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A SURE-FIRE REFERRAL TECHNIQUE FOR THE “DIFFICULT TO REFER” BUSINESS
Face it, some businesses are just more difficult to refer than others. Often, those same businesses struggle to get clients even through traditional advertising methods. Although I firmly believe word of mouth is the best way for almost all types of businesses to grow, in some cases, it’s almost the only way to grow. When I started my business-consulting firm more than 20 years ago, I learned these lessons the hard way.
Very few companies retained a consulting firm based on an advertisement.
Most of my clients came from referrals, but that took time and I needed to
find new business to keep my doors open. Through this struggle, I landed
on a technique that I’ve been training to businesspeople and entrepreneurs
for the past two decades. I call it “working the rubber chicken circuit, because of the chicken dinners typically served at these events.”
Years ago, I learned that when I did a speaking engagement, I often got
new business. So the key was to get more speaking engagements while I
was working on the long-term process of word of mouth networking. Because educating my referral sources took time, getting some speaking engagements was a great short-term approach to building my business. I discovered that this became a specific strategy in and of itself: to build my company through the word of mouth that comes from speaking engagements.
When you schedule an appointment with someone you think might be interested in what you’re selling, that time you spend with them—usually an hour—is important. Imagine having that same one-hour appointment with between 20 and 50 businesspeople in your community, all at the same time! In effect, that’s what you’re doing when you’re asked to make a presentation at various clubs and organizations. While many of you may realize the immense networking value that joining and participating in service clubs lends to your visibility and credibility in your community, what you may not think about is how much business speaking at these various meetings can generate.
As an entrepreneur, just how do you go about getting on the calendars of these business and service groups? It isn’t as hard as you might think. With a little creativity, you can put together a presentation that will be informational, educational and even entertaining. Most important, you can get referrals from people to help get you speaking engagements. Usually program chairs are scrambling to find someone different, engaging and interesting to come in and present to the group. Your job is to help them find you! What I did was to produce a letter that I’d give to the people in my extended network to make it very easy for them to refer me for a speaking engagement.
Here’s a sample of the letter I used to send to program chairs when I owned a consulting firm in Southern California. You’ll see that I was offering much more than a one-hour sales pitch for my service:
Dear Program Chair:
AIM Consulting is a management-consulting firm that works with
small and midsize businesses. During the past two years, we’ve
given a presentation entitled “Entrepreneuring in the 80′s” to more
than 60 service organizations such as yours. The presentation
deals with managing and motivating employees. It involves
participation and interaction with the audience and leaves time for
questions at the end. Here are some of the comments we’ve
“Fantastic, every service club must hear!”
East LA Rotary
“One of our best…Ivan kept everyone excited.”
“An excellent talk by an excellent speaker.”
“Excellent, highly recommended, got a lot of questions.”
If you’re interested in this topic, we’d be glad to visit your club to
give this presentation.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Ivan R. Misner
I’d take the above letter to networking meetings and give it to people who
knew me and wanted to refer me but didn’t know how. I ended up getting
a lot of business this way. In fact, one of my largest clients came from a
speaking engagement I got using this system.
Just one person who contacts you because of this letter can position you in front of numerous businesspeople who might be in the market for your product or service. Once you have the opportunity to make these types of connections, you never know where they’ll lead.
On a related note, I found that it was very important to give the audience
something to take away that would bring them back to me. For example,
for me, it was a behavior profile instrument. I told them they could take
this back to their office, give it to any employee, have them fill it out and
mail it back to me, and I’d give them a free four-page analysis of the behavioral characteristics of that employee so they could better understand how to manage that person. By using this tool, I almost always got one or more companies to follow up after I spoke.
Let me give you an example of how a business owner might position himself to be a speaker at an organization’s weekly meeting. Take the case of a hardware store owner I once knew. You might wonder how a hardware store owner could appeal to a program chair who’s looking for someone to speak to a business group. The topic of home safety is a very timely message. Who better than a hardware store owner to fashion a presentation on home safety and give viable tips on things to do around the house to be sure that the home environment is free from hidden—and not so hidden—dangers.
Of course, the members present at that meeting might have a need to take care of some of the things the presenter brings up. Who do you think they’re going to contact for that? That week’s speaker is just the person for the job.
The key is to go in with information and education…not a huge sales pitch.
People don’t like being sold to, but they do like to buy! A great presentation can motivate your audience to want to buy what it is you have for sale. Not only that, a great presentation can also position you favorably for extended networking with the members and their contacts.
