You can never have too many referrals, right? Well, not exactly. While referrals from satisfied clients and legal and financial colleagues are gratifying, they don’t always lead to engagements you want to – or can – accept. The key to making referrals pay off is by promoting quality over quantity.

If you want clients that are right for your practice, you need to define who those clients are. Whom do you usually work with? Whom do you best serve? So when you talk to potential referral sources, describe your ideal client, as well as your firm and its practice specialties, size and location. This helps CPAs like us, for example, know that a real estate investor client with a small contract matter probably won’t be a good fit for your firm’s team of litigators.

Not every banker, accountant, financial advisor or real estate broker is the right referral source for your firm. While it’s true that you never know where your next referral is coming from, the chances of getting a qualified referral from the wrong source are slim so you need to define your ideal referral source. Usually, these are professionals who serve your target clients or have business or social affiliations with them. This group may include attorneys who work in different practice areas (like your Listmates on iLaw) and don’t feel qualified to accept all of an existing client’s business.

Now is a great time to look at your referral contact list. If you can’t remember the last time you had a face-to-face meeting with one of them, perhaps it’s time to either reconnect or strike them from your list. Setting up an active and inactive referral list can help. That way you can channel most of your energy into the active list. Remember though, referrals will only come your way if your sources believe you can help their clients solve their problems. When talking with referral sources, use actual case histories showing how you helped similar clients resolve matters. You might also consider partnering on an engagement with a referral source to demonstrate your capabilities.

Finally, because referrals are based on trust, referral sources need to know that you’re honest and reliable. That means not only providing referred clients with the best service but also recognizing that referrals are a two-way street. Be sure to refer clients to your referral sources whenever you think it’s appropriate.

What should you do if your referral network is too small or you’re unhappy with current referral sources? Get out there and talk to people – in person. Grab lunch, or a cup of coffee. Use business and social events to introduce yourself to other professionals and to ask about their practices. You never know where a few questions might lead.  What do you think?

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