How to Get Started With Referrals

When you are a small business not having as many customers as you would like has some positives too. The main one is that as the owner you are much closer to your customers than larger business. You just have more time for personalized service.

Unfortunately, that proximity to customers isn’t enough to keep you in business. To grow your business, take advantage of your great service by gaining customer referrals from existing customers.

I know. Asking for referrals feels pushy. However, do you really have a choice? Think about it. You are in business because you think your product or service will help people. Most people like to help others. They enjoy passing along a good tip about a great product or service. By asking for a referral you are actually doing them a favor. So ask your customers after you have given them great service – Who is a person you know who would benefit from having our product/service?

Other than providing great service, another way to make a personal connection with your existing customers is to send a newsletter. Instead of sending the average, boring email that most businesses send, focus on success stories of your existing customers. Explain how you solved a problem that one of your customers faced. Explain why solving that problem was important to them and explain how you solved it. Then include a testimonial from the customer.

When you look for products or services for your business or even in your personal life don’t you find it helpful if you see how someone else had a success with a service?

Lastly, ask the person who gave you a testimonial to name any people they know that are in a similar situation.

Formal referral programs seem old fashioned, however they are still effective. A formal referral program can be as simple as mailing 50 business cards to each one of your customers and explaining to them to pass them on to friends and write their names on the back of it. If a new customer walks in with a name written on the back of your business card, that person will receive a reward from you.

Strike up alliances with ancillary businesses. Have you ever had a doctor refer you to a specialist? Think about it. There are businesses that are in a similar situation as the generalist doctor. In pest control I have found small pet stores that I partner with. When one of their customers complains about flea infestations, the store owner tells them that he knows a great pest control company that can help them with their flea problems.

Here is the way I got in touch with pet store owners. I asked a current customer with a pet to recommend a pet store to me. Then I asked the customer to call the owner of the store to let the owner know that I will call. Now, when I called the owner already knew who I was and how we were connected.

Don’t ask for referrals right away. You need to build a relationship with the store owner first. Show him that you can provide value by finding him referrals first or helping him in some other way. Once you have built the relationship you can approach him with your strategy on how your company could help his customers. To make the offer appealing let him know that you are willing to provide discounts to the customers he refers.

Lastly, if you are still hesitant about growing your business through referrals you might want to look into BNI. BNI is an organization that focuses on creating referrals and relationships by business owners in different industries. If you agree that referrals are the way to go but are too shy for ask for them look into BNI as a way to provide the peer pressure to get you started.

3 Keys to Getting Quality Referrals

One of the keys to growing your business is getting good referrals. Even though you attend many events and have developed a huge network of contacts, you find that you are not getting your fair share of good referrals from your contacts.

I have included three keys to getting your “better than fair” share of referrals.

1) Focus On Problems

It’s easy to tell people about the services we provide. Instead, we are better served to talk about the types of problems that we solve. Our potential clients and those who would refer them know their problems, but they may not realize that our services represent the solution. For example, if you are experiencing unexplained leaks around the outside of your house, you may not realize that a roofing contractor would address downspouts, gutters, and flashing to fix that type of problem. But, you would certainly know that you have leaks around the house. So, if you said “Please let me know if you know someone who needs a roofer,” you might not get that referral. Instead, we could say “We solve the problem of unexplained water entering our clients’ homes whether it is coming from the roof, the ground, or anywhere in between. Our clients also come to us to find solutions to their crazy gas and electric bills to help improve their home’s efficiency.”

As another example, instead of saying “we are a full service accounting firm” you might share that “before we started working with one of our recent clients, they had been paying tax penalties. The senior executives feared whether or not they were in regulatory compliance, and they had little confidence in their financial reporting. Within 90 days we took responsibility, established a consistent process, and now their executives rest easy that everything is under control.” When you focus on the problems you solve, it is easier for prospects and referrers to identify why they would call you.

Be a Specialist

We all have either referred or been referred to a physician, professional, or other vendor. When was the last time you heard someone refer to someone as “a great generalist?” Rather, we like to know that someone is great at doing something specific. We must carve our niche, and emphasize that expertise to our clients and referrers. Even if our organization has amazing breadth, we get rewarded for being specific. Fact is that if we say that we do everything, they are not likely to believe us. We should be clear about the things we do better than the average bear, and seek opportunities where we can differentiate ourselves.If we can share stories of specific problems that we solved for real customers, then it makes it easy for someone to make that connection. It’s easy in that case for them to say “I know that they solved XYZ for one of their clients.” Law firms often struggle with this notion of specialization. As an example, a patent attorney at a large regional law firm could say “I help technology companies ensure that their inventions are protected and that others cannot interfere with their business (and share a real-world story). As you know, I have partners skilled in solving a wide array of legal and business challenges, and if you refer someone where we are not the best fit, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

Be SMART

I often hear people say “if you know someone who needs XYZ service, please let me know.” How often do you think that person gets referrals? They have two chances: slim and none. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. So, you might try something like “Do you think you could identify two clients in the next thirty days who are experiencing the problem we discussed? When you think of them, I would appreciate it if you could send an introductory email or setup a lunch for us to see if there is a fit.” In this example, we are specific with a measurable, attainable, and realistic goal that is tied to a specific time frame. You’d be amazed at the dramatic change this can have.

