A Four-Step Process to Increase Your Referral Sources
Where do referrals come from? Simple question with a simple answer: Referral Sources. Unfortunately though, referral sources don’t magically appear or grow on trees. To receive referrals consistently, you need a dedicated group of referral sources that you nurture consistently.
Your referral sources form the base of your healthy referral generating plan. But referral sources are more than just your current clients.
So, what do you do when you need more, or even one referral source? In this article we will dive in to understanding the basics about referral sources, overcome the common misconceptions about referral sources and then go through the four steps you need to follow to start increasing your referral sources.
SECTION 1: The Basics of Referral Sources
SECTION 2: Overcoming Common Misconceptions
SECTION 3: Four Steps to Increase Your Referral Sources
SECTION 4: Wrapping Up with Next Steps
Referrals are just one type of lead generation for new clients and most would agree that they happen to be the best way to generate new clients. Prospects who are referred to you are easier to close meaning they arrive at the decision to work with you faster. This is because they trust you before meeting you, are less price sensitive and already value what you do.
Because someone they trust told them that you can help them.
And when it comes to making a decision on who to hire to coach us, manage our money, sell our home, insure our business, handle our bookkeeping, legally protect us or do our tax return each year…we want to know we are hiring someone who is reputable, will do a good job and – most importantly – comes recommended by someone we trust.
To receive referrals – the holy grail of new client generation – we need to make sure we have a way to consistently generate referrals.
Which means we need to cultivate a group of referral sources. Let’s look at the basics of referral sources.
SECTION 1: Referral Sources Basics
Referrals only come from referral sources so we need to make sure we understand who are our referral sources.
What is a Referral Source?
First, let’s define a referral source – a referral source is just someone who sends you referrals.
A referral source is always a human. Another person who is sending you referrals. If the new potential client doesn’t come from another human, it’s not a referral source. It’s just another type of source sending clients.
Two Types of Referral Sources
The there are two types of referral sources: Clients and COIs.
Type One: Clients
This one is pretty self-explanatory. The first type of referral sources is clients. They could be clients you are working with now, or clients that have worked with you in the past that aren’t currently active. Now, not all clients will become referral sources, but some will.
Type Two: Centers of Influence (COIs)
The second type of referral sources is called centers of influence (COIs). A COI is not to be confused with your entire network. Let’s just say your network, for sake of argument, is a couple thousand people. But a COI is a defined subset of those thousands of people that are in your network.
A COI typically has three defining qualities:
- They know what you do.
- They don’t do what you do, so there is no competitive overlap.
- They come across your ideal client with some regularity.
A great way to think about this is from a perspective of a mortgage loan officer. Let’s use that as our example.
For a mortgage broker, a great COI is a realtor. They don’t do the same thing, but obviously a realtor understands what a mortgage broker does, and realtors come across people – their clients – who are going to need financing to be able to buy a house, hence they’re going to need a mortgage broker or a loan officer.
When you think about your COIs, you need to think about them as a subset of your entire network, with those very specific key parts which are: they know what you do, they don’t do what you do, and they come across your ideal client.
Your COIs is not everybody in your network, even if your network is small. Meaning even if everybody in your network knows what you do, and doesn’t do what you do it doesn’t mean they come across your ideal client.
You’re going to have to spend a little bit of time to determine who is your ideal COI referral source, along with your ideal client referral source. This article will help you do that as you complete the four steps in Section 3. And I encourage you to download the mini-workbook – Increasing Your Referral Sources – to help you work through each of the four steps.
Finding Your Mix of Referral Sources
The next thing you need to do is to determine your mix of referral sources. There are really three types, or three mixes of referral sources.
- Clients only
- COIs only
For some of you, you’re only ever going to receive referrals from your clients meaning you have a client – only mix of referral sources.
For others you’re only going to receive referrals from your centers of influence and not clients, meaning you have a COI – only mix of referral sources.
But most of you are going to fall into the hybrid category, which means you’re going to receive referrals from both your clients and your COIs. The hybrid mix of referral sources is actually the most common and most people will receive referrals from clients and COIs.
