Your goal is to grow your network––your network of clients, evangelists, partners, and leads. You aim to be visible and instantly recognizable. That’s something that takes years of work to achieve, and then you learn that it’s a never-ending process––you’ll always be trying to grow your network
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re looking to grow your network even more, it can feel impossible to find your starting point. It might be simpler than you think, though:
The best way to grow your network is to leverage the one you already have.
No matter who you are, you probably already have a network––friends, family, existing customers and clients, and even former employers and colleagues. Chances are that if they like you as a person, they’ll be eager to point you in the direction of potential customers. And maybe they don’t have anyone in mind––that’s okay too, because you’ll then be at the top of their mind when they do have an opportunity to refer you.
Referrals are the single best source of new business for small business owners, so make sure you’re making the most of your existing connections.
Here are three tips to increase referrals:
1. Just Ask
It can feel awkward at first asking people in your network for referrals, but think about this: If they came to you asking for referrals, how would you feel? If it’s someone you like, then you’d probably be excited to help them. You’d be eager to support them and to see them succeed, right? It can certainly feel uncomfortable asking for referrals those first few times, but once you do it once or twice, the weight is suddenly lifted and you’ll feel your heart skip a beat when someone says, “You should really talk to my friend John Doe.”
2. But Start by Asking the Right People
No matter what business you’re in, you have a target market––a defined audience that you market and sell to. So when you ask for referrals, make sure to prioritize those folks who are the most likely to be plugged in to your target market. My sweet great aunt may know of a perfect mom and pop restaurant that needs some marketing help, but that’s not my target market, so she probably wouldn’t be the first one I ask.
It’s important to prioritize who you ask, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask your great aunt if she knows anyone who could benefit from your business. You might be surprised.
3. And Get Their Contact Information First
A controversial piece of networking advice is to never bring business cards to a networking event, and the idea behind it is that when you get their contact information instead of vice versa, you’re the one who can take the next step when it comes to selling to them. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of leaving the business cards at home, but the strategy behind it is rock solid: Prioritize getting their contact information rather than giving them your information.
When someone says that they have someone you should talk to, make sure to get that lead’s contact information as soon as possible. Personal and professional networks are great for getting referrals, but they’re notoriously unreliable when it comes to taking action and sending someone else your information. When you get their information first, you’re the one in control of the next steps, and it’s up to you to market and sell to them. Even if you just send them an email starting with, “My friend James said I should talk to you,” it puts you in the driver’s seat.
There’s no one way to build your network using referrals, but when you strategize who you ask, how you ask, and how you follow up, you’ll set yourself up to grow your network and increase business.