Don’t feel like you have to make the identical request to each potential referrer. Based on their sphere of influence, you might have different requests for each person in your network. And, if you happen to have a breadth of problems you solve, feel free to “specialize” in areas that fit that member of your network. So, if you want to earn your “better than fair share” of referrals, remember to 1) Focus on Problems, 2) Be Specific, and 3) Be SMART.

What tools and techniques do you use to increase your referrals?

Business – Understanding Your Value and How to Market it – Referrals

In order to have a strong, active and growing business, you will need to have good referral sources and also be able to provide good referrals for your clients to receive services that you do not offer. Building and nurturing relationships with others will result in a steady stream of new clients for your practice.

There are many different types of referral sources that can be cultivated as follows:

1. Word of Mouth – For years, marketers have stressed the fact that the best form of advertising is through individuals who talk about your services in a positive manner. Former clients, their friends and relatives can personally attest to the satisfaction they gained by working with you. It doesn’t take long until a community forms an opinion about you and your private practice. I remember hearing the words of a lawyer a few years ago who stated “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a few seconds to lose it”. People frequently refer their acquaintances for assessment and/or treatment.

2. Other Professionals – At times you might set up joint ventures where the client benefits from having different types of services. In divorce, for example, a lawyer, psychologist and accountant may all work together for the benefit of the client. Other professionals may work in tandem with you and ask that the client see you before they work with you. For years I have been completing psychological assessments for an infertility specialist who claims that he does not have ethical practice unless the couple has had this assessment done first. You may receive referrals from teachers who request that you treat students or from managers who are concerned about employees.

3. Government and Public Service Agencies – The Justice system, community service organizations and government departments might refer individuals to you for either assessment or treatment services. Some such as Worker’s Compensation Board or Health Canada might actually pay for the clients but usually this is on a fee schedule that they set. There are times when your contract will allow you to ask the client to “top up” the fees if the organization’s scale is lower than your rate, but other times when you will need to decide whether you are willing to work for a lower amount in exchange for a steady stream of referrals.

4. Employee Assistance Programs – Under this category, some companies offer a limited number of sessions or yearly amount as part of the benefit plan for employees. Most of these allow dependents and/or eligible family members to also obtain services. Most of these programs involve signing a contract with the EAP company at the fee per hour rate that they are willing to pay. The benefits are available to the employee on a yearly basis and cannot be carried over into the following year. It”s “Use it or lose it”. Some employees also are given a “Health Spending Account” which is a set amount of benefit money which they can choose to use for a number of defined services such as medications, dental work or therapy.

5. Private Benefit Plans – Some people purchase coverage for themselves and/or their family members to ensure that they can obtain services that might be needed. In Alberta, for example, there are different levels and options for those who want to purchase plans through Blue Cross. The premiums and benefits vary according to the plan that the individual chooses.

6. Insurance Company Plans – Companies like Manulife, Cooperators and Great West Life offer different types of coverage for policy holders. Some have a limited amount per year which covers therapy. Others offer short-term and long-term coverage for those who are unable to work due to disabilities. Usually, if the client is working, s/he is required to pay for their appointments and then submit them to the insurance company for reimbursement. Sometimes, however, a “worker” from the company will negotiate with the psychologist for a limited number of sessions to help the client who is on a disability leave from their employment.

7. Professional Referral Services – Some professions charge their therapists a yearly fee which is used to promote the psychologist to individuals who call to that organization for information about services in their area. You might also choose to purchase an advertisement in the newsletter or magazine that is published by your professional organization.

8. Self Referrals – I frequently receive telephone calls or emails from individuals who have found my listing in the yellow pages or read one of my newspaper columns.

Ensuring that you provide excellent services, maintain a respectable reputation, and work at developing good relationships with referral sources will help you to turn every day of your business into a wonderful adventure.

How to Find a Medical Specialist

The field of medicine today is exceptionally complex. The rate at which new discoveries and new treatments are being published is overwhelming, even for physicians. As a result, physicians are specializing in ever more narrow medical niches. This means that almost everyone will need to consult with a medical specialist at least once in a lifetime.

If you find yourself or a loved one in the hospital and in need of a specialist, you will have to accept the doctor on duty. On the other hand, if you have a long-term or non-emergency medical problem you will have time to make a selection. If you have the time to search for the best specialist for your needs it is very important to choose one that you are comfortable with, and who will remain available for many years, if need be.

Most people begin with a referral from their primary care physician. Indeed, many managed care insurers require that patients obtain specialist referrals from their PCP. This is a good place to start, but you are not limited to accepting the name of one physician from your PCP. It is smart to do a little additional research.

