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Need Help? How to Get and Give Referrals

Category: Marketing, Referrals

Revealing your sources: here’s the proper etiquette for getting and giving referrals.

Lifesaver: Proper "Referral Etiquette"

by Martha Spelman


You get an email from a colleague: “I’m in a crunch…I need a referral to someone who can [design a website], [help with SEO], [act as an interim CFO], [be an expert witness], [advise on Sarbanes-Oxley], [build a web app], [sells the particular product I’m looking for]. Do you know anyone?


And you may come up against a similar roadblock – your “go-to” experts are busy or you need someone equipped with skills or offering a product who’s not in your Rolodex…yet.


When we’re asked to recommend someone to provide a product or service, we’re trading in a commodity to which a price can’t be assigned. Throughout our careers, we’ve all built a network of connections that have been tried and tested. We know and appreciate their value.


When someone else asks about our connections, we may be hesitant to  “reveal” our sources. After all, we’ve done the legwork; spent the time, effort and money to find them, work with them, and vet them. But if we have a good relationship with the person making the ask, we want to help out and trade in that referral currency. After all, next time, it could be us asking for help.


Making a recommendation can be tricky: if the person referred does a good job, it reflects well on the referrer. Not such a good job?  The damage is multiplied. No more work for them. No more requests or referrals to you. The circle of trust is broken.


But in addition to making sure that we are making “good” recommendations — that our providers will perform — there are certain guidelines we should follow to help assure a positive outcome for all parties: Asker, Referrer and Provider.


The guidelines:


The Asker (the one in need of a product or service resource):


  • In an email or call, ask your contact if they may know a Provider who could “fill the bill” and if they would be willing to recommend that person


  • Clearly set out your wants, needs, timeline and expected outcome


  • Express your gratitude and appreciation for their willingness to recommend a possible Provider


  • When you’ve asked a colleague for a resource, keep in mind that they’ve invested time on your behalf to contact and communicate with possible Providers: be sure to thank the Referrer and promptly communicate with the potential Provider (they may be expecting you to contact them)


  • Keep in contact with the Referrer and update the status of your project and communication with the Provider. Don’t leave anybody hanging. This way, everyone looks good and will “hop to” the next time you have an urgent need.  If you don’t perform proper referral etiquette, the next time you call, they may not be so helpful.


  • If you’re asking for help with a big project on a tight timeline, keep any recommended Provider in the loop. They may have reserved time (and possibly turned down other projects) to keep available space for your project. Be kind enough to let them know that either the project has been cancelled, awarded to someone else or postponed. The next time you call, they’ll be ready to hold space.


Tip #1: Cultivate your own valued resources. Don’t “expect” that people will give out valuable information at will: a lazy colleague who hasn’t spent the time cultivating his or her own supply of trusted resources – who can’t reciprocate when asked for a recommendation – won’t be accommodated again.


The Recommender (the one being asked for a resource referral):


  • Be clear about the “ask” being made – get details where applicable — understand the needs of the potential customer so that you can clearly communicate these to the potential Provider


  • Be able to convey the abilities of the person or the qualities of the product you are recommending. This information is gleaned from in-person conversations, a website or other available materials. Personal experience with the person, services or product you are recommending is ideal.


  • Let the person you’re recommending know the importance of their professionalism, punctuality and follow-through. Their actions reflect directly on you.


  • Once you’ve made the referral – stay in the loop. Follow up to see if the referral worked; was it a valuable connection for each party?  You’ll want to know if you would refer this person again (and if the Asker did his/her part).


Tip #2: Be timely in both your response to the person making the ask – and in reaching out to potential providers for the product or services required.


The Provider (the one being recommended):


  • Extend an immediate “thank you” to the person recommending you – let he or she know you appreciate the referral


  • Do your best to quickly and adequately understand the needs of the potential customer and what their expected outcome is. A short “interview” of the Asker should accomplish this


  • Initiate a timely response to the potential customer (within a maximum of 24 hours). Reiterate how the contact came about (“I was referred by…”), recap your understanding of the product or services required and inquire as to the best way to communicate


Tip #3: Turnabout is fair play – and good for business. If you’ve been referred, keep your eyes and ears open for reciprocal referrals.


Tip #4: Want more referrals? Have your marketing materials at the ready: a well-designed, up-to-date, informative website, a polished LinkedIn profile, an email-able bio and synopsis of the product or services you provide, including links to examples or other collateral materials, that can easily be forwarded to the potential client or person making the recommendation.


Need help marketing your business? Contact Martha for a Free 30-minute ConsultationMartha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based small business branding, marketing and social media expert. She is the author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog.



Martha Spelman is a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing expert and the co-founder of Packbands silicone storage and organization straps. Martha is the author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Easily Create, Publish & Promote Your Business Blog. Click to connect on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

To find out more about Packbands, visit the Packbands website. Martha can be reached directly at: 310.266.6992 or

One Response

  1. Viviana Badame says:

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually bought me dinner simply because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to discuss this issue here on your blog.

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