Let me give you a couple of examples, so you can put this into perspective for your own business.
Referral Source Mix Examples
Meet my friend Stan (*not his real name) who is a fractional CFO. He helps businesses overcome major financial issues in their companies. Some are on the brink of collapse and others are just struggling to right the ship. They bring in Stan to help them get back on positive footing and in the process have to share embarrassing details of what went wrong and what (or who) caused the issues.
For this reason, Stan has decided to focus on COIs as his primary referral source because he believes his clients will hesitate to mention to other business owners that they had to hire Stan. So, Stan has a COI – only referral source mix.
But Michelle is completely different from Stan.
Meet Growth By Referrals student Michelle who is an insurance agent and agency owner. Michelle’s firm provides insurance for two types of clients – residential homes and commercial businesses. Michelle has a hybrid model for her referral sources, which is most common.
Michelle is definitely receiving referrals from her clients but also receives referrals from COIs that come across people who need her services. Think residential insurance passed along from a realtor or business owners who refer other business owners needing commercial insurance.
She is going to focus on both clients and COIs as referral sources which means she has a hybrid model.
Before we move on to the misconceptions, it is important for you to figure out which is your mix of referral sources.
Are you client-only?
Are you COI-only?
Or are you more of the hybrid model?
SECTION 2: Overcoming Common Misconceptions About Referral Sources
Now that we are clear on the definition of a referral source, the types of referral sources and you have identified your mix, I want to discuss some common misconceptions people believe about referral sources.
Misconception #1: Not all Clients and COIs will refer
Unfortunate but true – not all of your clients and COIs will refer you. I know, it’s a bummer, but it’s true. It could be because they are not built to refer you (or anyone) or they already know someone like you who they already refer people to.
If they are not built to refer it is because they just don’t think in a “referring way.” Now, of course, everyone can refer, it just doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
So, it is important to focus on who will refer. What I have found with the hundreds of students who have been through my program and through my research, about 30% will refer. That gives us a good baseline to build from and helps us manage our expectations.
Which is why it is important to first identify who refers you and then you can focus on identifying those who have the potential to refer you. Yes, it is possible to increase the number of your referral sources – your clients and COIs who refer you – but just don’t go thinking you’re going to turn every single client, or every single COI into a referral source, ok?
It is also important to keep in mind that your referral sources will refer at different rates too – some will refer a lot and some just a few. Just remember your referral sources are not all carbon copies of each other.
But this is good news and should come as a big relief. Because to be honest if you’re trying to grow your business based on referrals, whether that is 75%, 50% or even 30% of your new clients coming through referrals…knowing not all will refer, or refer at the same rate, provides us with a smaller task to tackle. And I’d rather you start with some baby steps and make some great progress, then really try to eat the whole elephant in one bite.
So, let’s just go step by step, coming up in Section 3.
Misconception #2: Referral Sources are Not Easily Identifiable
I know, another bummer. Our referral sources are not easily identifiable. Most people always ask me, “Well, how do I identify who my referral sources will be?” And my answer is always the same, “Well, if I knew the answer to that, I would be a gazillionaire.” (Yes, that’s a real number.)
Now keep in mind, identifying your current referral sources is really easy but we are talking about those we want to become referral sources which makes the identification process harder.
When I say it is not easy to identify who will be your referral sources, what I mean by that is you can’t tell by looking at them (which is okay because that would be judgemental and we don’t want to be judgy people!).
When trying to identify your referral sources, you can’t tell by their personality, or the energy level they have. You can’t tell by the position they’re in, or the job they have, or even by who they know. It’s not easy to identify the type of person who will be in that 30% who are most likely, or more likely to refer. Now there is a process I will teach you in Section 3 to make this easier but you will always be surprised by who refers you and who does not.
Since we can’t judge a book by its cover, it means you’re going to do a little work to figure out who will be a referral source (more coming up) because no one wears a sign attached to their chest that says, “I’m an A+ referral source,” or “I’m a D- referral source.”
