Just like casting for fish, the process of meeting people, staying in touch, and then asking for their business is something that requires patience and practice.

A few years ago, a long-standing member of a business networking organization was talking about canceling his membership--not because he wasn't getting enough referrals, but because his referrals were coincidental.

That's right. Despite a full year of getting great referrals, Mike (names have been changed to protect the foolhardy) didn't feel the results proved that networking was a viable business strategy for getting more referrals. He felt that the business he got was based on "chance occurrences"--one person knowing another, who happened to know him--and despite the fact that he kept getting these referrals as a result of his networking contacts, it couldn't possibly last. So he left the group.

Even though Mike's misguided reasoning led him down the wrong road, it raises a good question, and understanding the answer could help your business. The question is: Despite its chance nature, is networking something you can count on as a consistent means of getting more business? Of course it is.

Mike's situation boiled down to two things--repeatability and understanding. His training told him that the way to get more business was to target a niche customer by calling people from a demographics-based list. If he didn't have enough business, he needed to make more calls. Exactly how many more? He could figure that out, too, because the amount of business he got was directly proportional to the number of people he talked to. It was a repeatable process that he fully understood.

On the other hand, clients he got from referrals always had a story that he couldn't see being easily repeated. Sally knew Jim, who ran into Sue, who happened to be in his group and referred Mike the business. This understanding led Mike to conclude that the results were coincidental and couldn't possibly be repeated.

Mike's reasoning wasn't entirely off-track, just flawed. If you focus on the specific people who gave you the referral, rather than the process and relationships that allowed it to happen, then it's unlikely you will consistently get more business from networking.

But if you step back and ask, "Is it possible that somebody will know someone else who's looking for my services and will give me that referral?" Well, there's that repeatability--especially if you focus on building relationships--because there's always a "somebody."

Networking Is a Long and Winding Road
When it comes to networking and passing referrals, it's not about who's giving what to whom, and it's hardly a straight line. If you're thinking, "For every referral I give, I can expect one in return," it's time to put that idea to rest. Reciprocity is nice, but networking just doesn't work that way.

Think of referral-giving in the context of the Abundance Mindset, which is the awareness that there's more than enough business to go around. If you hear of a business opportunity that would be well-suited for a referral partner--in other words, not your kind of business--think of it as "excess business." When you pass this kind of excess business to others in the form of a referral, you'll wind up attracting more prospects who want to work with you.

Call it a gift from the referral gods, but when you do good things for others, those good things have a way of making their way back to you--often from a different person or group of people. Even if it seems that you're not directly benefiting from the referrals you're giving others, take note of all the other business that just happens to come your way.

  • The guy who stumbles across your website and gives you a call.
  • The old prospect you haven't heard from in months who suddenly wants to get together for lunch.
  • The inactive client who wants to renew his contract with you.

Even though it seems happenstance, some or all of these occurrences are likely to be new business you attracted by giving away excess business (in the form of referrals) to people you know.

Network With a Net
Referral networking is a lot like catching fish by casting a net. Each fish comes to the net by a different path--each has a unique "story" that is not repeated. You don't focus on a particular fish and then try to get it to come to the net--in fact, you probably don't even see the fish until you pull in the net. Instead, you focus on the action of setting the net. You know that if you set your net correctly and consistently, fish will eventually come, no matter what path they take to get there.

The same is true for getting referrals. You don't have to worry about how a specific referral got to you because you understand the process of setting your net.

And the best part is your net can be working for you all the time. You don't have to be there whenever someone you know runs into someone else who could use your services--this means you can be "fishing" in many different ponds simultaneously and reaping tons of new business. This is especially true when you've become a referral gatekeeper and begin to get referrals not only from your own network of contacts but from the networks of others as well.

When it comes to networking, there is no coincidence about referrals. They are the inevitable cumulative result of the day-to-day activities of relationship-building. And even though those efforts can't be measured as easily as cold calls, the results are far more powerful.