They’re how we grow our business. How we land a new job. And how we find a new plumber.

If you’re not getting referrals from clients and customers, you’re missing a big key to business growth.

Freelance writer Lainie Petersen says it helps to ask, and here’s how she does it: “I’m always looking for new clients and opportunities, if you know someone who needs a writer or researcher, please let them know about me.”

And Lainie says technology simplifies the process. “Getting in touch with a referral has become a lot easier with email and/or private messaging: Most people will just send an ‘intro’ message to myself and the other party. We take it from there.”

A Chicago attorney told me he’s in the low tech camp. He generates referrals through “networking and old fashioned business cards.”

Networking’s the thing for Team Fireball’s Debbie Rapport Pickus too; she asks for referrals in groups such as EPWNG and PWCC. “I may do it at an event or call someone from the group and ask. First I try and learn more about them and the type of referral THEY would like as well. If I get one, I follow up via email (thanks so-and-so for the introduction… it’s nice to meet you “referral”) then I set up a time to chat and go from there.

Michael Thomas sold X-ray equipment; he goes with the Just-Ask approach. “After closing the sale I’d come straight out and ask the doctor if he had any friends looking for new or used equipment. 8 out of 10 times he’d get me another customer. Unless they’re unhappy with you they’ll turn you on to someone. If not now somewhere down the road.”

Of course it makes a difference how you ask, doesn’t it? Author Bill Cherf has a suggestion about that. “Ask nicely; explain what you need and why; what you would like them to emphasize. Share your resume and be sure to thank them for their time and assistance. Then share the results if any–a great opportunity to thank them again.”

That thanking thing makes a definite difference. Some business owners even express gratitude with a gift; that might make sense for you if you’re selling a high-end service. I never make a referral expecting a reward. But it is nice to be surprised with a little something, isn’t it?

Rachel Cherny says referrals require mutual trust. She’s the director of BNI Chicago so it’s not surprising that Rachel takes the “Givers Gain” approach: “I offer referrals first before asking (when I can). Once connections are made I try to always provide feedback about the referrals I receive and ask for feedback about the referrals I give.”

Me? I think about giving and getting referrals as a web rather than a one-to-one linear exchange. Recently, I introduced a couple of people to the photographer who took my new headshot. I don’t expect him to turn around and refer a client to me.

But somebody else will make an introduction for me. And someone will refer to them…and so on. There’s no quid pro quo, but over time if we’re making referrals, we probably benefit from getting some, too.

What if you know you could grow your business with referrals and you just hate to ask for them?

Lauren Milligan is a resume expert and job search coach – she solved that problem. “I hire someone to do this for me, because asking myself always had the effect of changing the dynamic of our relationship. When my services are finished, my VA checks in with the client to make sure they’re happy with our work, reminds them of follow up services and asks for referrals.”

Handing off the “ask” to a virtual assistant? I love that idea. And Lauren says it gets results: “She’s fearless and pleasant. Those are the only two traits that matter for that kind of work.”

Giving referrals is more fun than asking for them, don’t you think? As Lauren says, “It’s like sharing an insider secret.” And who doesn’t like secrets?

I’m eager to hear your secret for growing your biz with referrals. Post a comment and share it with us.

PS: Between the time I wrote this and the time you’re reading it, I booked a speaking engagement and a coaching client who were referred to me. Law of Attraction maybe?