When people trust you, you are one step ahead of any other vendor they have in mind. Trust forms the basis of many relationships, and the mutually beneficial relationship that customers and providers share depends on trust.
I recommend you take some time during your business planning process every year to develop an “Ideal Client Template” of your desired customers. When you do this, you make it easier and faster to identify and “sort” the people you’ll potentially serve.
- Is your lead an ideal client or would they be better served somewhere else?
- Who is your client?
- What types of issues do they deal with on a daily basis?
- How do they feel?
- How will you assist them?
- Where do they live and work?
- What’s their typical challenge in their workplace?
- What is their primary role?
- What would make their performance better?
As you develop a snapshot of your ideal client, you will be more specific about your own customer policies; and as you develop more clarity, you’ll find allies who naturally refer these clients to you. With whom do you typically work as a natural fit to your own business? Identify your associates, and develop your circle of connectors to branch out into a wider world of potential customers.
For example, a circle of people who naturally refer business to each other includes a financial planner, an estate-planning attorney, a CPA or enrolled agent, a life insurance salesperson, a real estate agent, a mortgage specialist, a health insurance specialist, and a professional coach or trainer. If you are one of these types of people, you will want to develop your own circle of connectors. Find one or two solid, trustworthy professionals in each of these fields. As you work together, you will find that you provide better service and meet more people through sharing books of business. As you develop a tight group of people who look out for one other, share leads, and provide specific types of assistance to specific types of clients, all of you will provide a higher level of service because the transition from one professional to the next is smooth.
Here are some ideas for organizations where you will meet and find your own circle of connectors:
- BNI (Business Network International)
- NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and other women’s groups
- Topical groups or trade associations
- Alumni associations
- Sports teams, art clubs, or garden groups
- Volunteer boards or community events
- Places of worship, if you already attend
- Moms’ groups or parents’ groups
- Other hobby-related groups
I also recommend you visit social networking sites:
- LinkedIn www.linkedin.com
- Facebook www.facebook.com
- Meetup www.meetup.com
Joining a person-to-person group gives you a good way to mingle on- and offline with people who share your common interests. Some of your connections may result in business transactions, so keep looking to build a wide-ranging network of associates.
As you build your list of recommendations, consider posting this “recommended list” in a special section of your website. You may offer a resource directory or a list of links with contact information, a brief description, and an explanation of why you recommend this person.
When you share your recommended list with others, you build up both your associates’ trust factor (and search engine results) as well as your own. Keep your list separate from any affiliate links or “paid postings,” because you add much more value to your recommendations list when you have nothing to gain from it except your reputation as a good source of referrals.
In my experience, our lead generation time reduces drastically based on any referrals we receive from another party (usually a former client or someone who has first-hand knowledge about our web development skills). By our third year in business, the majority of our clients were referred to us by one of our trusted partners or past customers, and most of our clients came to us ready to hire us for their own website project.
Bottom line, your list of links shows that you trust others and that they trust you, and your referral to a trusted provider means worlds to your potential customer (ask anyone who’s needed an emergency dentist!). So, share your knowledge!
Checklist for providing helpful referral links:
Add a resource directory of referral links to associates
Add referral links to professionals in your city or county
Referral links include up-to-date contact information
Include web links, descriptions, or testimonials
Ask permission of associates before linking to them
Update annually so contact information stays current
Keep “paid” or “sponsored” links different from referral links