Whenever I’m at a conference or networking event, my favorite group of people to look for are those I can learn from, who have specific expertise that they are passionate about and love to share. I thoroughly enjoy finding out what people do, what’s been successful for them, and applying those ideas to my own business or life, as well as bringing those concepts to my network.
My second favorite group (and sometimes they overlap with the first), are people who can become potential referral partners. These are entrepreneurs, professional service providers and small businesses owners who talk to my market on a regular basis about topics related to my expertise, like career coaches, public relations folks and marketing consultants.
These are services that my clients can use from time to time, so I like having resources ready to recommend when they need them. But just as important, referral partners can help bring in a steady stream of new clients.
Rather than build a relationship with someone in a disparate industry that might result in an occasional referral, for the same effort I can build a relationship with someone in an adjacent industry that can open up a whole pipeline of new business for both of us.
The benefits of partnering
Build more customer trust and loyalty. The more resources you are able to share, the more completely you can serve your market. This will help you be seen as a go-to resource and allow you to transition from mere service provider to trusted advisor.
Break into new markets more easily. Building awareness of your personal brand in a new market takes time and money, but you can shortcut some of the process by leveraging the trust and credibility of your referral partner. If you provide copywriting services for financial advisory firms, for example, you can offer the same services to insurance agents by partnering with someone who already serves that market but with a non-competitive offering.
Give you a sounding board. If you have trouble navigating your new client’s bureaucracy, or just want to bounce ideas off of someone who knows the players, you can turn to your referral partner for important insight and feedback.
Become a stronger competitor. You can take the referral relationship a step further by partnering to create a bundled solution for your market. By connecting your products or services together, you can provide a more complete answer to your target market’s needs, saving them time and energy in gathering all the elements themselves, and giving you an edge over competitors who offer just one piece of the puzzle.
Allow you to think big. Sometimes you don’t see the full potential of what you can create in your business until you see what others are doing, how you overlap, what their strengths are, and where you can take the relationship further. That’s when the fun really begins. In working together, you might discover new products to create or new expansion opportunities that you would never have thought of tackling on your own.
While many of us who start our own businesses or who become solo professionals value our independence, it’s invaluable to have people at our side to give us extra strength, visibility and insight in the market.
Now that we’ve touched on the benefits of partnering, in next week’s post I’ll cover some of the key things to look for in the perfect referral partner. Until then…
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.