Giving referrals to get referrals is a cornerstone in the foundation of business networking. There are different kinds of referrals but all are low-cost ways of plugging into new business. The great strategies for getting referrals from current clients shouldn’t be ignored. But those are not the topic of today’s post.

Today’s post is about giving referrals, because you can’t do everything that comes in the door, and you usually have to give referrals to receive referrals. Giving is really a misunderstood concept. Most people confuse “giving” with “bartering”—especially in the referral context.

If you “give” because you want to “get” referrals, you are really just “bartering.”  To give, you must act without the expectation of recognition or reciprocity. Of course you can hope for reciprocal referrals and recognition, but the gift of the referrals must be made with no mercenary intent for it to really resonate. The paradox of intention in referrals is always amazing to me. Also, recognize that these tips apply to all referrals you make—not just those to other attorneys, but also to accountants, design studios, marketing firms—anyone.

Tips for giving referrals:

1. Keep the client’s best interest in mind.

One would think this should go without saying, but I’ve experienced way too many instances of people being given my name as a referral for services I don’t offer. Granted, I’m happy to receive the referral because it shows people were thinking of me, but they should have been thinking of their client. So should you.

You probably know several people in any given category of services. This abundance allows you to carefully consider the client’s personality when deciding which referrals to share.  For instance, client A might be a great match for referral A because of their personalities even though referral A might charge more than referral B. Client B might do just as good of a job for less money but be a bit harder to work with personally. Carefully consider the client’s personality, and then go to tip 2.

2. Give at least 2 recommendations in any given situation.

Always give at least 2 recommendations whenever you can, except when someone you know is the perfect person to solve the client’s problem. Giving 2 or 3 options shows that you are well networked. This practice will earn “referral kudos” from the all the people contacted based upon your referral. Granted, our motivation shouldn’t be those referral kudos, but hey, we’re human and it’s not bad to get credit for the referrals as long as we’re not motivated by that credit.

Giving multiple referral recommendations also removes you from any reasonable perception of responsibility for the client’s choice. I’m not saying you’ll get into a legal problems if your referrals don’t hit it off with the client, but the emotional fall-out of recommending the perfect match that’s really NOT the perfect match can be ugly.  It’s better to give at least a couple names for the client to contact, then let them make the decision on their own.  You get the credit if the relationship is wonderful and you don’t take the blame if something goes wrong.

3. Give a little of your time to do the introduction.

Find the time to do a quick email introduction between your client and each of the referral options. Don’t just send one email with all of the referrals in the same address line. Believe it or not, I’ve seen that happen. Yes, from lawyers. It’s the equivalent of throwing a piece of raw meat into the lion’s den and as you know, few people like being treated like meat.

Sending individual emails will do wonders for getting the client to act on your referral (remember it’s about the client), and also guarantees that your referral will recognize the source of the potential client.

4. Refer to your other clients whenever possible.

Duh! If you can send referral business from clients to clients they’ll see you as a revenue generator instead of an expense. Jackpot! It’s always better to be perceived as a money-maker rather than an expense.

5.  Don’t refer crazy people to anyone, especially your friends.

Finally, when those crazy people call you or actually make it into your office for a consult start asking for referrals after you politely tell them that they can’t pay you enough to take their case, don’t give them any names. Politely say something like “you have a really unique problem and I’m not sure who can help you. So I can’t comfortably recommend anyone.” At most give the crazy potential client a list of Google search terms to help them narrow their search. You don’t want to be associated with the whack-jobs by either friend or enemy.

How do you handle client referrals?

When I started practice, a criminal law practicioner in town told me the “code” for crazy clients was to quote them a fee (extremely high so they wouldn’t hire you) ending in the numeral 4. That way, when they didn’t hire you and went to a colleague and said “Can you believe Mike said this would cost me $754/hour!?” the colleague will know the potential client is a nut.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I’ve not used it or experienced it as a technique, but I’m wondering if anyone else has heard of this practice or something similar.  I’m chalking it up to a local urban myth, but maybe I’m missing something fun…

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