5 Ways to Grow (and Maintain) Your Referral Network

At our core we’re an Internet marketing firm. From the first moment we work with a client, through the implementation of code – we’re worrying about how search engines are going to see what we’ve created – and whether we’re getting this site or page in front of the correct audience (via the correct keywords) – all to ensure our clients receive a return. But, there are some old, tried and true methods for getting and maintaining business (that can always be supplemented or enhanced with digital components) that I feel are worth blogging about.

A referral network, as my former boss Mark Merenda used to coach, is one of the most important parts of any business. How do you grow your network to include those people and businesses that need your services, and will refer you business?

I think the answer is pretty simple – be a great partner. But, that means a lot of things. This short list will hopefully help show you how to grow your list, and also be a good partner.

Back in 2008 we were riding high. Our business had 14 or so employees, and we had just finished the website for WGCU. We were doing amazing!!!

I’m being facetious of course. In hindsight I had no idea what we were doing from a management and financial perspective. We had far too many people for the volume of business we were conducting and we also weren’t producing an amazing product/service (makes me think of that old saying… “you don’t know what you don’t know…” which has me wondering… “what now don’t I know.”)

One problem we had back before the “great recession” was my ego. I refused to take on any partner business. I wanted everything we worked on to have “atilus” at the bottom and for each client to know it was ATILUS doing their website. But then things changed. The market tanked – and we were left wondering how we were going to get business.

And I’m not sure how this happened, but we started to reach out to partners. And by partners I mean our referral network. Internally we toss around names like “business fusion,” but at the end of the day it’s really companies who share our same clientele, who need and value our services – and we need and value theirs. Since we’re a b2b business – it stands to reason that we needed to search for businesses that cater to businesses. And so we hit the ground. Since then our business fusion efforts have done more than any other tool in our arsenal to help grow our business. We work with nearly 200 partners, helping our clients connect with them, their services, and tools, and they help refer us amazing businesses.

Top 5 Ways to Grow (and Maintain) Your Referral Network

1. Do Great Work – This one might not work for everyone, not all businesses do great work – or are modeled that way. But in my opinion – you must do great work. This ties in closely with the next item on the list, but this one is simple – the better your work, the easy you’ll be to work with as a partner – sure pricing is important, but the ease with which you work with clients and partners and your ability to simply “get the job done” are much more important. If you do great work – your referral network (those businesses that want to toss you clients or new leads) will surely grow.

2. Include Organizations (or People) That Match the Needs of Your Clients – Part of growing your referral network – is actually referring business. But, before you do – know your audience. For us it’s important that we provide the best service and provide a return for our clients. Sometimes that costs more. We’re certainly not a budget web development shop, but certainly not the most expensive. We keep this in mind when developing our own network. Our partners match the varying levels of companies we deal with and we have partners at all budget levels in every industry.

2. Only Include Organizations (or People) That Are Amazing (and Do Great Work) – Once you’ve started to build your referral network, it’s important to concentrate on your reputation. ONLY refer business to companies you KNOW are amazing (and by amazing I mean great at servicing your core audiences needs). Your friends, business acquaintances, and in particular your clients need to trust  you – they can only trust you if you make a good referral and your referral takes care of them. If you refer a business that sucks – at the end of the day it ISN’T your fault, but I believe that doesn’t matter. You’re a reflection of the company you keep and you own business will be judged by the level of service your referred partner provides.

4. Be a Man (or Woman) of Your Word – I think this is very important, and ultimately boils down to how I communicate, run Atilus, work with Partners, etc. I always try as hard as possible to keep my word. For example – I promised Phil this post would be done tonight – so I’m making sure it’s done tonight 🙂 – excuses are usually not an option, and most people will not be understanding (in my experience).

This is one of the simplest rules in growing a referral network – simply do what you say you’re going to do. If you’re going to meet at a certain time, be there. If you’re going to do a proposal or give a referral partners’ client a call – do so.

5. Always Be Thinking About Your Referral Network – For some reason I can’t stop thinking of making connections. I’m always wondering if client X might find value in be connected to Partner Y – even outside of money. I also go to the trouble of connecting various partners to partners, and clients to partners – with ideas I HAVE for THEIR business, which is probably overstepping some bounds, but I’m always looking out for their best interests.

Doing this is one of the greatest ways to help clients and partners grow their businesses.

In the end it’s just about fostering relationships, perhaps a little more selectively than you do in your personal life, but with a little planning and by doing the right thing in business you’ll be able to grow a massive referral network.

Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier is Atilus' Director of Operations and helps to oversee all client accounts and day-to-day operations. Additionally, Kristen has worked in digital marketing for 5+ years and has helped create digital marketing plans for hundreds of clients.

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