Use this plug and play referral machine that is pretty much guaranteed to have your phone ringing off the hook with referrals flooding into your business, so long as you do even a half-decent job for your clients.
The core of the referral machine are 3P’s that almost nobody follows, but will consistently make clients happy to refer their friends and associates to you.
This will work for freelancers, coaches, and anyone else who serves clients via a personal working relationship… even if you’ve never generated many referrals before.
See, clients are happy to refer people to you. It is beneficial on all sides, as long as it is all framed in the right way, and it is easy for them.
When they refer, they are helping you – obviously.
But if you do a good job, they are also doing social good, strengthening the relationship and essentially doing a favour for the person they referred to you…
Imagine this person has had a problem in their life or business for a long time, and they were the person who presented the solution. Can you say brownie points?
There’s a saying in sales that “people hate being sold, but they love buying”. It’s a similar thing with referrals.
So long as you avoid the “salesy, ickyness” that often accompanies the word “referral” then your clients will love to refer to you.
Think about when you see a great movie, or eat at a great restaurant… don’t you enthusiastically tell all your friends and family to check it out?
In this post I give you a step-by-step guide through the 3 P’s Referral Machine.
Before we get into the meat of it, a common question that needs addressing up front…
Should you incentivise referrals?
I don’t believe you should incentivise clients to give referrals.
I don’t believe you should need to.
If you need to incentivise them to give you referrals, it probably means they don’t inherently want to do it. If they want to do it, they will do it without being bribed.
That is not the right frame for them to be referring to you, and is probably putting strain on the relationship. If you follow everything I say below, you won’t need to bribe your clients to offer referrals. They will be happy to do it.
Referral Machine Step 1: Permission
The first, and probably most important step is to ask permission before you throw your full “please give me referrals” pitch at your unsuspecting client.
This sets the frame that they’re in control, you’re sensitive to not hassling them or annoying them, and that this is a low pressure situation.
Everything will go better if you ensure they don’t put their guard up.
Ask a favour
Start by asking for a favour. If your client likes you (I hope your clients like you), they will say yes.
This is a micro commitment that they’ve already invested into the interaction and it ensures they are going to listen to what you say next.
Most referral conversations don’t go anywhere, because as soon as you mention the word, people shut off. They stop listening to what you’re saying because it feels like hard work.
They have to think about someone they could refer (which is hard work), then they perceive they have to start harassing them or pitching them, which is potentially going to have negative social consequences for their relationship.
By asking a favour, they will drop their guard and hear out what you have to say.
You have to view this like you would a sales conversation. They have a number of objections you need to take off the table to get the outcome you’re looking for – the first one being the brick wall people immediately put up in badly initiated sales conversations (and referral conversations).
You don’t want to be the annoying teenager in the electronics shop who walks up and asks if you want any help, immediately generating a reflexive, “no, I’m just looking thanks”.
Ask permission to follow up (repeatedly)
It’s doubtful your client spends much of their day pondering who they could potentially refer to you. When you ask, it is probably the first time they have ever thought about it.
Give them some time to think about it. Take the pressure off – if you push for an answer immediately they’re going to say some variation of, “I’ll have a think and let you know”…
Which means they will never think about it again, and definitely not let you know.
Instead you should say it first, “If it’s cool with you, I’ll let you have a think and follow up on [DAY]?”.
Some people will give you an answer straight away, if they can think of anyone fitting the bill of what you’re looking for off the top of their head.
Alternatively, let them go away, and then follow up with them. They’ve given you permission to follow up with them, so when you do, it’s not like you’re bugging them or being an imposition.
Truth is, most people won’t actually think about it until after the first time you follow them up. In which case, they will generally apologise, then actually go away and think about it this time.
Do the same thing, “is it cool if I follow up on [DAY]?” – this is when you will likely get the answer you’re looking for.
Referral Machine Step 2: Process
“Can you refer me a client?”, is a truly awful way to ask for referrals.
It’s completely ignorant of the clients needs, and rather selfish.
You’re asking them to go out of their way, to do something for you, with no real idea what exactly you want…and you want them to jeopardise a relationship with someone in their network if it doesn’t work out.
There is a better way…
The more specific you are in your ask, the more likely you are to get an answer.
“Do you know anyone who wants to work with me?” is a shitty way to ask. Try it like this…
“I’m starting a new program/offer/service for [SPECIFIC TYPE OF PERSON] who wants to [SOLVE SPECIFIC PROBLEM OR ACHIEVE SPECIFIC OUTCOME]. Do you know anyone who might be worth talking to?”
