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Posted on Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 6 a.m.

Asking for referrals: A little specificity, please

By Greg Peters


If you sell cars, they might be your target market!

Photo by Flickr user anyjazz65

Over the past couple of columns we've been talking about measures we can take to help our networking partners help us. To that end we are working on being able to specify our ideal clients. Please note, we aren't talking about the people whom we could help, but rather those whom we prefer to help.

You might want to read parts one and two before reading this one.

So we've talked about taking the measure of those among our current and former clients with whom we prefer to work. Maybe they were enjoyable to work with. Maybe they were profitable enough such that any challenges were more than compensated for. Or, even better, perhaps we have clients who fall into both camps.

We asked a number of questions about each client in the attempt to come up with some common attributes which we could then use to specify ideal referrals to those members of our network who took an interest.

Let's look at an example or three for illustration. Which of the following is more likely to bring someone to mind?

  • My ideal client is anyone who needs a home.
  • My ideal client is going to be a couple living in Ann Arbor in their late 40s to early 50s who have just finished putting their kids through college and are now considering purchasing the home in which they will spend their next 20 years.

Heck, I would be surprised if the second one didn't bring someone to mind for you right now (though perhaps not in the Ann Arbor area, if you aren't local). By adding details of those whom you are interested in meeting, you help your referral partners draw a picture in their own minds.

How about this one?

  • My ideal clients are people who want to buy a new car.
  • My ideal clients are young couples in their late 20s or early 30s who are either expecting or have given birth to their second or third child and are currently driving an older small car.

Now, maybe you can't think of someone who fits the description exactly, but it certainly brings more to mind than the one which just asks for "people." And if the one they come up with is driving a late model small car, you'd probably still be able to help them, right?

One last one.

  • I'm looking for anybody who needs a new website.
  • I'm looking for the owners of recently founded small businesses (usually less than 10 people) who haven't had a chance to create their website yet. These folks will often not have a website listed on their business card, or, if they do, they'll tell you not to go there because the site hasn't been built yet.

I especially like this one because it actually tells you some of the signals you should notice. If you can give people something to focus on — some tell-tale indicator that they can actually see — then they are more likely to pick up on a potential referral for you when they meet new people through their own networking.

As you can see, by taking just a little bit of time and effort, you can significantly increase the likelihood that your network will provide you with not only more potential business, but also a better quality of referral as well.

Next time, we'll talk about referrals you might want but that don't directly affect your bottom line.

Greg Peters, founder of The Reluctant Networker LLC, writes, speaks and coaches about good networking practice. For more tips that can help your connections count, go to