Business Networking and building reciprocal referral relationships with others is hands down one of the fastest and most inexpensive ways to build your business. Fewer than 10% of people do it right. I wanted to share some tips on building a business network that is reciprocal and mutually beneficial, but also maintaining that network, and growing it successfully. I’ve broken it down into 6 steps.
Seek complimentary service providers to your industry – but don’t assume.
Ensure a like mindedness.
Set out expectations and discuss goals.
Monitor and track the business you exchange.
Measure the results.
1. The easiest way to start off building your own personal referral network is to seek complimentary service providers to your industry.. As an example – if you work in web design, it might be prudent to try to meet someone who works in printing, graphic design, public relations, or advertising. If you work in real estate, maybe meeting a mortgage specialist, a home inspector, or a general contractor might be a good idea. A complimentary businesses to business network is more likely to mutually refer – however, assuming that just because you work in the same realm referrals will be flying between you is naive. The act of referring and exchanging leads is an attitude, and it isn’t guaranteed just because the business networking potential between two people is so high. There are just as many successful business networks made up of professionals in unrelated industries as there are in related ones.
2. Make sure you’re on the same page! Ensuring a like mindedness includes meeting someone who genuinely wants to be in a referral relationship as much as you do and is prepared to invest their time and energy into building it in the same way you are. Ask questions about your potential network partner’s business and their experience with previous referral relationships they may have been in. Try to get a gauge of their level of seriousness with business exchange. Determine if you have the same approach to looking for opportunities for your referral partners. Sensing whether someone’s interest is fleeting and short term is easy. You want people looking to establish long term relationships. Talking and doing is two separate things. More often than not, people will talk. Try to deal with business networking doers.
3. Put it all out on the table, speak frankly, and discuss your mutual expectations and goals. Do you have a sales target for your fiscal year that you want your referral relationship to help you hit? Articulate it. Do you expect a certain number of referrals? Let it be known. Are you looking for a certain kind of client? Say so.
4. I had the opportunity to speak with a Michael Hughes from Networking For Results recently, and something he said really resonated with me. Following through on the referrals and leads exchanged in a referral relationship is critically important. This is what builds trust. Many people put so much time into building these relationships that they let the actual business get away from them when they’re finally getting the referrals. You’re failing the big picture if you’ve successfully achieved steps 1-3, but then blow even one referral opportunity. Never put yourself in a situation where you’ve forgotten to call a referral, let it drop off, or managed it poorly.
5. Measuring the results of the business you exchange with your referral partners is important. How many of the leads are you closing? What’s your batting average? What’s the typical transaction value if it’s successful from certain partners? Are your partners qualifying the referrals properly? Analyze and tweak how you can mutually be enhancing your relationships.
6. Make sure you’re doing everything you said you’d do, and that your attitude towards your network is consistent and in line with a genuinely reciprocal approach. If you’re not doing what you expect, change the behavior fast.