It just doesn’t exist. You can’t make judgments, and you can’t just assume who will be the perfect referral sources.
Misconception #3: A Referral Source Doesn’t Always Stay a Referral Source
Your list of referral sources is an ever-changing, ever-fluid list and you need to understand and accept it. Referral sources change because people move away, change jobs, sell their companies, or change the direction of their business so they’re no longer coming across your ideal client.
You have to keep in mind – client or COI referral sources – once they become a referral source it is your job to do everything you can to keep them as a referral source. But you have to understand that it’s fluid, and your referral source list will change.
But sometimes a referral source comes off the list because you take them off, not because of the reasons listed above.
My Growth By Referrals students know – as I teach in the program – it is important, at the end of every year, to review our list of referral sources and consider if we have some non-generating referral sources. My advice to my Growth By Referral students is don’t ever cut anyone after the first year. You should keep them on your list a second or a third year just to see what happens.
But you have to recognize that eventually – at some point – you’re going to have to trim your referral source list. Because just because they’re on the list, doesn’t mean they’ll stay on there forever.
SECTION 3: Four Steps to Increase Your Referral Sources
This section is broken down into the four steps you need to follow to get started with increasing your referral sources.
I encourage you to download the mini-workbook to help you complete all four steps with ease and to keep this process all in one place. And don’t panic on me – it is only 4 pages, not overwhelming at all.
Step 1: Identify and Assess Your Referral Sources
As you notice on page one of the mini-workbook, we will start first with our clients and then we’ll look at your centers of influence.
When you think about your clients, I want you to write down the names of your clients who currently refer you. If you are using the mini-workbook, there is a place for you to write them down in the left column. But if you’re just grabbing a piece of paper, create two columns and on left side, write down the names of your clients who currently refer you.
Then next to that, in the right column, I want you to think about what those clients, those clients who are currently referring you have in common. We are looking to see if there is any patterns when you’re looking at other clients who are more likely to refer. Now like I said earlier your potential referral sources aren’t easily identifiable, right? But there are always patterns that we can look at.
Using our example from before, as a mortgage broker, realtors are one type of referral source and will continue to be a focus. The reasons we identify patterns is to help us determine where to focus for other referral sources.
Next, you will do the exact same process with your centers of influence. If you are following along in the mini-workbook then move down below the client list to the COI section and list out the names of your COIs who currently refer you.
And, I want you to add a step to the COI part…I also want you to write down the names of those who make introductions to other professionals and business owners. They may not refer you to someone who needs to hire you, but they’re definitely the type of person who makes introductions for you, helping you to grow your network, meet new people, connect with additional COIs.
And then in the right column across from the COI names, I want you to write down what they have in common, just like you did for your referring clients. Make sure to consider what’s unique to them, but also what they have in common. This process helps us to establish patterns of the types of COIs who are more likely to refer us.
Step 2: Truth Time
Now that step 1 is complete you need to answer some simple questions based on your answers from step one. You won’t be able to answer these questions until you’ve done step one.
Here is three questions I want you to ask yourself when you are thinking about the answers you just gave to step one. This is step two in the mini-workbook. Remember, keeping the work together in one place – the workbook – gives you the best chance to taking action after you complete the four steps.
1. When you identified your current clients and your current centers of influence who refer you, were you surprised by who was on the list? And who wasn’t?
When you thought about who the clients are, and who the COIs are, that refer you, did anything catch you by surprise? And it may not have been who was on the list, but who wasn’t on the list. That’s an important one to pay attention to. A lot of times we go off of anecdotal evidence. We just remember the last three referrals we received and who sent them. Or we just think a particular person gives us a lot of referrals because one time they did refers us and we made that bigger in our minds. But when we start looking at the data, we realize our anecdotal evidence is not clear evidence in terms of what the data is actually showing us. That’s why we go through step number one in this 4-step process to increase the number of referral sources.
