The Often Overlooked Client-Getting Strategy: Setting Up Successful Referral Relationships

Building Your Online Community

You have something powerful to offer – I just know it. And you want to more people to know about you and purchase your products and programs.

You’ve probably done a lot to get the word out about your business, but how can you market yourself more quickly and easily?

If you were to focus on one high-impact strategy, I would recommend creating relationships with referral partners.

What exactly is a referral partner?

A referral partner is simply someone who refers clients or customers to you.

For example, if you’re a health coach, you might form a connection with an acupuncturist who’s eager to refer her patients to you, so they can get support on improving their diet.

To give you another example, let’s say you own a yoga studio and you want to get more people into your classes. You might partner with a local juice bar that’s excited to email their list of customers a special offer for a free yoga class or a discounted offer.

Referral partners are like GOLD

Word of mouth recommendations hold significant weight.

When I was a health coach, and then again in my current business, I’ve noticed that whenever a potential client was personally referred to me by a colleague, the potential client almost always signed up.

More than that, they came to me ”pre-sold” and were eager to start working together. Nice, right?

Who do you want as a referral partner?

Now that we’ve established why you want referral partners, let’s discuss who would make a good referral partner.

This will obviously depend on your business, but the important thing is that it’s someone who serves a similar audience as you, but does not compete with you because they offer different services, products, or programs.

For example, if you’re a nutritionist specializing in working with new moms, potential referral partners could be OB/GYNs, midwives, doulas, and fitness program providers targeting new moms such as Baby Boot Camp.

But it’s not just about the type of business they’re in. They should have a strong client/customer base, which will help to ensure that they can actually refer people to you! (Editor’s note: What makes a strong base? It’s not just about the numbers -- sometimes, a smaller, but more engaged audience is worth more than list sizes of triple digits.)

4 easy ways to find referral partners

#1 Start with who you know

You might think that you don’t know anyone who could be a good referral partner. But, if you start to pay attention to the places (in person or online) you frequent, other business owners you interact with, and your friends/contacts, I promise that very quickly you’ll be able to identify 3-5 potential referral sources (if not more!).

#2 Network (with a twist)

Most people use networking groups to meet potential clients. This can work well, but what I’ve found more effective is to use these groups to connect with potential referral partners.

When I was a health coach, I was looking to meet other wellness practitioners and people in the fitness world who also worked with women in their 30s–50s. At one of the first networking groups I attended, I was thrilled when I met Toby, the owner of a large acupuncture clinic. We hit it off and she became a good friend and a great referral partner.

#3 Ask for a connection

Know the type of person or business you want to form a relationship with, but don’t have a personal connection to them? Ask people you know to connect you.

This means tapping into the connections of your friends, family, and colleagues. Don’t forget about reaching out in any online groups you’re a part of (such as Facebook groups or other online networking groups).

For example, if you want to connect with a personal trainer, ask your friends, contacts, and the people you’ve met through networking, "Do you know of any personal trainers in the area?" If you’re more focused online, you can ask “Do you know any online fitness gurus?”

#4 Search online

Let’s say that you have a really good idea of the type of business you want to connect with. For example, you’re a copywriter for women entrepreneurs and you want to connect with website developers because you know that your ideal clients desperately want help writing their website copy.

You might search for “web developer WordPress women entrepreneurs.”

When you find someone who looks like a good fit, turn them into a warm lead by…

  • following them on social media and sharing/retweeting their stuff
  • opting in to their list
  • reading their blog and commenting
  • connecting with them directly via email

How to approach potential referral partners

Now that you’ve identified or been introduced to potential referral partners, how should you approach them (without sounding selfish or overeager)?

The goal is send them an email that gets them to reply.

I often find that people send introductory emails that are too long – including all the details about their offerings and their lengthy story. People don’t have the attention span to read through a long email, so make it easy for them by sending short and sweet email with a simple request.

In the email, be sure to focus on them -- what you admire or like about them and your desire to support them.

Sample email template – feel free to steal this!

Hi xx,
I've been following your work for a while and I love what you're up to. I love how you [insert something you love about what they do/their approach, etc.].

It looks like we serve a similar audience. I'm a [insert what you do] and I specialize in [insert your specialty]. My clients are often looking for support with [insert their profession or what they specialize in – example “My clients are often looking for a chiropractor they can trust”] so I’m excited to have found you!

I'd love to find a time to connect for a few minutes about how we can support each other. Do you have any time in the next couple of weeks?

[your name]

[Your name]
[Your title]
[Your website]
[Your email]
[Your phone #]

How to show reciprocity

Let’s say that you have a referral partner and they’ve started sending you clients. How can you show reciprocity?

You have a few options. What you choose will depend on the nature of the relationship.

A wonderful way to show reciprocity is to promote your referral partner to your tribe. This may mean hosting them on a webinar, emailing your list about their programs/services, and/or individually referring your clients to them (when you feel it’s a good fit).

In most cases, you’ll want to pay the partner a commission for any sales they send your way. This can be a flat fee or a percentage. If your referral partner isn’t looking for a commission, send them a thoughtful gift or, if they’re local, take them out for a meal to thank them and build the relationship.

Developing relationships with referral partners can be fun and rewarding. Especially in the online world, it’s easy to feel isolated. (It’s what groups like One Woman Shop are for.) Creating relationships with supportive like-minded colleagues is not only great for your bottom line, but it’s also wonderful for your spirit.

Building Your Online Community

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After 5 years as a health coach, Amy Lippmann merged her marketing roots with her passion for wellness by launching her company, Marketing for Health Coaches, where she's helped thousands of health coaches and nutritionists successfully get clients, grow their lists, launch online programs, and create high-converting websites. Go here to dive into her Popular Free Trainings.
  1. Amber says:

    Hi Amy,
    I really love your ideas! This post actually helps me with some of the marketing I am planning on doing. My question is – I am trying to develop a better relationship with care providers- like pediatricians, family drs and ob/gyns. Can you recommend some wording for letters to that particular group? Thank you!

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