By Carolyn S Campbell, MA, CPPC

When it comes to growing your business, nothing beats business by referral. And yet, so many people struggle with creating enriching and productive referral partnerships.

This week, I posted a question on Facebook: “Just wondering… What if it wasn’t about marketing or leadership? What if you simply reached out to your most favorite folks in the world and built a community? What would you do differently?”

Interior designer Chuck Arbuckle commented: “Seems they reach out to me as much as I to them… it’s about caring enough to ‘care.’” I’d been searching for the right words for weeks and here they were: “caring to care.” Perfect. And for those of us who don’t have endless time, tons of money or the desire to do pushy marketing, this approach is the best approach.

Much of my business success has come from referrals—and here are some of my best tips for giving and getting great ones. Remember, when you build relationships that are based on a common purpose and shared values, amazing things begin to happen. This is the beauty of referrals.

PART 1: GIVE Great Referrals

As a business owner or leader, giving your clients and colleagues great referrals is so important. They will begin to trust that you are really looking after their best interests rather than your own.

1. Find out about the person needing help.
Ask questions so you can provide them with the best possible resources.
“A couple of folks come to mind. Can you tell me what you’re looking for?”
“Yeah, the photographer for your young family has to be a special person. I have a couple people in mind—do you have a wish list?”

Then provide them with the name(s) and why you think they would be a good fit.
Example: “I love Madeleine Eno as a writing coach. She has this soft yet solid way about her. She’s able to capture your style of speaking while making you sound really professional.”

2. Follow up with person you gave the referral to.
Call the person in a week or so and find out how well they were treated. Without this call, they may not tell you. Take the steps to make sure your community feels well cared for by you.

3. Follow up with the person you referred them to.
Let your colleague know that you’ve sent someone to them. If you “qualify” folks before you make a referral, the likelihood that they actually call your colleague improves exponentially.

PART 2: GET Great Referrals (Be More Than a Business Card)

1. When you’re considering a potential partnership, ask yourself:

  • Do you resonate with this person—personally and professionally?
  • Do you have genuine interest in and respect for their work?
  • Are you just trying to get business?

2. Take time to create a relationship. Share with each other:

  • What you do.
    There are a million and one massage therapists, CPAs, coaches, clothing stores, etc., out there, so make sure you clarify what your specialty is.
    Example: “I am a real estate agent specializing in complex residential transactions.”
  • What kind of people you really enjoy working with (and, no, it’s not “everyone”).
    People hire people. It is most helpful when your referral partner can state what you do and who you love working with. Yes, this will eliminate some people. That is great, because it will really excite others. It might take some thinking to get to this kind of clarity—but this is a critical step.
    Example: “I love working with visionary entrepreneurs and leaders who want to create an unstoppable following for their work.”

3. Follow up by sending a handwritten card to the person who referred you.
Shoot them a quick email before sending the snail mail. People so rarely get personal mail and your note will really brighten their day. Tell them what you liked about the person they referred to you.
Example: “It was so great to meet with Joe. I love his commitment to his business. He‘s just the type of client I love. Thank you for sending him my way!”

4. Periodically send a personal note to your best referrers.
Keep them posted on what you are doing and how they are helping you. It’s important to stay on their radar—remember, you’re not necessarily at the top of their list. And, I promise, they will love hearing from you in a non-sales-oriented way. Maybe a family-style letter, maybe an invitation to a special event. What the communication looks like depends on you and your community. The crucial thing is simply to stay in touch.

And here’s my biggest secret of all: When people KNOW you are working in service to the greatest good of all, they can’t help but refer you!

Carolyn S Campbell has been working with healing practitioners, visionary entrepreneurs and progressive companies for more than 15 years. She is a sought-after international speaker and coach for such companies and organizations as Umpqua Bank, Regence Life and Health, the Small Business Administration, and the Arts & Culture Council. Carolyn is the author of Beyond Marketing! How To Create an Unstoppable Following and the forthcoming Beyond Leadership: 21 Secrets to Passion, People & Profit.