getting referralsI sometimes joke that my most successful marketing strategy is waiting for the phone to ring. Because, in point of fact, it is. The majority of my speaking engagements, writing gigs and therapy clients all come from other people sending them my way.

People underestimate the impact of their networks on their small businesses. The mastermind group of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison in the 1920s, the garage entrepreneurs who helped launch Silicon Valley, and the shrinks I get together with every month all have one thing in common: people who share common interests, enjoy each other’s company and help each other out.

Growing your referral business is a conundrum. On one hand, its secrets are as close as your mirror: who would *you* want to do business with? And yet many people go about it all wrong – they breathlessly try to sell themselves to a world that isn’t interested. So here are my secrets to getting referral business:

1. Friendship first. There is one common denominator between everyone I do business with: I really like them. I find them interesting. I want to hang out with and catch up with them, business or no. And from an outcomes standpoint, the difference between liking people and chasing contacts is huge.

2. Love what you do. Ever meet a networking sad sack? People who tell you that business is tough, customers are slow to pay, and the fish aren’t biting? Don’t be that guy or gal. They never change and no one wants to do business with them.

3. Love your competitors. What happens when someone wants me to speak and I’m already booked? Or someone needs a therapist, and I don’t specialize in their issue? I send them to a competitor, of course. But not just any competitor: I send them to the ones I like, respect and cheer on. That is what you want to be. As a business strategy, knocking competitors ranks up there with cutting off your own leg.

4. Give before you get. I shamelessly stole this one from our genial blog host, Carol Roth. Because she is right, as always.

5. Respect boundaries. If you connect with someone on LinkedIn and then immediately send them a pitch – or spam them with self-serving emails – or worst of all, call people you barely know and ask for favors – you aren’t building a referral network. You are becoming a boor. And sadly you will be on the outside of the glass wall that separates you from people who send each other business.

If I could sum up the secrets of getting lots of referral business in one neat package, it is to delight in the work of other people and become part of their community. 

You don’t need to sell to these people: your own great work and enthusiasm will take care of that. You just need to like people and help them like you too. Try it and see if your phone starts ringing more.