Call the closest medical school and ask for the names of two or three physicians who specialize in your condition and who are actively treating patients. Some medical school physicians are involved in research and teaching, but they do not maintain a private practice.

Also contact the closest local office of a related support group or “condition” organization such as the American Diabetes Association, the Parkinson’s Disease Association, or the National Kidney Foundation. Ask for the names of specialists they consult with.

Once you have collected a few likely names it’s time to do a little additional research. You will want to identify which hospital each doctor visits. You will also want to know whether the doctor maintains more than one office, and how often he or she sees patients in the office most convenient to you. If your medical condition is one that will require you to see several specialists, are all of the specialists located in the same area? You may want to know if the doctor participates in clinical trials. And, of course, you will want to know whether the doctor participates in your particular medical insurance plan.

You can find much of this information from consulting the medicare.gov website (click on “Find a Physician”) or from the American Medical Association website (www.ama-assn.org) You will have to call each physician’s office for the answers to some of your questions. Calling the doctor’s office with some of these questions before you make an appointment will give you an idea of how well he and his office staff communicate with prospective patients.

Once you have decided which specialist you would like to consult, make your appointment as soon as you can. There is often a long wait to get an appointment with a medical specialist. If you need a written referral, and the doctor you have selected is not the one originally suggested by your primary care physician, be sure you get a new referral. Your PCP should not have any objection if you have done your groundwork.

It is important to keep in mind that you may need or want to see a second specialist for a second opinion if you have any questions or concerns about the treatment the first doctor recommends. Except for emergency care, many health insurers require a second opinion before they will agree to cover certain treatments. Medicare will cover most second opinion consultations. If your health insurance requires a second opinion it should be covered. Be certain to verify your coverage before you visit.

Networking – The Truth About Referrals

After 5 years of active networking I had a pile of referral slips about 5cm high. They represent every referral I’ve given over the years. I don’t suppose for one minute that all of those have turned into business (although they were all given with genuine good intention at the time). And I must admit I haven’t received anything like that number of referrals in return (but I have received plenty of referral business to make it all worthwhile).

The truth is that not all referrals work out well. I’ve given out referrals that I know have not been followed up for whatever reason. And I’ve responded to referrals I’ve received and found that the contact was not really interested in talking to me at all.

And a couple of times, a referral I’ve passed has gone horribly wrong.

Once, years ago, I introduced an IFA to a close relative, for inheritance tax planning. The IFA was supposedly an expert in this area, and of course it was in my best interests for the relationship to work out! I don’t know exactly what happened, but my relative ended up throwing with IFA out of the house, claiming he was pushing a product he’d already rejected. In return, the IFA complained that he’d done lots of work and got nothing in return.

On another occasion, I referred a solicitor to someone on Ecademy who needed conveyancing on a number of properties. A few months later, I had a message from the Ecademist claiming the solicitor had ‘ripped them off’. I spoke to the solicitor, who said the Ecademist was a ‘predator’.

I was relieved that none of these people held me responsible, but it did make me reluctant to refer them again.

On the other hand, I’ve been involved with referrals that have gone spectacularly well.

An Ecademist asked if I knew someone who could raise £1m against unpaid invoices. That’s right, one million pounds! I never thought I’d pass a million-pound referral, but I did know the exact person to help. It was an ex-BRX member who did factoring. He’d been a member for two years and had never got a referral even though he’d done everything right – he’d turned up at every meeting, explained what he did, and given referrals to others. I’d met him a few times and remembered him, so when the occasion arose, I was able to make the introduction.

I know it worked out, because I was paid an introducer’s commission and they both took me to lunch to thank me.

Another time, a client asked me to write a fund-raising proposal for them. It’s not the kind of writing I do, so I posted an appeal on Ecademy for a specialist. A couple of people in my network recommended a particular individual, so I put him in touch with my client.

Again, I know it worked out because the Ecademist subscribed me to the wonderful Hotel Chocolat tasting club (which meant a box of delicious chocolates dropped through my door every month for three months), while the client promised me a Christmas hamper. All it took from me was a couple of emails!

I heard a story when I visited BNI about a copper roofer, who’d been a member for a couple of years and never had a referral. Obviously it’s a very specialised business and not very easy to refer! One of his chapter members was having lunch in central London when he overheard a conversation on the next table about re-roofing the church. He leaned over and asked: “Do you need a copper roofer?” And the roofer got £250,000 of business, just because his colleague was in the right place at the right time, with his ‘ears open’ for opportunities. By the way, I still have the business card for that roofer – it’s made of copper!

One more example: an accountant referred me to a client who needed help with his brochure. I did the work but referred the client to a photographer and search engine experts that he also needed. We did all the work but the accountant got all the credit!

Having networked for so long, I now get referrals, repeat business and second, third or even fourth and fifth-generation referrals. Happily, the vast majority are successful. I hope it’s the same for you.