If your business growth depends on referrals, then trust is its foundation. People that trust you will refer opportunities to you. While trust is a broad and expansive concept, potential referrers only need to think of it in one way: their vested trust needs to make them look good. Trust can take years to establish, but you can get a head start on the process with some very simple and easily adopted habits.
Rapid responsiveness. When you get an email, voicemail, or text, hop on it immediately; if you can’t swing that, then respond within a predictable, same-day cadence. New service providers often fail at this. Whether it is from being coy or having erratic response time, the impression is bad. Being timely in your response rewards people who refer business to you and validates why they referred business in the first place. If you are in your inbox all day, respond as soon as possible; if you bulk process email and are only in your inbox a few times per day, make sure you respond to anyone who could refer business the same day. For those of us that are quickly overwhelmed with a lot of emails, looking to hire a virtual executive assistant might be the answer.
Keep your promises. This is one of the easiest steps in how to get referrals. Find ways to make modest promises among your potential referral network, and then deliver. These can be the simplest things, like promising to get in touch with someone on a particular day, sending someone an article you think they will be interested in, or sending them the name of a restaurant you think they will like. When you say you’ll do something and then do it—even if that something is quite unassuming—you will quickly establish trust. The reason is obvious: most people fail to do this. Delays happen for a variety of reasons, good and bad, but the failure to communicate leaves the person on the other end of the communication feeling unvalued. If you can succeed where others have failed, you’ll see new business contacts open to you almost immediately.
Demonstrate active listening. People want to be known and heard, but listening is hard. We are all preoccupied with competing interests on our time––the noise around us and our own (very real) concerns. How can you break through that wall? Every time you meet with someone, whether with a new person at a conference or an existing contact, make it your mission to learn one new personal thing about them. Store that information, and then do something with it that demonstrates that you were listening. If you heard your new acquaintance was working to build up her referral business, send her a relevant post; if he mentioned his son was entering preschool, send an interesting article on how to ensure your child is ready for grade school. A great little hack we use at Prialto is to put a reminder on the calendar to ping that person in a year. Acting on personal knowledge in this way demonstrates a level of emotional intelligence that encourages people to want to connect with you.
Exude confidence through being authentic and open. Professionals establishing their own practice through small business growth strategies often take the fake-it-until-you-make-it approach in a way that undermines their credibility. They exaggerate the number of clients they have; they say “we were in a meeting” when they were actually just drafting an email. The assumption is that bigger means more established and, therefore, more worthy of business. In fact, potential referrers will pick up on this kind of falseness and worry that others will see the deception as well. On the other side, some professionals who seek to be authentic may be too open about their personal concerns and insecurities. Aim to project confidence without sacrificing honest communication.
Trust is the foundation for how to get referrals and is one of your strongest professional networking tools. While deep trust can take much longer to build, these modest behaviors can help you quickly establish a trusted network of people who will refer new opportunities to you and help your business grow.