocity Circle, or Ring, is a variation of a strategy used by corporations like IBM, Boeing, and General Motors.  A group is assembled wherein each attendee presents a very specific request to help them solve a problem or achieve an important goal. When the request is put out to the group participants offer introductions and resources, or provide more tangible help to the individual. 

At our meeting each of us was challenged to request a referral, not to anyone who, but to a very specific individual. For instance, one of the ways I would typically ask for an introduction to a referral source was, anyone who consults with small business owners on their finances. Phrased in that way, my request garnered few results. But when the BNI representative pushed me to dig deep to identify exactly who I wanted to be introduced to, I instantly received four leads!

Revising my usual request, I asked for an introduction specifically to a business loan officer at the Naperville or Aurora branch of Bank of America--and it did the trick; hands went up and the referral opportunities poured in. The realtor, financial advisor, and two others had relationships with those loan officers and were thrilled to make an introduction. With their personal recommendations in place I had no problem landing a meeting with each and every one of them. That day alone, our group passed one hundred and three highly qualified leads!

In subsequent meetings, rather than ask for introductions to just any small business owner, I would come equipped with one or two small businesses in mind and ask for an introduction to the entrepreneur who owned them. Soon, instead of five to seven leads going out to the group each week, those leads were coming directly to me!  

Take a moment to think about just one person who is your ideal client or referral source. Be exact in knowing who they are, or what position at what company they hold, and ask ten people in your circle if they have a connection to them. Someone will raise their hand. Do this again and again and soon you'll find yourself scheduling meetings left and right.

In short, do the homework for your referral partners, rather than expecting them to  focus on your business growth instead of their own. People want to help; all it takes is a little more information to help them help you.