The more specific you are, the more likely they are to actually search their memory bank for someone fitting this description.
Why? Because it is easy to identify one person with a specific trait, rather than inferring on everyone they know any number of things you might be able to help them with, and they also might be interested in getting help on at this particular moment.
A friend of mine is a fitness coach for brides-to-be. He gets a tonne of referrals… know why?
Because saying, “do you know anyone getting married this year?” is a specific and easy to answer question.
Often, he only has to say what he does, and people will offer referrals without him even having to ask… “oh you should talk to my friend Sally, she’s getting married in August…”.
A general fitness coach saying, “do you know anyone who’s fat and wants to talk to me?” isn’t going to get very far.
Specificity gives parameters for exactly what you’re looking for; it is now very easy for your client to search their mental rolodex to see if anyone fits in that box.
One of the peculiarities of the human mind is that we accept things when they have a reason, even when the reason doesn’t make sense. They’ve done studies where people ask to jump in front of the queue…
Saying “Can I push in front of you?” gets a very low success rate.
“Can I push in front of you because I’m in a rush” gets a lot more compliance…even though that is a bullshit reason.
You’re in a rush? So what? Aren’t we all?
Yet it works. The word “because” is powerful for gaining compliance. It gives the sense of urgency and importance to it – there’s a good reason this person is making this request. Our brain is too lazy to actually assess the validity of the reason, the presence of a reason is sufficient.
When asking for referrals, have a reason…
“I’m starting a new program…”
“I’ve just completed a big client project and it’s opened up spots for 2 new clients…”
The reason doesn’t need to be earth shatteringly important, just give a reason.
Make it easy for your client
I cannot understate the importance of this. Remember I said before that thinking of someone to refer is hard work. Nobody likes unnecessary hard work, so make it as easy as humanly possible for your clients to refer to you.
As already stated, this starts with making a very specific ask. Not just in who you are looking for, but also exactly what you want your client to do.
Can you think of 2/3 people who [ARE WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR]?
Can I get their names?
Take it step by step
If you’re familiar with a “yes ladder” in sales, you want to use that concept.
You’re basically getting multiples affirmations back to back, to build momentum in the conversation, by making only small asks that are not too much of a leap (hard work).
After asking for their names, only then do you ask for contact details. If you start by asking for people’s contact details it feels rather invasive. Instead just get your client to identify who you could help, then move into actually contacting them.
It’s more powerful, and less invasive if your client makes the introduction.
Just taking their details and cold calling/mailing is invasive, the person receiving it isn’t expecting to and might not want to talk to you. This could strain the relationship they have with the person who gave out their contact details. This is a massive barrier to successfully getting referrals.
You want your client to make the introduction, but you don’t want to leave it in their hands – that is hard work and it won’t get done.
It also strains your relationship, because they’re confused, don’t know what to do, and that creates negative emotions. You don’t want your clients avoiding you, because you’re burdening them with hard work trying to be your unpaid sales intern.
Make the process as easy as possible and you will have more success, and people will be willing to refer multiple times.
Write scripts for them
Choose how you want the introduction to take place, this will depend on the nature of your client relationship. Likely places are cc’d in an email, or a Facebook/Skype message.
You want your client to do literally no work. Tell them that you will write a quick intro for them, that they can copy and paste over.
This smooths the whole process and ensures it is not a burden on them.
Some people will just write it themselves, or possibly edit what you write, but that’s fine. You’ve done everything you can to make the introduction as easy and smooth as possible.
I’ve written scripts for you, so that implementing the Referral Machine in your business is easy…
The other big benefit of you writing the script is that you get to sell yourself.
Nobody else is going to sell you as well as you can sell yourself.
Write a short script, that paints a picture of how you can help the person who is being referred. You don’t want to receive a “hey Bob, you should talk to John about your website”. That’s a terrible intro.
You want to get across clarity on how you can help this person, what you will help them with, and why you are the right person to help them.[Download script templates here]
Referral Machine Step 3: Persistence
These people are not your paid sales team. Even when they love you to bits, want to help you, and have every intention to do so…
Life is going to happen, and it will be forgotten. It’s never going to be a high-priority once they get back into the rest of their life. This means you need to follow them up (in the right way) to succeed.
Tell them when you will follow up
At every ask, you should tell them when you will follow up, and get their permission to go ahead with that.
“think about 3 people’s names who might be a fit and I’ll check in tomorrow, is that cool?”
“great! What I will do is write you a short little intro message you can copy and paste to them and cc me in. I’ll get it over to your tomorrow, is that cool?”