This technique made my company easy for anyone to refer, and it got me
a lot of clients while I was busy building my business. Most important, this technique can work for almost any business. Next time you think of rubber chicken, think leverage, think networking, think business.
Can you identify some of the businesses that, on the face of it, seem like they fall into this category of hard to refer businesses?
First of all, a lot of people think their business is hard to refer. So what’s really important is does the individual think that they are hard to refer? From my experience I’ve seen some specific professions which may be difficult to refer, such as anyone who is in a niche market or a very narrow market. For example, I met someone in a networking group once who sold light bulbs for commercial buildings. Light bulbs for commercial buildings—not the fixtures, not light bulbs that you could use in your house, so you couldn’t even give this guy a mercy referral. That was a very niche market, it was very hard to refer to him. But probably the absolute classic profession that’s difficult to refer is the psychotherapist. It’s hard to go up to someone and go, “Hey, you’re kind of crazy, you need to see a therapist.” It’s the single most difficult profession to refer people to. I strongly recommend that psychotherapists and marriage and family counselors use this technique as a way of building credibility and visibility within the community, which will absolutely lead to more business for them.
You alluded to the fact that lots of people think that their business is hard to refer. Maybe it’s not really hard to refer—but actually a myth that they need to bust. What advice do you have for that individual?
I think you’re right, I think sometimes people just feel that their business
is difficult to refer. I have found that almost any business can be referred if
they learn how to educate others on the process of referring them. When
you’re in a network organization or at a networking event, you have to
remember that when you stand up and introduce yourself (and many
groups allow you to stand and do a brief introduction) you’re not there to
close a sale, you’re there to train a sales force. You’re there to teach
people how to refer you. What I’ve given you in this presentation is a
simple technique on how anybody can refer you. They’re not referring you
to a specific job, but they’re referring you to an opportunity to do a
presentation to many people that will in turn lead to business for you. So
many people may feel that they’re in an unusual business, but I think that if
you learn how to educate others, you’ll find that you can get referrals.
What about the person who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking in public? Is there an alternative or an additional insight that you could offer to that individual?
That’s a difficult one; this technique clearly won’t work very well if you aren’t willing to do speaking engagements. However, I have seen companies and individuals who wanted to use this technique so they brought in a partner to share in the presentation. I saw one individual who got another professional that was strategically aligned with him, and they did a team presentation. It was a lot more comfortable for the person that was afraid to speak in public to bring in another person that wasn’t so afraid to speak in public. They did it as a team, and that can work very well.
One of the most important parts of this tool is having a vehicle for getting a second opportunity to interact with the people to whom you’ve given the presentation—a ‘hook,’ if you will. In your case it was a survey that people could choose to return to you. What other hooks have you heard about that have been effective at getting business people a second audience or a face-to-face meeting with those prospects?
The hook really varies from profession to profession, and you need to think
about what works for your profession. For me it was the test that we used
that got somebody to come back. “Here’s an instrument, give it to your
employee, have them complete it, and when they do we’ll give you a free
four page analysis on this individual’s behavioral characteristics.” Well, we
got a lot of people interested in finding out more about an employee they
had. So, that was the hook. What you as a businessperson need to do is
figure out is what’s your hook. What is it that’s going to bring them back to you? I recommend that you provide that to them for free, sort of a taste-test or a sampler that you can give that will have them contact you or connect with you again. Something that brings you in front of them, one on one. That’s your opportunity then to close the deal and get some business.
ACTION ITEMS: Complete the Action Items in your Action Guide.
Draft a speaking topic letter and call your first club or organization.
Example: Dear _______, the U.S. Center for Entrepreneurship offers educational resources that make it easy for anyone to learn how to launch a new product, service or company.
USCFE’s President, David Meadows, is a seasoned entrepreneur who has started multiple companies, the largest of which now employs over 500 individuals. Mr. Meadows motivates audiences by giving a presentation entitled, “Life as an Entrepreneur” that he has provided to colleges and universities, chambers of commerce, service clubs such as Rotary and Kiwanis as well as at trade shows and conferences internationally.
Here are some of the comments that he has received:
“David is an exceptional speaker who truly motivated our members.”
Safety Harbor Rotary
“David was very inspirational for our students.”
University of South Florida
“Mr. Meadows provided an outstanding speech to our membership.”
Tortola Chamber of Commerce, British Virgin Islands
If you’re interested in having Mr. Meadows speak at your next meeting, please contact USCFE right away.
Now craft your speaking engagement letter:
Set time aside right now on your calendar to begin approaching clubs.