Referral marketing is the process of building new business through word of mouth. A recent Nielson study shows people are four times more likely to buy if referred by a friend. Business owners must be proactive and strategic in generating referrals, and they must become a skillful networker. Adopt these habits to become a Networking Super Star!

Business Cards: Don’t be a ‘card pusher’. Give your business card only if asked. To encourage someone to ask for your card, ask for theirs!

Givers Gain: The ‘motto’ of the professional networking organization, BNI. The idea is that you focus on helping others by sending business their way, without expecting something in return. People naturally feel the desire to return the favor, but even if they don’t, a referral will likely come, in time, from another source.

Follow-Up on Referrals You Are Given: When someone shares a referral with you, CALL THAT REFERRAL IMMEDIATELY! Don’t let weeks go by and not reach out. You likely will not get another referral from that source if you fail to follow through.

The Elevator Pitch: Know who you are, what you do and who you do it for. You must be comfortable and confident in concisely describing yourself. You want others to ask questions and you want to be remembered.

Appreciation: Remember to THANK the referral source. This ‘thank you’ should be made for the REFERRAL, not based on whether you closed any business with that referral.

The One-On-One: Business is built on relationships. When you meet someone of interest at a networking event, reach out and schedule a one-on-one meeting. A 20 to 30 minute coffee date will allow you to know that person on a more personal level and learn how you can help them and vice versa.

Be Visible: Networking is a contact sport. You have to get out and connect with people. Many small business owners are so busy working IN their business they don’t take time to strategically network – an important part of working ON your business.

Set Goals: Effective networking must be strategic and planned. Set weekly goals for networking activities and for how many people you want to meet and follow up with.

Always Look Your Best: You never know who you are going to meet, whether at a formal networking event or just running to the grocery store. At networking meetings, professional dress is key. Scurrying around town, comb your hair and don’t run out in your torn, paint-stained sweat pants.

Build Solid Relationships: People do business with people they know and like. People refer business to people they trust. You must cultivate genuine, deep relationships with your contacts before asking them for a favor or expecting them to send referrals your way.

Maintain: Networking Guru Keith Ferrazzi says, “Every free moment is a chance to E-mail or call someone.” Remember birthdays and anniversaries. Send articles of interest to contacts and a congratulatory message for promotions. Put someone else’s link on your Facebook. These all are forms of networking and must be done often to maintain and nurture relationships. Brian Buffini, Professional Coach, recommends sending at least ten hand-written notes every week.

The Cardinal Sin: Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder of BNI, says, “Never, ever ask for anything from someone you’ve just met. Networking goes bad when a complete stranger says ‘let’s do business together, hook me up, etc…’ That’s not networking, that’s direct selling.”Incorporate these techniques into your marketing plan. You will soon realize a positive return on your efforts and will enjoy business, and life, that much more!


sharon Macaluso
Sharon Macaluso Area Director University of Georgia Small Business Development Center-DeKalb