“the script is below, just hit copy and paste. If you have any worries do let me know, happy to change it if you’re not 100% happy of course. I’ll check in tomorrow, ok?”
Always ask permission (so you’re not bugging them, it creates a good experience for your client), and make sure you follow up when you say you’re going to.
Follow up when you said you would
Make a note in your diary or set a reminder.
If you can’t be bothered to follow up when you said, they’re gonna have subconscious worries that you won’t follow up with the person they will refer. This would make them look stupid.
Don’t make your client look stupid to their peers.
Chances are, nothing will happen until you’ve followed up once or twice.
People are busy. It isn’t personal, and it doesn’t mean they don’t want to help. People are just busy.
As long as you ask permission and make the process as easy for them as possible, you can safely follow up until they’ve done what they said they would.
You’ll need some persistence to get results. Asking once and then giving up is another huge mistake people make when they’re trying to generate referrals.
You wouldn’t write one pitch email, or apply to one freelance site job, and then give up, would you?
4. Say thank you
When you get a successful referral, make sure you show your gratitude.
You’re not entitled to having your clients work as unpaid salespeople. It’s a favour they’ve done for you and you should show your appreciation.
I don’t believe in incentivised referrals, but if you feel it is appropriate you could get some sort of small thank you gift after they’ve referred. This isn’t mentioned up-front, it’s just a nice touch to show your appreciation.
Who is likely to refer to you?
Throughout this post I have referenced “your client” as the likely referrer.
However it is not the only place you can get referrals from. Anybody in your circle of influence is strong referral potential.
Beyond that, there is complimentary businesses for whom a referral would be mutually beneficial, and just anyone in your contacts who you vaguely know. Here’s who you could plug into your referral machine:
Friends, family & people who care about you
The people that care about you will want to help you. That seems obvious, but if you don’t ask them specifically, they don’t know what they could do for you.
Depending on what you do, it depends how best to ask, but make sure you utilise anyone who is willing to help you.
They might know someone personally, or maybe they could do a post on their Facebook wall, or groups and communities they’re members of.
It’s difficult to give specifics without knowing what you do, so you’ll have to think about how you can best leverage your circle of influence.
Existing and past clients
This is most obvious and what I have referenced throughout the post. These are your best referral prospects, because they best understand exactly what you do.
Your mother might be desperate to help you, but she probably doesn’t actually understand what you do, or who would be a good fit for getting your help.
Make it a habit to regularly ask current and past clients for referrals.
Mutually beneficial complimentary businesses
Sometimes other businesses will be able to refer people to you, because it is of benefit to both of you.
Perhaps you are a web designer…
To design a website, you’re gonna need the client to have a logo and branding. If you don’t do branding, it makes sense for you to refer your client to a designer that you trust. That way you know they are going to get good work, in a timely manner, to allow you to fulfill your commitment. It’s mutually beneficial.
You might also want to refer them to a copywriter, so the words on their website match the great design and build/functionality you do.
How about an SEO specialist, so you make sure your beautiful website actually gets seen and ranks in Google?
Of course, if you’re the one wanting to get referrals, you need to ask, and you need to be specific.
The designer could be looking specifically for supplement brands, or beauty brands, or whatever…
The SEO specialist could be looking specifically for local, or e-commerce, or whatever…
This is the situation where you might want to incentivise referrals. Giving them a kickback, referral fee, or affiliate fee might incentivise businesses to send you clients who otherwise wouldn’t.
Still follow all the principles by making it easy for them, etc., but you can offer them money to do so, if that is the only benefit that is available to make it “mutually” beneficial.
When you’re very specific with your ask, it can even generate referrals from people you don’t even know that well. The majority of your Facebook friends, for example.
Because the identifier of who you are looking for is very specific, it seems like you would be the perfect fit for anyone who fits that description.
I’ll reference the bridal example I mentioned above. People will tag their friends they know are getting married, because it is such a good fit.
Referred clients are often the best clients.
They come in, loaded up with social proof and ready to buy. They often spend more money, and the whole relationship from day 1 is in the perfect frame, with you as the expert who their friend sang the praises of.
First impressions count, and they will carry that impression through the whole relationship.
This tends to influence their behaviour, they’re great clients, and they are already positioned to become referrers themselves.
“As you know, my business generally runs on referral, so…” – of course they know that, it’s self-evident… that’s how they came into your business.
Give the 3 P’s Referral Machine a run in your business and I am confident it could be a game-changer for generating new business with no ad spend, cold calling, or chasing around flakey leads.