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How to Harness the Power of Referrals — in an Authentic Way

Have you ever gone to a business networking event, ate cheese and crackers, handed out business cards and come home exhausted? Aghh. I know I have.

So how do you grow your business network in an authentic way that resonates with you and your business?

You need to harness the power of referrals.

This process starts with you referring clients, friends, customers, suppliers, family to OTHER businesses. That’s right — it’s about giving before you can receive.

I personally love referring people to businesses that I believe in and support. It’s a great way for me to provide a service to both my customers and to people who are not buying my products or services.

What? Why would I do that?

Because I know that my success and growth is only as strong as the community I am a part of and support.

Having worked in public relations for over 20 years, I’ve developed and maintained relationships throughout Canada and into the United States. I’ve done this by creating meaningful connections with some incredible people I’ve met through work, conference speaking and personal travels.

I’ve taken the time to learn about them, the work they do and the talents they possess. And when someone is looking for a special product or service I go through my mental Rolodex (yikes that dated me) and think of who I can refer this person to.

And guess what? This has helped me get referrals, and new clients, from all over North America. Why? Because when I refer work to others, they take a moment to think of me (putting my name back on their radar), and more importantly, acknowledge the areas where we overlap or complement each other.

Does this mean that every person I’ve referred clients to has returned the favor? No. But what it has done is put out the energy that I, a entrepreneur, am committed to supporting other entrepreneurs and like-minded businesses.

Now here’s the exciting part. Every time I refer someone to another business, I end up getting a referral from the most unexpected place. It might not be immediate, but in the following days or weeks I get a phone call out of the blue saying — I was talking to person X and your name came up as someone who might be able to help me.

Getting back to the authentic part, it’s important to think about your motives before making the referral. Are you wanting to impress the business or person you are referring to? Are you hoping for a quick pro quo? Or are you sending the person their way because you truly believe they would be a good match?

A great way to harness the power of referrals is to spend the next two weeks truly listening to the people around you. What problems are they having or information are you looking for? Instead of tuning them out and thinking about your supper menu, go to your mental Rolodex (or phone contact list for those of you under 40) and think if there’s a referral you can make. Do this in an authentic way for the next few weeks and see how it makes you feel, and if any new referrals come your way.

And the next time you go to a networking event, only bring three business cards with you. Go with the intention of making three meaningful connections, spending more time listening to the work others do, and less time talking about yourself. At the end of the event, you will leave with a greater understanding of the work of three individuals versus a stack of business cards you will likely throw out.

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Writer, communications professional, speaker and patient advocate. Visit www.howtocommunications.com for free communications tools to help share your stories.

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