This text is excerpted from the ABA's Strategic Networking for Introverts, Extroverts, and Everyone in Between.
Referrals are sometimes called networking gold. In strategic networking, referrals are an end product of a plan focused on meeting specific people who are able to introduce you to potential clients and relevant sources. The purpose of referral-focused strategies is to identify and meet those people who can help you reach your goals.
The process of making referrals is partly art because it requires sensitive balancing to put people together and the best referrers seem to have a sixth sense about connections and timing. Of course, for referrers, making introductions is also a strategy in that the referrer needs to decide which requests to fill, whom to ask to take a referral, and so on.
Anyone can be a referrer. Good referrers hear the need for introductions in ordinary conversation. For example, a young mother talks about being worried about going back to work. A good listener will broaden the conversation to ask if the woman needs a nanny or a referral to a day care center. Or, an accountant says he is looking for more restaurant clients. The good listener may probe to find out what kind of restaurants and then be able to offer introductions.
Effective referrers usually have large heterogenous networks, resource-rich due to a wide variety of weak and strong links. If your network is reasonably large and diverse it increases the likelihood that someone you know may be helpful to someone else.
- Often, people ask for introductions to personal service people who may have nothing to do with your day job but may be in your network because you know them.
- Or, they are going to a conference in another city where you have contacts you can suggest they meet.
- Or, professionals interested in a new subject may ask a weak link in their own net-work to introduce them to people they know who can help them.
The key to successful referral requests is specificity. If you ask to meet anyone who might need someone who does what you do, the possibilities seem infinite. Too vague a request is difficult for the referrer to remember. If you make the request very specific—I’d like to meet the in-house lawyer for the teamsters union—it is easier for referrers to help you reach the specific person.
In addition to helping a networker implement his/her plan, the process of referring makes people feel good. Emotionally, as a species, we are hardwired to collaborate. We want to help other people in our group, our tribe, our network. Helping others and being helped by them adds an emotional component to strategic requests. When someone accepts a referral request both people feel good.
Larry Hutcher, co-managing partner of a midsize firm and a master referrer, says, ‘Good networkers are givers. Give first because it always comes back to you. I always ask, “How can I help you?” Later I explain what my firm does and follow by saying, “I’d love to represent you.”’