How to Get Referrals if You Are “Difficult” to Refer To

One of my chief frustrations in BNI, a popular referral and networking organization, are the folks who consider themselves difficult to refer and leave before their year is up.

They will say things like “BNI is for small business. I want corporate referrals and no one here is corporate.” or “My work is too specialized and no one understands it.”

I joined BNI in 2003 as a software developer. The best-paying jobs for me were with corporations. My work is specialized and few people understand it. I represented that business in BNI until 2013 when I switched to business coaching.

The first referral that I ever received was in 1998. It was from a massage therapist who had no idea what I did.

She was my roommate’s girlfriend, and she had a client who was stressed out and wanted a massage because he had “trouble finding a programmer.”

That referral business lasted 15 years and was worth over $200,000.

The massage therapist had no idea what a programmer does. I don’t know if she had ever touched a computer back then. She heard me use the word, and she wanted to help. Just like most of our fellow BNI members — if we train them with a few simple tools.

Over my 10 years as a software developer in BNI, I shared hundreds of infomercials and gave dozens of 10-minute presentations.

It didn’t take me long to realize that no one gets what I do, and trying to explain it to them just makes things more frustrating for me and for them.

3 Steps to Getting Referrals

Instead, I developed a three-step referral strategy:

  1. I used keywords. If my fellow members heard “programmer”, “software”, or “database”, I wanted them to think of me.
  2. Next, I asked for contacts in one department. If they knew someone, like a family member, who worked in IT, I wanted them to ask, “does your group need a contract programmer.” Period. They didn’t need to know why; those people know when they want one. It worked many times.
  3. Finally, I asked for a very specific target market. My ideal clients were “mad scientists,” smart people with interesting ideas who wanted to monetize them by creating an application. That was similar to what I got from the massage therapist, and I wanted more of it. Again, I didn’t explain how I’d help, only that I understood them and could help them.

If you target big businesses or have a specialized service, consider those strategies. What are your keywords, who can get you in the door and how do your fellow members know those people, and, lastly, what is a dream connection for you? Get specific, if you can, and ask for a name.

If you want to build something that goes far beyond your own BNI group, I’d be happy to discuss with you how to make that happen.

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