No matter your industry or niche, referrals are the lifeblood of a thriving business. They're also some of the best clients you can find. With 77 percent of consumers saying they're more likely to buy when the referral comes from friends or family, why waste your time on cold lead generation tactics?

Instead, focus your energy on connecting with potential referral sources that can help you exponentially grow your business. But here's the problem: most business professionals don't know how to make those valuable connections, let alone ask for them.

If you've found yourself in a similar predicament, let's banish those awkward exchanges and put a plan in place. The tips below will help your past client database, online connections, and peers become your best referral partners.

1. Be prepared.

Your first requirement is simple: Get prepared to pick up the phone, get online, or send an email and ask for that referral. Knowing what to say and how to ask is a breeze as long as you recognize what makes you and your services valuable.

Take a few minutes to describe in 2-3 sentences who you are, what you offer, and who you can assist. Your enthusiasm will be felt through your message if you put your heart into this.

Once that's complete, you'll want to get comfortable with expressing that information, especially if you're getting on a call. It's important that you not stumble through your conversation.

A great way to prepare is to write it down and then read through it prior to making the call. This doesn't mean you should sound like you're reading a script. You want to relax and feel at ease with the conversation.

Another great way to get comfortable with your own "Ask," is to record yourself or role-play with a friend or colleague. You can easily do this with your Smartphone and apps like:

  • Smart Voice Recorder

  • Voice Recorder and Audio Editor

  • Audio Recorder

  • Easy Voice Recorder

  • Evernote

The key is practice so if you do pick up that phone, hop on Skype, or join them on a meeting tool like Zoom -- you feel calm, cool, and collected.

2. Build a cross-referral partnership.

One way to build referrals is through a mutually beneficial relationship of cross referral reciprocation. What does that mean? It's the act of asking your past clients, peers, and business acquaintances how you can partner and aid in the growth of their business.

The success of a cross referral partnership doesn't lie as much in the doing as in the asking. Asking questions about their business will offer insight into what type of referrals they would like to receive. In other words, take the time to listen and get to know their business.

Be aware of what makes them tick and what it is they need from you. By learning the ins and outs of their business, you open the gateway to exponential growth within your business as well as theirs.

Here's what this would look like:

  • Find five of your high-value relationships.

  • Reach out with a quick note:

Hi Bill,

I'm looking to expand my client base and thought you might be interested in partnering. I know we have a lot in common, from our mission to vision and values.

Would you have time for a quick 15-minute call to discuss how we might refer between our two companies? I believe there's a lot of benefit to learning more about your company and how I can send the right customers your way!

Here's a link to my calendar:

Go ahead and grab a time that works best for you. Really looking forward to it!

Talk soon,

Now -- follow up, follow, follow up! Remember: You're doing several things within this process: clearly expressing value, laying the foundation for your conversation, respecting their time, and keeping your chat short and sweet.

3. Provide valuable resources.

Providing valuable tools and resources to your current client base and email list on a consistent basis builds trust and loyalty over time. Decide what it is they're most interested in and then get it into their hands regularly.

Send an "item of value" each week, bi-weekly or monthly depending on your bandwidth. Whether it's an event, tip, or answers to their most frequently asked questions, stay top-of-mind with relevant information. Remember: what you give away for free will eventually come back tenfold as they refer friends, family, and co-workers who are interested in buying what you're selling.

Challenge yourself today to make the art of asking for referrals a part of your business. Consistently asking can turn your database, online affiliations, and influential partnerships into a marketing dream team.