Today’s Dear Coach is about how to create 100 potential referral partners with one simple exercise.

Trying to get the word out about your services or products can feel overwhelming, and it’s hard to know where to start. The “10 x 10” exercise brings focus and a process to that effort, as well as make intros feel more like a warm up than a cold call. Before you panic at the prospect of networking, remember: People can’t refer to you or buy from you if they don’t know you exist!

Other professionals who share your target market but are not in competition with you are excellent referral partners. This approach is a simple way to develop a list of who to introduce yourself to. You don’t have to sell them, pitch them, or otherwise feel like you’re imposing yourself upon them. Just introduce yourself to them and have a genuine interest in learning about them too.

So first, develop a list of 10 types of businesses that have the same potential clients as you. For example, I’m a business coach. As a business-to-business provider, my list includes lawyers, CPAs, bookkeepers, financial planners, insurance agents, website designers, print shops, commercial lenders, office supply companies, and IT technicians. These are all people who can bring valuable advice and resources to my clients, and I may be able to help their clients as well.

When you have a list of ten business types, compile a list of 10 companies for each type. Chamber of Commerce membership lists; professional and networking organization membership lists; and business searches by zip code are all easy online searches that quickly yield a list of 100 potential businesses to contact—10 types of businesses with a list of 10 companies for each. You also can ask for qualified names or introductions from people you already know in the categories you identify.

For example, imagine you are a credit counselor needing to expand your reach in the community. You may find it useful to introduce yourself to bankruptcy attorneys, divorce attorneys, business attorneys, accountants, therapists, auto brokers, mortgage brokers, realtors, business coaches, and personal bankers. You could start by Googling a category by zip code, such as Bankruptcy Attorneys 85718; copy and paste contact information into a referral partner list; and then confirm with a further website search or a phone call the name of the decision-maker in that office. Following that process for each category will yield 100 professionals who could potentially refer business to you. Better yet, they could also serve as a qualified resource to your existing clients, which makes you that much more of a trusted resource.

Once you have compiled your list, schedule time to introduce yourself to a potential referral partner. A realistic goal is one a week. An easy way to warm up an introduction is to send a brief letter or card outlining the benefits of your service to their clients. Keep the focus on how you bring value to them. Next, follow up with a phone call to meet over coffee or at their office. You might choose to provide incentives to excite potential referral partners. Paying referral fees is an excellent way to supercharge your efforts, if it’s allowed by your or their industry.

Also, provide partners with a written summary of the types of clients you seek and services you provide. Be sure to ask them for the same—reciprocity strengthens a referral partnership. Don’t feel like you can’t reciprocate just because you now know 10 people in the same profession. They may serve different areas of town; you may know people who would work better with some contacts than others; or you may know people who need more than one estimate. It’s actually to your advantage to know more than one person in any given industry and it makes you an even greater resource to your clients!

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Small Business, Big Voices: Episode 11