2. What can you do to make better connections and strengthen the relationships with those who are your current referral sources?
What I find sometimes with my Growth By Referrals (GBR) students – after they go through the identify and assess step (Step 1) – there are a few responses. When they review the list of people who have referred them, they have that moment of, “Oh, my gosh, I haven’t talked to that person in 6 months, and in the last year they’ve referred me three people.” Or “I had no idea that person referred me so many people.” Or “Why isn’t so and so on the list, I spend so much time networking with them?” It’s really good to assess who are your referral sources. Who are those people taking time to refer you, and what are you doing to make sure you have a strong solid relationship with them.
3. Do you need more referral sources?
Yes? Or no? As a yes or no question, it’s pretty easy to answer. Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say 99.9% of you are going to raise your hand and say, “Yes, I need more.”
Even if you maybe have a dozen, or two dozen referral sources from doing step one, you’re probably going to realize it would be great to have more referral sources. You don’t need hundreds or even 50 – unless you are going for extreme volume – but two to three dozens of referral sources is a good target to aim for. Now, the next step is to consider if anyone should come off the list because they haven’t referred you in awhile, say longer than two years. Before you know how many more you are aiming to add, you need to consider trimming the list.
Now there could be that 1% who goes through step 1 and step 2 realizes, “Nope, I have all the referral sources I need and things are great.” Well, if that is you – perfect. You don’t need to continue on to part three of this four part process.
But for those of you who said, “Yes, I need more referral sources, so I can receive more referrals,” then let’s keep going with the final two steps of the process where we look to start growing or increasing our referral sources.
**Quick reminder before we move into step 3 – don’t let this process be complicated. Please download your free mini-workbook so it can walk you through these four steps as I’m outlining them to you.
Step 3: Adding More Clients and COIs as Referral Sources
So remember back in Step One, you were assessing the current client and COIs referral sources you have…those who have referred to you in the past.
And you may not have had many – or any – people on the list, and that’s okay. Step Three and Step Four will help you solve that problem.
You’ll notice in your mini-workbook I have broken this step down into two steps – 3A and 3B – to make it more manageable. Step 3A is focused on clients and Step #b is focus on COIs.
Step 3A – Adding More Clients
Let’s start with Step 3A, which is focused on adding more clients as referral sources.
You need to start thinking about the clients who weren’t on your list in Step One. When you answered the truth question in Step Two, were you surprised by who wasn’t on the list? This is your opportunity to consider the clients who aren’t referring you but you would like them to be referring you. Start writing down their names in the workbook. Now keep in mind you won’t actually know if the clients you wrote down will become a great referral source. This is going to take some trial and error and I’ll provide an opportunity where you can learn an easy way to do that if you are interested. But for right now, just start thinking about which clients you want to cultivate as a referral source.
To truly be able to consider all of your options of clients as referral sources, you’ll need to target past clients, not just current clients. And you may even need to pull a list of your clients to jog your memory. Like that client who worked with you three years ago that just adored working with you, but you haven’t really kept in touch with them and are certainly not top of mind with them anymore.
Again, you’re not going to turn all of the clients you write down – that you want to refer you – into referral sources. But, you definitely won’t be able to turn anyone into a referral source unless you start by identifying who may be a good referral source.
But, let’s show a little judgment. You know that there are some people that maybe didn’t have the best client experience with you, right? Maybe they came at a point in your business where you were growing faster than you could handle and your processes and client experience broke down. Or maybe, for whatever reason, what they experienced with you wasn’t all that positive.
Please note, what I don’t want you to create is a list of all of your clients you’ve ever had.
But what if you’re a new business? What if you’ve only worked with a dozen or so clients? Since your list is small enough I would suggest you put all of your clients on there. And then, as you go through the process of turning these clients into referral sources, you will figure out who will stay on the list and who will not.
But, if you have hundreds and hundreds of clients remember, we’re just aiming for the 30% that we think will refer us. We don’t expect to get it all right and we do expect to be surprised. Most importantly, we just need to start somewhere.
