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Posted on Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 6 a.m.

Asking for referrals: Don't exceed the relationship

By Greg Peters


Hi! It's good to meet you. Can I borrow your car?

Photo by Tom Romig

This is the sixth and conceivably final part in this series. Needless to say there have been a few other parts. Feel free to read them if you want, but you won't need them to understand the concepts addressed here.

So, over the last five columns we've talked about specifying your target market in order to narrow your requests for referrals. We've also talked about non-business requests and how, for best effect, we should describe them all in ways which evoke an image in the audience's mind.

Today we're just going to cover a few last ideas about the proper way to go about asking for these referrals. If done well it will feel like a completely natural part of the conversation. If done improperly, it could taint or even kill the relationship.

So, let's do it right, shall we?

First and foremost, never request anything which exceeds the level of the relationship. Imagine meeting someone at a party and chatting with them for a few minutes. You're getting along well when suddenly your new friend asks if he can borrow your car for the weekend.


Borrowing your car exceeds the limits of a five-minute relationship. Now, which is more valuable, your car or your reputation? Most people will say their reputation. So, if it's unlikely that your networking contact would lend you his car, just think how likely it is that he will refer you to his network, effectively lending you his reputation.

Worse, by exceeding the bounds of the reputation, you are imposing on them and making them uncomfortable. Establishing a good, strong relationship can be pretty difficult after a faux pas like that.

Now, asking their advice on a situation you've encountered, or asking for their recommendation on some service that you are considering, you can do that at a much lower level. Even a five-minute relationship should be strong enough to support that.

The other issue is how you actually go about asking. Just walking up to someone, even someone you know very well, and blurting out "Hi, Bob, did you know that my ideal client is a couple in their 60s who love to travel and are often away from home more than two months out of the year? Do you happen to know someone like that?" probably isn't going to have the desired effect. In fact they might just back away slowly, trying to keep from agitating you.

A better approach would be to show a sincere interest in them first. Chat with them. Ask them about their interests and business. Ask them who would be their ideal client. Oh, and actually be interested and engaged in their response. Then, when they ask you what you are seeking, then you can tell them about your target.

Remember almost every aspect of good networking is based on the idea of providing value to the other person first. Asking for referrals is no different in that respect.

So, now you know how to ask for the referrals. It may feel a little awkward at first, but with very little practice you should find yourself feeling completely comfortable in asking for what you want or need.

Then watch that networking really start to pay off.

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