How to Build a Referral Relationship That’s Built to Last

by / ⠀Startup Advice / June 24, 2021
How to Build a Referral Relationship That's Built to Last

Many businesses revolve around referrals. Services, in particular, are beholden to the need of a steady influx of clients. When you can forge strong relationships with other professionals, it can reward you with a steady flow of referrals.

However, referral relationships don’t develop all on their own. They require focus, patience, and investment. Here are a few key elements that go into building a referral relationship that will last.

Start With Your Own Perspective

Before you strategize ways to interact with others, it’s important that you consider your own perspective. Are you addressing the referral option because it’s something that you feel you need to do? Are you responding because it’s something you read or a recommendation you received from a colleague? 

If you’re only going about building referral relationships as a matter of business, it will be difficult to create a serious referral network. You may manage to manufacture some successful relationships along the way. But if you haven’t truly bought into the referral relationship concept, your efforts won’t be as fruitful as they could be.

Before you invest in building referral relationships, start by asking yourself if you treat referrals as something that will impact your company’s success. If you don’t, consider shifting your perspective to take referrals more seriously before putting in any effort.

Also, evaluate your perspective of the referrers themselves. Do you see them as nothing more than calculated channels funneling work to you? If so, you need to rethink that perspective as well.

You should always approach your referral relationships with the Golden Rule in mind. Treat your referrers as you, yourself, would want to be treated. This is ground zero for cultivating meaningful, long-term relationships.

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Establish a Clear Persona and Brand

The other thing to review before you begin canvassing for new referral relationships is your personal brand. If you’re offering a service, it’s critical that you establish the vision, mission, values, and ethics of your professional brand before asking for referrals.

When discussing authenticity in personal branding and how it impacts your personal referral network, Bob Goldwater, founder of The Birth Injury Lawyer Group, explains that “your messages have to match your methods. Any PR firm worth its salt can come up with a terrific campaign that emphasizes a caring, personalized approach, but if the everyday reality doesn’t measure up, word will get out fast.” 

Goldwater also points out that building specific values into every aspect of your business also lets you use that value “as a metric for evaluating anyone else you plan to add to your referral network.”

From referrer evaluations to making good first impressions, your personal brand is part and parcel of solid referral relationships.

Create a Solid Referral Relationship Pitch

You don’t want each new referral relationship to feel like a “seat of the pants” operation. On the contrary, it’s wise to have a clear, defined formula for how you build and maintain your referral network.

Whenever you find a professional in your network that you think could become an advocate for your brand, have a short pitch ready for them. You can do this in person, over the phone, or even via a referral template.

Your referral pitch should be concise and cover the basics. However, it should also maintain a distinctly human touch, as well. You want to invite a potential referrer into the fold, rather than scare them away with a cold pitch focused on facts and logistics. 

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In other words, never treat referral pitches as a cold call. Only open the door with individuals that you already trust and with whom you already have a rapport.

As an additional note, once you have existing referral relationships, you can also mine these for important data. Consider which relationships have delivered a greater volume of clients, work, and revenue. Analyze what worked with those referrers and what didn’t work with others. Then integrate this back into your referral relationship pitch moving forward.

Acknowledge Referrers

Always take the time to acknowledge your referral relationships on a regular basis. This starts right from the beginning. 

Include your referrers in initial email communications with new clients that they refer. This doesn’t mean you should drag them into detailed talks or opening negotiations. However, make sure to acknowledge them and show your thankfulness in the initial interaction rather than cutting them out of the process too soon. 

Don’t stop there, either. Strive to be expressly thankful outside of your client-facing conversations as well. Make an effort to reach out and express your gratitude by:

  • Shooting them a text;
  • Giving them a call;
  • Writing a thank you letter;
  • Taking them out to dinner.

Don’t ask for more work during these interactions. Focus entirely on being thankful and cultivating the relationship.

Don’t Drop the Ball

Finally, it’s essential that you treat all of your referral relationships as long-term connections. Don’t use them as a temporary method to get work. Don’t leave them in the dust once you have the work you need in the short term, either.

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Instead, make an effort to regularly check in with your referral network. Again, resist the urge to use these check-ins as opportunities to drum up referrals. Instead, foster the existing relationship. Remind each person why you are happy to have them in your network. Highlight areas in the past where you’ve been thankful for them. Ask how their own practices or businesses are doing.

The specifics aren’t what matter. The critical factor here is that you don’t drop the ball with your referral relationships over time.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer, a writer, or anything else. If you run a business — and especially if you offer a service — chances are, you’ll need a steady stream of referrals. This means the health of your referral relationships will be a crucial element of your professional success or failure.

So start with your perspective toward referrals and work from there. Consider how structured your referral pitch is, check in with your network regularly, and always express your gratitude. If you can do this, you’ll be able to cultivate a referral network that can serve as a lifeline for your business for years to come.

About The Author

Becca Williams

Becca Williams is the editor of


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