Step 3B – Adding More COIs
Now, let’s take the same process from Step 3A and apply it to our Centers of Influence. But with COIs we are going to add an additional step to this process. Remember our COIs are those who know what we do, don’t do what we do and come across our ideal clients. In the workbook, jot down the specific names of your COIs you would like to be referring you. This might include people you know well or don’t know well – from your general network – with your goal to have them become referring COIs.
That’s right – to develop a list of potential COI referral sources we need to start a little more broad and then narrow it down.
Here are some helpful tips to help you create a robust list of potential COIs.
- Open up your phone and start scrolling through your contacts.
- Look through the directories of associations you’re a member.
- Review your calendar of those you’ve met for coffee over the last six months or year to network.
- Pull up LinkedIn and start scrolling through the 1st degree connections and 2nd degree connections.
- And possibly pull out that stack of business cards you have. (Yes, they still exist!)
Now word of caution if you are adding people to the list you don’t know well – especially if going through your business cards – only include those you met with or received a card from more recently, say over the last six months to maybe a year, or so.
If you haven’t talked to someone in five years, they may not be worth adding to your list.
But if you know them well but haven’t connected in a while – then use your judgement if you should include them on your list.
After you have your list of potential COI referral sources, we need to move on to the second part for our COI cultivation. We need to also create our ideal center of influence profile. In the workbook you’ll see this part – the bottom half of Step 3B.
If you’ve never considered who would make the “ideal” COI for you, it is like the process you go through considering who your ideal client is. As a business owner, it is important to know who is your perfect ideal client…those clients who come to you and they need exactly what you have to offer. They have the money to be able to afford you. Maybe they’re in the right geographical location or in the right age demographic. Maybe they’re at a certain stage or level with their business.
The process of creating your ideal client profile is typically one you go through early in your business. Because we all have an ideal client profile. We want to take that same process and apply it to our COIs which will help us create an ideal COI profile.
As you complete this section of the workbook – your goal is to list out the characteristics you think will make an ideal COI. This step is all about profiling for now. We’re not coming up with names of those we know, that was the section above. Right now, we’re just trying to figure out, what are the identifiers or characteristics that would make a great COI referral source?
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Types of industries
- Specific job roles
- Specific organizations
- Those who already serve your clients as vendors
For example, let’s say you work with small business owners…you’re a business coach or a business consultant. Think about the service providers your small business owners clients hire or work with in addition to you. Maybe a website developer, graphic designer, attorney, marketing consultant, bookkeeper or CPA.
Now let’s flip the example – let’s say you are a bookkeeper or CPA…a great referral source could be business coaches and business consultants that work with small businesses. A coach or consultant would have conversations with their business owner clients about their financial management and if the need for an outsourced bookkeeper or a new CPA came up, then you could be the suggested solution.
And of course this works if you sell B2C (business to consumer). Maybe you are an interior designer focused on residential homes. Home builders easily come to mind as a COI but others could be realtors, mortgage brokers, the granite or tile company, etc. Some may fit you and some may not…these are just suggestions.
And here is a final example…let’s say you only work with women. Sorry guys, nothing personal, just an example. Think about the business professionals who may cater to women but go a little further and consider organizations and associations that work with and serve women. Specifically the organizations and associations that serve the type of women you want to work with.
We want to make sure we understand who would make the best type of COI referral source. There isn’t just one. So, list out options, industries, roles, organizations, vendor types who are already serving your clients. List out that information so you have a firm idea of your ideal COI profile, a target profile so to speak. This will help you identify who you should focus on meeting and getting to know if you need to add more COI referral sources. Then you can build a plan to start strengthening and building relationships with them.
Using my coaching practice as an example, my target ideal COIs were financial advisors, CPAs, and business consultants who worked with small business owners. They weren’t my only COIs over the years, but having these three targets gave me a place to start to identify who else I wanted to get to know to try to cultivate them as a COI referral source.
Step 4: Review & Answer
Okay – do a happy dance, we are on our final step – Step 4.
