The lifeblood of any CPA firm is a consistent referral stream. Without referrals, natural attrition will kill your firm in due time. But asking for referrals can feel awkward. What if there was a way to do it without asking?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today with Stacey Brown Randall. Stacey is the multiple award-winning author of Generating Business Referrals. She’s the host of The Roadmap to Grow Your Own Business podcast, and has been featured in many national publications. Let’s get into it!
- The old/current way of getting referrals
- The difference between referrals and prospecting/marketing
- How much can you get by making a referral plan
Changing Your Mindset About Getting Referrals
Stacey opens our conversation by describing how most businesses actively get referrals. They either ask for them or pay for them. And while these work, they may not be how you want to present yourself. It may not fit your brand or your professional image.
But if you don’t pursue referrals, you’re at the mercy of your clients to get them. It comes down to chance. How do you find a third way between aggressive pursuit and ignoring the referral problem?
The problem starts with how we’re taught to grow a business. The usual advice is to have a prospecting plan and a marketing plan. These can be seen as the active and passive sides of client acquisition, respectively.
What we miss is that referrals don’t fit either perspective, but we’re taught to look at it from these perspectives. If we have a prospecting mindset, we have a short-term results-focused outlook. This leads to tactics like asking for or buying referrals.
Conversely, if you view referrals with a marketing mindset, you end up with promotions instead, or gimmicky methods, or just letting your marketing generate organic referrals.
Target Audience for Referrals: Marketing
But here is the big difference between referrals and prospecting or marketing. The target for marketing is the lead. You’re hoping that you’ll meet the lead or that the lead will read your marketing material.
Target Audience for Referrals: Prospecting
In prospecting, the target is the referral source, not the leads they know. This reframes the approach. Done right, you can double or even triple the number of referrals you get when you focus on the referral source!
How Do You Get Referrals Without Asking?
The first step is to reframe your referral process: it’s not about you, the business owner. Instead, a referral is a transfer of trust from your client to the lead. Think about the usual ways we try for referrals. You go to a client or someone in your networking group and start asking if they know someone who needs a CPA. This turns the ask into a “me me me” story.
But here’s the thing: referrals are never about you. It’s not like your clients woke up and thought about how they could grow your company today.
How do you take the “me” out of it?
Think about your best referrals. Odds are you didn’t have to do much to get them to hire you. They already had a problem, went to someone they trusted (your former client), learned about you, and hired you. Your referral source shared their trust with their colleague and they went to you.
Instead of asking for referrals from your clients, Stacey recommends doing things that keep you at the top of your client’s minds. We love helping others in our social circle. If you’re the first option that comes to mind when someone asks your clients for a recommendation for an accounting firm, then you’ll keep getting referrals.
This means that you need to raise the level of trust between you and your clients so they feel comfortable recommending your business. Rather than leaning on gimmicks or begging for referrals, just stay at the top of their mind and show your appreciation.
The Importance of Gratitude
One of the best ways to stay at the top of your client’s minds is to share your appreciation for them. Without their needs and their trust, you would not have a business, right?
Stacey compares referral source nurturing to planting seeds. Each act of appreciation is a seed that improves the chances of getting a successful referral.
A Seed of Gratitude
As soon as you get a referral from a client, send the referral source a handwritten thank-you note. It’s simply a brief note that thanks the referral source for the prospect. It can be something as simple as:
Thank you for referring Sam Brown to me. I appreciate the lead!
The advantage of a handwritten note is that we’re less inclined to throw them away. They can stay on a desk for a couple of weeks, or get put up on a corkboard. It will keep reminding the recipient of your thanks, unlike an email or a text message that will disappear soon into the ether.
This is just one example out of many that Stacey teaches, but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful! Your referral plan is, essentially, how you plan to reach out to and thank others for helping your business grow meaningfully.
Consider Regular Opportunities to Show Your Appreciation
It’s not just when they give you a referral either. Stacey recommends doing something nice for your clients at least 4-8 times per year, depending on how many clients you have and what you do for them. You can also separate it out into gift levels if you have some clients who refer many people to you (fruit baskets, anyone?)
Another outstanding strategy she mentions in the podcast is to send Mother’s Day cards to your clients. This may seem silly, or even forward, but Stacey says that her students receive a huge response from their clients when they do this.
There’s a lot more that Stacey goes into in the interview, so if you want the full story, listen to the whole episode via the link above. Also, take her quiz and find out how much of a referral ninja you are!