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The Delicate Art of Approaching Friends for Business and Referrals

So how do you approach friends and others about the work you do with the goal of getting referrals? One of the major challenges is that they haven’t directly experienced the value of your work. So basically, you are not yet “referable” in their eyes. How do you become referable with them?

Obviously, it would be great if they became clients of yours (if they fit your profile), but let’s assume that’s not likely to happen in the near future, and yet you still want referrals from them. I think the best approach is to sit down with them, at a time and place that is most convenient to them, and let them know what you’re trying to do. First, tell them you have some ideas for expanding your business and you wanted to talk to them about your ideas, and you value their help. If they don’t think they’ll be able to help you, assure them they will.  You may have to buy them a meal, or cover a round of golf. You’re asking for their help.  (Don’t worry guys, it’s not as painful as asking for directions.)

At the meeting, your goal is to demonstrate the importance of the work you do and the value you bring to others. The best way to do this is by telling stories, sharing anecdotes, and providing case studies. Most salespeople, financial professionals included, overlook the effectiveness of stories, anecdotes, and case studies as ways to demonstrate the importance of their work and the value they bring to their clients.

For a non-client to refer you to someone in their life, they have to have a very clear picture of the value you bring to others. Tell these people about the process you put your prospects and clients through (you do have a well-defined process, don’t you?)  Give them specific examples of how you’ve helped clients solve problems, prevent problems, and take advantage of opportunities.  Problem and solution.  Problem and solution.

Then, you move into the VIPS Method for asking for referrals. Here’s the process, with a little script attached to each step:

1. Discuss the Value:  “George, are you beginning to see the tangible value we bring to our clients?”

2. Treat the Request with Importance:  “Great. With that in mind, I have an important question to ask you.”

3. Get Permission to Brainstorm:  “I’m hoping we can take a few minutes to brainstorm about some people you think should know about the work I do. Can we try that for a minute?”

4. Suggest Names and Categories:  “For instance, I think your business partner, Barbara, might be a great candidate for the work we do. Could you introduce me to her?”

It’s really as simple as that. The key is basing this on the value you bring to the table. To accomplish that, you first have to tell the “story” of your value. By the way, you will find that if you do a good job of relating the value you bring to your clients, it’s very possible some of these friends, colleagues, and family members might want to become clients of yours (if they fit your profile).

I’ve taught people that every request for referrals should be based on the value you bring to your clients.  With that said, I believe it is fine to ask close friends, colleagues, family members, and great clients for their help.  You’re asking for their help in “helping others.”

Approaching Social Acquaintances for Business

One of my coaching clients asked me the following question: “I’ve been meeting some people for golf over the last few months. They’re not close friends yet, but we get along very well. Some of them would probably make great clients. I’m not sure how to approach them for business. Any ideas?”

As with the previous question (and life in general), honesty is the best policy. The key is how you bring it up. In most cases, you want your approach to be soft. Let me give you a short script to illustrate my thinking:

YOU: “George, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about, but I’ve felt uncomfortable bringing up here on the golf course.”

GEORGE: “What’s that?”

YOU: “I do very important work for successful people like yourself. I was hoping I might be able to approach you in a ‘business mode’ to see if I might be a valuable resource for you. May I give you a call at your office to begin a ‘business’ conversation with you?”

GEORGE: “Sure.  Here’s my card. Tell my assistant that I asked you to call me. She’ll make it easier on you that way.”

You need to put it into your own words and make it genuine for you. But you get the idea. The key is to express your desire not to “hurt” the relationship by putting any pressure on them. Sincerity always opens doors more easily than some tricky technique.



About Bill Cates

Bill Cates
Bill Cates is the President of Referral Coach International.  His trademarked Referral Advantage™ Program has been featured in such publications as Success Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Selling Power and Research Magazine, and his own business success has been featured in Money Magazine. Bill is a regular contributing editor for many financial services publications. Visit his Web site at Bill Cates, author of “Get More Referrals Now!” and “Don’t Keep Me a Secret!” is offering you a free copy of his report “7 Deadly Referral Mistakes” as well as a subscription to his free referral newsletter with 30,000+ subscribers. (What do they know that you don’t?)  Go to  To contact Bill, send him an email at or call (301) 497-2200.

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