referralsWhere do your clients or customers come from?  If you’re like most small business owners, your response is: word of mouth.

I hear that from everybody:  dentists, auto repair shop owners, public relations experts … it doesn’t matter what field we’re in, we all say the same thing, don’t we?  Referrals are the life-blood of our business.

And yet, many of us are squeamish about asking for referrals.  And maybe there’s good reason for the reluctance, given how many people are resentful about being asked.

Some of my clients come to me because somebody they trust recommended that we have a conversation.  And because I want to grow my business, I’d like to generate even more of those recommendations. Who wouldn’t?

But how to go about it?

Often, business owners hope for an even exchange: I send you a customer, you send me a client. Everybody’s happy.

In my experience, it doesn’t usually work out quite so neatly.  And it’s not necessarily because one person is selfish or holding out.

Maybe I know dozens of people who need your service … and you can’t think of a soul who needs to do a better job talking about their business.  Maybe I send you a client … but you already have a resource you recommend to would-be speakers. Maybe I think the world of your work so it’s easy to recommend you … but you don’t have enough experience with me to be comfortable giving someone my name.

Or maybe making a referral just isn’t at the top of our agendas right now. We’re busy with our own stuff. Too busy to even be thinking about recommending somebody else’s business.

It’s easy to get fixated on what’s not working, like my friend who bemoaned the lack of referrals coming to her. I’ve certainly felt the occasional pique about a one-way referral street.

For me, it helps to get away from the quid pro quo and think more about the Universe of Referrals.

I can freely recommend that somebody call you, even though you’ve never referred anyone to me and possibly never will. Because I know that somebody else will send me a client. And then yet another person will make a referral to the one who recommended me. And so on – it’s a daisy chain of business.

And getting that chain started can be fun. Personally, I enjoy connecting people who might be able to help each other. In the past few days I’ve recommended a graphic designer, a hair stylist, a virtual assistant and a woman who handles administrative tasks for authors.

Meanwhile, a business coach heard someone looking for help with speaking and recommended me.  The Universe at work, right?

But sometimes it seems the Universe needs a jumpstart. You know, it happens that referrals just show up as if by magic. But sometimes we have to ask for them.

So how do you do that?  It always helps to give before we expect to get.  Or at least to offer to give a referral in the future at the same time we’re asking someone to pass on our name.

The whole thing is very transactional for some people. Never mind waiting for the Universe: they flat-out pay a referral fee.  I stumbled onto one of those arrangements, and it put some very welcome extra money in my pocket.

You see a lot of that online where people recommend someone’s work because they’re an affiliate. If you follow through, they get a cut of what you pay for whatever they were recommending.

In person, though, that doesn’t feel entirely comfortable to me.  And I’m curious about you.

How do you ask for referrals? Or do you?

How do you reward people who refer business to you?  Are you in the finder’s fee camp? Do you send a gift? A thank-you note? Or do you just figure it all balances out in the end?

And what do you do when it doesn’t balance? When you feel that you’ve given more than you get, do you ever just get to the point where you say, “Enough!”?

Okay, that’s a lot of questions; you may not have a response for every one. But I hope you’ll answer some of them in the comments below.

Because there’s more to say about this referral thing, and I can’t wait to hear you say it.