Marketing and business development strategies are the most time consuming and critical parts of being independent. At one point or another, every executive will be challenged with keeping a consistent portfolio of clients. Some of the more common business and marketing resources are networking, referrals, online marketplaces, and intermediaries. In this article, we focus on referrals.
Fortunately, referrals come from a number of sources: Past clients, current clients, networking contacts, strategic partners, etc. Referrals are one of the top sources for professional services business leads, particularly for an independent executive. There are three key things to remember when you are looking for leads from your referral sources:
1. Stay in Contact
You’ve got to get in touch with friends, family, past acquaintances and assignments, and talk to everybody you know. Get your name out there so that people know that you are now no longer Mr. or Mrs. Corporate America, but rather John/Jane Smith LLC. And that this is the business you’re in.
As nice as it would be to simply meet someone and if they hear of a potential opportunity they immediately think of you, this is rarely the case. You could have worked with someone for years, and they may not remember to refer you. I can’t stress how critical it is to stay in contact. There are too many sources available today from email to LinkedIn to the old fashion “pick up the phone and call.” Often, what is now considered old fashion is the most effective since it is so rarely used. Sometimes it is as simple as just checking in to see how they are doing and what is new with them.
2. Continually Expand
Never stop expanding your referral base. Although the number of new people you meet on a weekly or monthly basis may have slowed down as your business matures, always make it a point to go out and meet new people. For those who have a very difficult time doing this in person, there is nothing wrong with building up your online referral base. It is always best to balance the two though. If you aren’t expanding your social media networks by meeting new people in person, set a goal to connect with X # each week. Even on Twitter, some of the most unlikely people may know someone who could use your expertise or know someone who can. You just never know, so don’t judge too quickly.
3. Be Memorable
I will reinforce this over and over. No matter how many people you meet or connect with, they first need to remember you in order to refer you. One of the biggest questions to ask yourself is – What do I want to be remembered for? As I have previously discussed in prior articles, contrary to most instincts, the more your niche your expertise, the more you will get referred. Why? Simply, it is easier to remember and easier to recognize the opportunity for you.
If I were to meet you and tell you, “I help CEOs bridge the gap between where they are at and where their company wants to be,” it won’t matter how many pictures of a bridge you have on your business card it doesn’t help your referral partner. Every CEO I know has a vision they want to achieve and can consider where their business is at now versus their vision of it as a gap, but I am not going to start referring you to every CEO or business owner I know. Another common one I hear is along the lines of, “I help drive revenues through innovation.” Again, who doesn’t want to increase their income and innovation has become such a broad topic, it does not help us understand what your expertise is and what you can do for someone.
When bringing in an interim executive or management consultant, as a business owner or CEO, I want the absolute best person for my need. I want one of the leading experts to help me accomplish my goals. The more you can focus your expertise and be known as an expert, the more you are likely to be referred.
Here’s an example:
My passion is productivity. When I look at my career, everything I have ever accomplished for a company tied back to productivity. To make myself memorable, I took on the title “Queen of Productivity” and used 2-3 numerical examples of how I saved or made companies money. Every conversation I had was around productivity, and the questions supported it. Even online, you can see how it can become a brand. Every time someone sees my name, there is an article, tweet or meme that has to do with how a company or individual can be more productive. It gets reinforced in their minds. The moment someone in my network hears a CEO talking about productivity or related topics such as accountability, I want them to think of me. They may not think of me if the company is having an issue with inventory, which I certainly can do, but I would much prefer referral partners remember me ten times for productivity than once for three other things.