Seeking Referrals


As I think I’ve mentioned more than once in recent columns, everybody I know is taking stock of the new world they find themselves in and asking themselves how they can make money.

Some answers can be fairly radical, such as opening up into channels you’ve never been in before. Others can be more elementary, such as taking old-school ideas and applying them in a way that works with the new realities. Think of it as the difference between hitting for singles and swinging for the fences. To belabor the sports metaphor, you can win games by mastering the fundamentals and sticking to them. You can also win games by hitting home runs, but as anyone who abuses sports metaphors as much as I do knows: Hitting home runs also involves striking out a lot.

It may not be as exciting as doing the research on finding a new business channel or product category but at the same time that you’re looking at breaking new ground, devote some time and energy to drumming up referral business. When I talk about this topic under normal conditions, I usually refer to it as “repeat and referral business.” It’s farming your existing client base for new work either from them, or from people they know.

It’s entirely possible — probable even — that your existing client base is tapped out, which is why your revenue is suffering in the first place. Your clients are down, so by extension you’re down, and if you’re down your vendors are down. The circle of life cuts both ways, unfortunately.

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In a challenged marketplace where everyone is struggling, I’d argue that networking is more important than ever. We all know that business opportunities often come down to who you know. So that makes a case for getting to know more people. I’ve commented before that despite the obstacles and general weirdness this year has thrown at us, reaching out to new contacts is easier in some ways. Sure, in-person meetings are rare, meaning you’re limited to phone and emails mostly, yet cold-calling has been easier than in the past. I think we’re all feeling isolated, and maybe a little lonely, so prospects are more likely to return your calls.

I know I’m digressing a little bit, but I’m trying to shore up my overall point. Warm calls generally go better than cold calls: Someone who’s been handed off to you by a mutual contact is generally more receptive to hearing what you have to say. In the next installment I’ll expand on this topic and discuss strategies to build your prospect list of new clients through getting referrals from your existing clients and contacts.