Top 10 Tips On How To Build Your Referral Network

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Referrals and positive word-of-mouth are the most effective ways to build a small business. While you can't directly control how referrals are made, you can create an environment in which they can be made easily. Here are ten ways to make your small business more magnetic to referrals.

1. Join and become active in two different types of associations.
Choose an association that is related to your industry or field, and another that has more of a general business focus. You'll meet experts in your specific market in the first type, and mix with successful entrepreneurs from all areas in the other kind. Each will provide valuable contacts.

2. Share your knowledge freely.
Consider giving presentations at no charge for a local Chamber of Commerce or other associations in which you participate. Donate samples of your product or service for fundraisers. Volunteer to write articles for smaller publications that reach your target audience. All these activities serve to increase your visibility while giving you an opportunity to showcase your expertise and generate good will.

3. Provide referrals yourself.
This not only highlights your credibility and connections, but it's also likely to generate in-kind referrals on the part of those colleagues and associates for whom you've generated business.

4. Recruit cheerleaders.
Build a team of supporters for your business. This may be a group of friends, family members, and colleagues who not only cheer you along, but sing your praises to others they know, spreading the word about your business.

5. Create an informal advisory board.
Establish a group of professional advisors that you can call on to help you with planning and problem solving in your business. These may be associates you meet at a trade show or conference, someone you've done volunteer work with, or former client contacts. This equation works both ways-be prepared to give strategic assistance to their businesses as well.

6. Do a good job for your clients.
This strategy may sound like common sense, but it's the most powerful one of all. When you do a good job for your clients, they not only bring you repeat business, but will send other business your way as well.

7. Maintain visibility at the local level.
Be an active member of your local business community. Volunteer for select nonprofits aligned with your field, attend Chamber of Commerce mixers, and participate in local activities as your schedule allows. The personal bonds you create can fuel new business opportunities.

8. Put technology to work.
Stay connected to your market and accessible to your customers by leveraging your time and reach with technology. Everything from voice mail, cell phones and desktop publishing to the instant communication via email and the Internet can help you.

9. Have a backup network.
If circumstances result in you not being available or able to complete a customer's work, make sure you have a method in place to handle the disruption. Your backup system will ensure that the work gets done on time, and your customers will appreciate your professionalism and reliability-and send more business your way.

10. Ask.
Many entrepreneurs continually pass up this golden opportunity to build their business. Train yourself at the conclusion of a successful project to ask for your client's business again, and to suggest that they pass along your name to others. Be sure your customers know that the experience of working with them was one you'd like to repeat, and that you'd like more customers just like them!

Terri Lonier is a leading expert on solo entrepreneurs. She delivers insights and information to small business owners who want to grow their companies and to corporations that want to reach the booming small business market. Her best selling guide to self-employment, Working Solo, was chosen as the number one book for independent entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine. For more information, please visit the Working Solo web site at www.workingsolo.com.