And the good news is…Step 4 is just three questions. Here we go.
1. What ah ha moments or thoughts did you have when you looked back over your list of current referral client sources (Step 1) versus the potential client referral source list (Step 3A)?
Did you identify patterns between the list current clients who are referring you and the list of future client referral sources? Like question 1 above: did you establish a link, a pattern, a thread? You may not have and that is okay but any pattern established could provide a direction to consider for the types of clients who could become referral sources.
2. What ah ha moments or thoughts did you have when you compared the COIs currently referring you (Step 1) versus the potential COI referral source list (Step 3)?
Did you identify patterns between the list current COIs who are referring you and the list of future COI referral sources (Step 3B)? Did you establish a link, a pattern, a thread? You may not have and that is okay but any pattern established could provide a direction to consider for the types of COIs who could become referral sources.
3. Did you identify who are your best types of COIs? Did you identify your ideal center of influence profile?
If you did, we now have something to work with. At some point in your journey to increase the number of referral sources you have, you will need to use your ideal COI profile to help you start developing additional COI referral sources. So please go one step further with your ideal COI profile and write down who fits that profile. This way, when you need this list, it is ready to go. I also provide more support in how to do this during the two-hour Increase Your Referral Sources Masterclass.
Section 4: Wrapping Up with Next Steps
After completing all four steps in this process, your next step is to determine who you need to start building relationships with – from this 4-step process you have two solid lists of gold…one is a list of current referral sources (client and COI) and one is a list of potential referral sources (client and COI).
How Many Referral Sources Do I Need?
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed…here’s the good news…you don’t need hundreds and hundreds of referral sources. But, less than five probably won’t work for you either. I tell my students in the Growth By Referrals program, let’s aim for a dozen to two dozen referral sources to start and grow from there, only if we need it. If you are a business owner who only needs 25 to 50 new clients in a year then you don’t need hundreds of referral sources. You need about a dozen or two, sending you one to two referrals a year. And that would produce the results you need. The number of new clients you need every year is typically what indicates the number of referral sources you need, based on how well those referral sources produce results.
And of course, you won’t close every referral you receive. But receiving a referred new potential client is the easiest way to get to the number of new clients you need per year. To get there you do need a dedicated list of referral sources who do refer.
What Your Referral Source Needs to Refer You
Remember no one refers someone they don’t trust and people typically trust people they know, not strangers. So your next step is to start building relationships. Which I know is easier said than done but the next process can be easy if you allow it to be. There is work involved, but if you have a process to manage your relationship-building, then you will be able to make it a part of your workflow so it actually happens.
A Resource to Eliminate the Stress of Getting Started
You may be one of those people who knows instantly what to do to start developing relationships with people you know and with strangers.
But if you are like most people – having a roadmap to follow gives you the confidence you need to get started. I offer a masterclass – Increasing Your Referral Sources – that teaches you exactly how to take your lists of potential referral sources through a process to nurture them to become referral sources. None of it is rocket science, but if you like step-by-step processes to hold you accountable and show you how to do so you don’t waste time on mistakes, then check out this masterclass.
But here’s what I need you to understand.
Increasing your referral sources really comes down to…developing relationships with the people who have potential to become referral sources. And they will not become referral sources overnight. And they will not become referral sources just because you had one meeting with them to get to know them. You are going to have to establish a relationship with them where trust is established and nurtured.
And this is more of a long-term game than a short-term fix. We’re not looking for a band-aid approach that will stop working in a few months.
We’re looking to systematically grow our business in the best and easiest way possible. Which means we have to do a little bit of work to develop more referral sources so that our business is sustained by referrals, and we are not worrying or stressing out about where the next client is coming from.
My goal is to help you leave behind the entrepreneurial roller coaster and those feast or famine months.
Your job is to meet me halfway and be willing to do a little work to receive the rewards you deserve – in this case – the referrals your deserve.
So, are you ready to get started? Let me know in the comments how you did completing the workbook and what your first step will be to put your work into action so you can have some results!