I’ve done hundreds of new member consultations. One question I always ask is “what’s your best source of new clients?” The answer is almost always, “business referral.”
But lately, I’ve been pulling a bit of a Columbo and asking “just one more thing.” Specifically, I’ll ask “what systems do you have in place to generate those all-important referrals?” And then there’s an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the phone. After all, they don’t teach this kind of stuff in accountant continuing education.
There’s another question I like to ask, and it actually goes hand in hand with the first two: “Have you ever sat down with a client and told him exactly what you’re worth to him, in specific dollars and cents?”
And once again, that question usually produces . . . silence.
Think for a minute about your own clients. If you’re like most tax business owners, you’ve grown mainly through business referral. And you’ve done that with very little thought or reason.
Now, imagine how you could grow if you had a system for generating business referrals — a system based on communicating your value to clients who may already be referring you without a clue how much you’re worth?
Want the business referral secret formula? Here it is:
1. Make asking for a business referral a priority. If you want more referrals, you have to ask for them. Just get in the habit of asking and you’ll see your own referrals skyrocket, even if you have no idea how best to ask.
2. Tell your client who you want to do business with. One problem with just asking for “referrals” is that it forces your client to open their mental Rolodex and flip through it until they find someone appropriate. Asking them to do that kind of work makes it easier for them to just shake their head and say “Nope, sorry, can’t think of anyone right now.” So, identify the sort of “A” clients you really want to do business with, and make it easier for your clients to help you with the right referrals.
This is the most important part. Always tie your referral request into some immediate and measurable benefit you’ve already delivered to your client.
3. It’s one thing to take your friend and client, Fred The Realtor, to lunch at the club and ask him “Do you know anyone I should be talking to?” It’s another thing entirely to take him to lunch at the club, remind him how you saved him $15,000 over the last three years by helping him establish an S-corp, and say “Who else in your office does a pretty good business and would be interested in that same savings?”
Tying your request to an immediate and measurable benefit accomplishes two goals. First, it gives your client a better reason to refer you than just general goodwill. And second, it means you can ask for the referral without really asking for the client to do you a favor. You’re positioning it as a chance for Fred to do a favor for the guy he ultimately ends up referring! (One member told us he got 18 names from a single client with this technique!)
4. Extra Credit: When Fred gives you a name, you say “Thanks, and who else?” Then shut your mouth! If your client can think of one person who wants whatever immediate and measurable benefit you’re citing, he can probably think of three more. Asking him to think of more — and keeping your mouth shut while he does it — turns ordinary referrals into power referrals and turbocharges your growth.
Asking for a business referral is the single most powerful business development tool in your arsenal, and it deserves far more attention than most of us give it.