I’m going to take a guess you’re already investing a lot of time and energy into gaining referrals from previous clients. This is about the quality of work and experiences you deliver on a regular basis. If you weren’t doing a great job of this, you wouldn’t still be in business!
The other type of referral that is equally valuable but often overlooked, is the Referrals from Industry Vendors or Contacts. This is what we call your Circle of Influence. It’s the network of people who are directly connected to your target market. In other words, one of your most valuable connections and assets!
Let me give you some examples here.
Wedding Planner: Think about the order in which clients typically book their wedding vendors. If you know that a photographer is high on their priority list, chances are they’ve started connecting with photographers before they’ve even reached out to you. That places photographers well within your circle of influence. Similarly, perhaps there’s a well-known clothing store or hair salon in your local market renowned among your key demographic. The potential for referral isn’t based on their link to the wedding industry—it’s based on their access to your target client.
Pilates Instructor: Depending on the demographic of clients you seek to serve, it’s likely that pre and post-natal mums fall well within your target market. If so, Mothers’ Groups, Playgroups, Community Health Clinics and Women’s Health Physios are all within your circle of influence.
Interior Designer: Having a great working relationship with building contractors in your area is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. Think about all of the locations your typical client would go scouting for home ideas, be that your local kitchen design or tile store, a particular high-end interiors or homewares store, Instagram influencers doing home renovations, and don’t forget the paint store! Imagine all of the interactions your clients would potentially make in their deliberations before getting to the point of reaching out to an interior designer. These are the people that fall in to your circle of influence.
So what are some strategies you can use beyond the coffee date (that no one has time for), the networking event (that takes time away from being with your family) or the offer of free services (which can feel cheap and devalues your worth)?
Here’s 5 ideas you could try.
If you’ve had the opportunity to interact with anyone from within your circle of influence lately, say thank you! And I don’t just mean a quick text message. Put pen to paper with a thoughtful message and show them you appreciate their expertise enough to pop a card in the post.
There’s no better way to show someone you value what they have to offer than reaching out and booking their services. And please, do this genuinely and not purely as a marketing ploy! If you don’t have a need for their services personally, ask if you can book a meeting / consultation with them in which you’d like to pay them for their time. They may turn down your payment offer, but think how much more willing to help you feel when someone values your time enough to make the offer.
If you want to “befriend” someone in the real world, start the relationship authentically in the online world by putting the social back in to social media! Comment on their posts. Reply to their Stories. Answer their questions. Take an active interest in them and their business. Some of the best professional relationships I’ve made have been through LinkedIn, Facebook Groups and Instagram interactions. Don’t limit yourself to one platform when it comes to expanding your circle of influence. And, if you can make it work – don’t rule out networking events or meet-ups in your industry. They can be really valuable if you can make them work with your schedule.
If you’d like to partner with someone in your circle of influence, first you need to consider whether the relationship would be mutually beneficial or one-sided. If you have more to gain from the collaboration than they do, offer to pay for their time or materials so they are not out of pocket in any way. The options for collaboration are endless but a few low-cost ideas include guest blog posting or email newsletters, social media takeovers, joint Instagram Lives, and creating free resources for your audience that combine both of your expertise.
Share your appreciation of them publicly, whether that’s in-person or on social media, and do so genuinely without the expectation of them returning the favor. Building a strong circle of influence is about everyone lifting each other up.
One last thing to consider….
Don’t try to jump straight to the top of the food chain! If you’re new to business (less than 2 years in), it’s unlikely someone with 10+ years industry experience is going to need, want or have time to open their circle to you. And realistically, their target market is probably a little different to yours at this point. Respect that, and have confidence that your circle of influence will be most effective if you build it with other professionals at similar points in their business as you.