If you are a successful entrepreneur, your business runs on referrals. If you sell cookies or cereal or pet food, you need your customers to tell others how good your product is.

If you are a consultant or a financial advisor or an accountant or attorney, you need this even more. Any service business will stagnate--and possibly disappear--without referrals.

I have written earlier about how the best way to get tons of referrals is to NOT ask for them.

I have a personal interest in this topic.

I run a premium program that profoundly changes every aspect of a participant's life. Their relationships improve. Stress largely leaves them. They find genuine joy in life. Also meaning and purpose. They become more inspiring leaders. Their energy level increases. They become resilient to the point that hardly anything ever fazes them any more. And, best of all, they form lasting bonds with those in the program with them and alumni who they meet and have deep conversations on meaning of life issues.

The problem is that it sounds unbelievable.

So persons who do enroll--and they come from as far away as Europe and the Middle East, even from Australia!--do so because someone they know well and trust implicitly has recommended it to them.

Without referrals, I would be dead in the water.

So I seek out and talk to experts on how to build a business using referrals. And I find cool stuff that I am about to share with you.

Steve Gordon, author of Unstoppable Referrals, asserts that fear is the major reason that clients do not give you referrals. They have good relations with members in their circle but are always running scared that something could jeopardize them. And, while they believe that you are a fine fellow and will do a great job, they are not sufficiently confident about this to make a referral. The risk is much lower if they simply sit on their hands.

And so they do and your business loses.

Gordon's solution is simple--eliminate all thought of 'sales'. Instead, come up with something that your client can offer to his circle that is so immensely valuable that you are now doing him a favor rather than the other way around.

Andy Lopata, who has written three books on networking, is even more provocative. He says that, in many instances, clients don't give referrals because they don't want you to succeed.

This is deep. Your client wants you to do well and remain in business. But not so well that your business really takes off and you get droves of clients and he becomes less important to you. He wants to be taken care of and--at some level--suspects that this will suffer if you are wildly successful. He will not sabotage you but he will take his foot off the gas pedal and he does this by holding back on referrals.

Lopata suggests looking for referrals from persons who have a vested interest in seeing you succeed such as suppliers whose own businesses grow along with you. Friends and family fit into this category as well.

Most persons do an awful job of asking for referrals and he has a list of tips--available free to Inc readers--on how to avoid the most common mistakes.

Ivan Misner is the acknowledged grand-daddy of networking. The company he founded--BNI--has 7000 chapters all over the world. I will wager that there is a BNI chapter and perhaps several in your geographical area.

Misner is a prolific speaker and fond of asking his audiences how many showed up because they hoped to get more business. Virtually all hands go up. He then asks how many came prepared to buy something. All hands go down. And that imbalance is why many networking events are dismal flops.

Misner advocates becoming a member of the mafia--a benevolent mafia. He speaks admiringly of a tightly knit cluster of businesses that form a 'travel mafia'. It consists of a florist, photographer, travel agent and jeweler who actively refer all their customers to each other. If you are getting married and go to a florist, the odds are good that you will need the other services as well. Create a mafia if you are not part of one.

Misner advocates looking out for 'the language of referrals'. Any time you are in a conversation and the other person says "I can't..." or "I need..." or "I want..." or "I don't know..." there is a referral opportunity embedded somewhere. Probe some more. Find out what that need is and make a referral. Keep doing this and some of them will start reciprocating. That is the philosophy behind each BNI chapter.

And finally, here is a bit of philosophy. Clean up your intention. Make referrals because it is your intent to help others and not merely because you expect to get them back. You will get back the bread you cast on the waters and more will come if you don't anxiously measure how much is returning to you.

Published on: Jun 30, 2015
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