By Jason Unger
For a small service business, client and partner referrals are the best way to find new projects, establish new relationships and stay cash-flow positive.
We don't have a huge marketing budget, and without a dedicated marketing person, our lofty aspirations of consistent digital and social media marketing tend to fall to the wayside when we're busy doing client work.
So while we consider referrals as a lifeblood to our business, we don't expect them to simply appear out of nowhere. It's not the responsibility of our clients or our partners to send new business our way; we have to make it happen.
There's a great way to make sure that your referral pump is primed and that your referral base remains a source of potentially never-ending referrals to your business: Have solid relationships with every person involved in your client's project.
Know All of the People Working on Your Project
It may sound obvious, but there's a huge — and often missed — opportunity in establishing positive relationships with every person on your client's team.
It's easy to get to know the client's key stakeholders, whether a CXO or project manager, and overlook the junior members of the team. They may not be as involved with the decision-making process or you may not work one-on-one with them, but they're there for a reason.
The same thing can be said for your client's financial or HR professionals; they may not be managing the project, but if they're paying your bill, you should know them.
Work to know all of the people involved in your client relationship; they're the ones who often come through with some of the most unexpected referrals.
Employees Come, Employee Go: Always Stay in Touch
Of course, every company is different, but stable organizations tend to keep their best and highest-level talent employed for years. These decision-makers are well-paid, believe in the company's mission and don't tend to job-hop.
The younger members of the team, however, are often not as well established, are working their way up the ladder and may be at a totally different company within 18 months. While they may not be the decision maker at their next job, if you've established yourself as an expert resource at what you do, they're going to recommend you.
It's the same thing with the financial and HR professionals you get to know; they may not be able to actually hire you, but they can certainly recommend you if their new company needs someone with your services.
Build Genuine Relationships
Relationship-building 101 is that you establish these relationships for the right reasons. Be genuine when you get to know someone. If you simply look at someone as a source of business, you're going to poison the well and fail at relationship-building.
Learn who they are as people, especially if they're working in your field or you share common work-related (or non-work) interests. You may be able to give them a history of your relationship with their company, or help them understand how your companies best work together.
It may seem easy to disregard junior employees or only focus on getting to know the company's decision-makers, but there are a ton of referral opportunities to be had by building relationships with everyone involved in your client projects. Get to know them. Invest in their success. Stick with them when they move on. And make sure they know that you're the best at what you do, so when opportunity arises at their new company, you'll be who they call.
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that provides custom website design and development, graphic design for print and digital, WordPress consulting and website management.