Get more referrals by becoming the chief referral officerBrian Hilliardreferral-based business, networking events, meetings One of the most common questions I get asked during my seminars is: "How do I fit networking into my busy schedule?" In other words, in a world with so much to do and not enough time to do it in, where's a busy originator supposed to find the time to meet new folks? Easy--by adopting a "chief referral officer" mindset. Or, to put it another way, create a job within your company where the primary objective of that position is to get you more referrals. And when you think about it, that makes sense. Companies have a chief executive officer whose primary responsibility is to orchestrate a smooth and highly profitable company. They also have chief financial and chief information officers, whose responsibilities include keeping the company's financial and technological houses in order, respectively. So why not have a chief referral officer whose sole responsibility is securing referrals for your business? In my mind, creating that type of position would go a long way toward increasing your referral-based business. Now, before I explain exactly how this can happen, let me be really clear on one thing: I'm not expecting you to go out and hire someone for this position. As an entrepreneur myself, I remember what it was like trying to get a business off the ground. And quite frankly, there never seemed to be enough resources to take care of all the things the business needed, let alone hire an executive-level person. What I am suggesting is creating a position like this within your company, that initially you will fill, whose sole focus is referral-based business. In Michael E. Gerber's book, "The eMyth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It," he talks about the importance of creating clearly defined job descriptions within a company--bookkeeper, marketing person, chief cook and bottle washer--so everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. He goes on to say that even if your name is under all of those positions, which is often the case for most small businesses, the goal is to reach a point where you can bring other people in to do some of those jobs for you. And by having a clear job description already in place, that transition from you owning a job to you building a business becomes a whole lot smoother. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. In any case, that's the process I'm suggesting for the chief referral officer. Lay out a clear set of guidelines and action items you'd like to see this person to take, and then fill that position yourself for two to three hours a week. Here are some ideas on a couple of activities a chief referral officer can do on a day-to-day basis: Engage in two to three networking events each month and follow up with folks you meet As a smart enterprising originator, you already know the importance of networking and how vital it is to meet new folks. However, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is falling down in the follow-up category. And yes, I know that people have got places to go and things to do, and following up can sometimes seem like too much. But here's the thing--by adopting a chief referral officer mindset, you recognize that meeting new folks while networking is just the first step toward generating more word-of-mouth business. The second is actually meeting them afterward in a local coffee house or similar venue, and learning more about their business and what you can do to help them. When you do that, you pave the way for future referrals. A chief referral officer doesn't view this as a waste of time or an extra step--it's his job! And, of course, that's the beauty of taking on the mindset of this position. Getting more referrals is viewed as a series of actions that are integrated into your business, and not just a bunch of add-ons that stand in line behind everything else on your to-do list. And by networking with people, going out for coffee and then seeing what you can do to help their businesses, you will absolutely get more referrals from everyone you meet, without having to beg for business from all of your real estate agent friends. Always thank your referral partners This is probably the single biggest step a chief referral officer can take towards maximizing the number of referrals he gets each month. Why is that? Because with very little work, it allows him to potentially double the amount of referrals he gets from an existing referral partner. Allow me to explain: Let's say you pass a referral on to one of your colleagues. And not a particularly big one, just someone you ran into who you thought would be a great fit for your friend's business. Now, in most cases, you'll give that person a call to let him know you've got a referral for him. After exchanging contact information and receiving a couple of thank-yous at the end of the conversation, that's probably the last time you'll hear about that deal again. Not that you won't talk to him or see him around town, but in the context of the specific referral you just provided, you probably won't discuss it. This isn't too big a deal since that's how 95 percent of most referrals are handled. But instead, let's turn it around. Let's say that as an enterprising originator who's fully embraced the chief referral officer mindset, you recognize the value of a referral partner who went out of their way to give you business. And instead of just saying, "Thanks for the referral," you went above and beyond to keep your original contact in the loop as the deal progressed. So you might start off by sending a little thank you note the minute you get off the phone, letting him know you appreciated the referral and will keep him updated on the progress of the deal. A couple of weeks later, you could send a quick e-mail telling him what's going on and how things stand. Again, thanking him for the referral. And after that, you could send a nice gift certificate letting him know you and that referred individual are now doing business and you appreciate (again) him thinking of you. Now what kind of message does that send to the person who referred you business? I don't know about you, but if I got three separate communications about the one deal I sent over, I'd know this person really appreciated that referral. And as a matter of fact, I'd probably be more inclined to send him another deal. Why? Because it always feels good to be appreciated. And when someone recognizes you for a job well done, chances are you're going to do it again, which is exactly how a chief referral officer can get multiple referrals from just one source. The bottom line Most originators say they want more referrals, and some even have a game plan for making those referrals happen. But by adopting the mindset of a chief referral officer, you've gone a step further by physically integrating those actions into the day-to-day activities of your business. Networking and follow-up are no longer hassles--they're part of your job. And believe me, once you see how a simple change in your mindset can literally trigger an avalanche of referrals to land right at your feet, you'll wonder why you didn't create this job from the very beginning. As a motivational speaker and author of the book "Networking Like a Pro!" Brian Hilliard is recognized as an authority on showing busy originators how to get more business from everyone they meet. He may be reached at (404) 434-2826, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.agitoconsulting.com.