Optimizing Your Business Development Efforts – Past Client Referrals & Partnerships

Referrals are one of the most valuable resources you have. Use them to build your business and brand.

Past Clients as Referral Sources

One of the most important activities you can engage in is to contact prior companies and clients. Nobody knows better what you can do than those for or with whom you have already worked. We are increasingly seeing companies bring on executives who have worked with them in the past on a consulting basis. Keep in touch and reach out to them periodically. Kristen was recently talking to the owner of a technology services company. The company was very niched, with a target audience of marketing personnel. As the owner explained, the problem for marketing departments is having minimal or no access to IT resources. His company is able to provide them with dedicated IT resources, a technology team that understands marketing specifically, ways to make their lives easier, and what they do more effective. His comment was, “Our clients love us—we help make them heroes.” As powerful a statement as this is, he had rarely kept in touch with past clients. So, he went through the exercise of contacting past clients. For almost half of his clients, the original marketing contact was no longer with the company. He reintroduced himself and his company to the new marketing personnel and brought them up to speed on how much of their technology his team had put in place. He then went online and got in touch with all of the former contacts he had worked with. Almost one-third of the contacts he connected with mentioned how frustrated they were currently and wished his team was onboard to help them. Within the first month, he had two new signed contracts. Similarly, your past clients can be your most powerful source of referrals to other companies. Never assume that because you worked with them for six months, they will automatically remember you for the next project. They could have the exact same project needs and still forget to contact you. If reaching out regularly does not come naturally to you, put together a schedule and identify whom to connect with on a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis. Get it onto your calendar and reach out when the reminder pops up; no hitting the “snooze” button.

Be a Referral Source Yourself

When you’re communicating with your network, remember to go beyond what you want and need and look at what you can do for others in your network. Careful not to focus so much on finding opportunities for yourself that you miss opportunities to connect and help other independent executives. Helping others, whether they are your clients or your referral partners, is one of the most powerful brands you can build. How to weed out and zero in on the best referral sources can be a struggle, but can also provide more value than you think. Who are the people to whom you are willing to refer? What is their niche? Did you do due diligence on referral sources to see whom you’d be willing to refer? This is important because it can have an effect on your brand in many ways. You want to build two-way relationships with people who will have a positive impact on your brand.


It is important to also include it when talking about referrals because they are one of the biggest drivers of partnerships. From strategic partnerships to joint ventures, creating some type of formal or informal referral partnership is a growing trend among independent executives. This can be especially useful when you are bringing in common expertise to complement or supplement what you are doing for your clients. For example, many operations executives, find many of the clients they work with are challenged with legacy systems and are unable to easily create the reporting and visibility they need. They bring in a technology consultant to assist. After working with the same technology executive on more than one engagement and seeing how well their work complements each other’s, it may make sense to set up a referral partnership. This type of informal referral relationship is how Cerius began. As daunting as it may seem, there are a variety of approaches and opportunities for building your business as an independent executive. Step back and think about what advice you would give CEOs for building their business. Treat yours in a similar fashion. When it all comes together, you will see how easily the building blocks start to fit together.

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