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An Approach System to Build your Referral Network

How do you forge really quality professional relationships with other professionals outside of Biznik? The following is one way to approach other professionals whom you will likely love doing business with.
Written Oct 17, 2008, read 3212 times since then.
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One of the most important aspects of running a small business is meeting and maintaining relationships with other small business owners.  That's why we all love Biznik, because it provides several avenues to meet and correspond with other entrepreneurs.  Relationships with other business owners lead to support from people who understand what you deal with; ideas for your own business; new perspectives and everyone's favorite: referrals! 

The following is a direct approach system that allows you to meet other professionals (not on Biznik).  Once you've met them and determined they are great...it's up to you to forge a long-lasting professional relationship.

Step 1:

Ask your closest friends and family the following question: "Who do YOU know, that I absolutely HAVE to meet?"  Let them look up at the ceiling and rack their brain for a bit.  If they need more guidance, explain that you're looking to network with other professionals and if they know anyone that is really good at what they do or is just plain cool.  The obvious answer would be an accountant that your friend uses but could also be a hip web-designer that your nephew knows.  Anything works...but the key is that your friends and family are raving fans of them.  The eventual goal is to meet people you could work with or refer business to.  If your good friends like them, chances are you will too! 

Step 2:

I send a brief note card with my company logo on it that says the following: Hey___________--hope all is well!  I wanted to drop you a quick note to introduce myself.  I've heard great things about you and hope we might have the opportunity to meet sometime soon.  Best wishes! ~Phil

You might be asking: "why not just call?"  I agree that when networking, taking a direct method sometimes works best.  But we want a high level of success in scheduling appointments...so I like to butter them up instead of cold calling.

Step 3: 

I send an approach letter.  It is saved on my computer in a generic form and then I can tweak it depending on who will be receiving it.  Of course I personalize it and tailor it to the individual...but I like things that don't cause a lot of "brain damage" to execute.  If you would like a copy of my letter as an example, message me and I'll email it to you.  Overall, it is very short.  It explains who recommended we meet (our common connection).  And it specifies a specific time and date when I will call to schedule a short meeting over coffee.  Here's the fun part...Instead of mailing in a white envelope that will fall in their "circular filing system"...I do the following.  I roll up the letter (printed on my letterhead) and ship it in a mailing tube.  I stuff my business card in the tube (it's okay if it gets folded), seal it up and drop it in the mail.  Now, when this person's mail arrives, what piece do you think will go to the top and be opened first?  His credit card bill?  Or the fancy looking cardboard tube?  It sounds silly but trust me--it works.  Visit http://www.uline.com/ to order your tubes.

Step 4:

The phone call!  I have a short script that I have practiced many times so it sounds natural.  I mention the letter sent a few days prior (how can they forget the tube?) and our mutual connection (the friend that recommended this person).  I have two very specific times that I offer for us to meet for 15-20 minutes.  The specific times make scheduling easy and the short meeting is less demanding of everyone's time.  Again, we're looking for a high rate of actually meeting with these people.  If you get their voice mail once, have a scripted message to leave.  The second voice mail I say the following: "Hi________________.  I'm sure your schedule is very busy so if meeting up does not fit your plans, I completely understand and it sure won't hurt my feelings.  Just let me know either way so I'll know how to proceed."  And then watch the magic of persistence and a little guilt.  After leaving that message, I have a near 100% rate of securing a call back. 

Step 5:

The meeting!  The whole point of this system is to forge long-term professional relationships with people you would enjoy working with.  The only way to know if that's possible is to ask a ton of questions.  Ask why they do what they do.  Ask how they handle their clients.  Ask if they have a business plan and if you can see it.  Your goal is to have them talk the entire 15-20 minutes.  Think of it as interviewing them on behalf of future clients you might refer them.  If this becomes a quality relationship, your time for talking and sharing will come.  But for now, it's all about them. 

Even if your mother really likes her estate attorney, it's entirely possible that within 5 minutes of sitting down with him that there is no way you can ever work with him or refer him business.  If this happens, I suggest the following.  Stop them and thank him for taking the time to meet.  Explain that despite your mother's love for him, it's clear that you don't think the two of you would enjoy working together.  And then leave.  Don't be a jerk or rude.  If you want, you can wait until 15 minutes has passed.  But our time is too valuable to waste on a relationship you see going nowhere.  I have done this twice.  Once on a guy that seemed to operate without ethics in mind and again with someone who said he didn't need a business plan.  For what it's worth, I paid for their coffee.

After that, I recommend continually meeting to ask more questions and eventually share about your business.  Then I listen to conversations at parties, with my friends and look for opportunities to send my professional contacts as many referrals as possible.  Do your best to never expect a referral in return or resent if they've never given one back.  While it might not make me money...it is another service for my clients and indirectly helps my business prosper as well.

Again, if you would like the Microsoft Word document that has the form letters, phone scripts and meeting questions...just let me know!

Learn more about the author, Phil Greely.