You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Get More Referrals With This 4-Step Formal Referral Plan If you want to generate more referral-based clients, follow this four-step process.

By Brian Hilliard

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

PeopleImages | Getty Images

The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard's book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

With referrals being the lifeblood of every business profes­sional, people often ask us what they can do to generate more referral-based clientele. While we don't have a one-size-fits-all answer, creating a formalized referral strat­egy is a great start.

A formalized referral strategy is simply a structured, "locked down" process with the express purpose of deepening relationships and producing referrals. Here are some of the components of a super-effective, easy-to-implement formalized referral strategy.

Write an online newsletter

An online newsletter is simply an email that goes out once or twice a month to your network of contacts, clients and referral partners. The content should be something of value to your readers. If you're a chiropractor, a newsletter that discusses health, nutrition and exercises people can do to stay healthy would be appropriate. A photographer might consider publishing something about the subtleties -- camera angle, lighting -- of taking a good picture. A career transition coach might have tips about interviewing, resume writing and how people can find their next job.

The point is this: You want content that's both valuable to readers and potentially shareable to their friends. By providing useful content through an online, shareable method, you gain top-of-mind awareness among your network.

Related: Repair the 'Networking Disconnect' and Pursue Your Dream Job

Create a power team of complementary businesses

A power team is simply a collection of people you have a relationship with, who operate complementary businesses or cater to the same clientele. For example, a real estate power team could include a:

  • Real estate agent
  • Mortgage broker
  • Property and casualty insurance agent
  • Handyman
  • Exterminator
  • Closing attorney
  • Home inspector

These are all people who "touch" a home purchase deal and who complement each other, meaning that if one finds a home buyer, then all of them benefit.

You could get together every other week and pass referrals among each other. Forming a power team or plugging into one via a networking group can go a long way toward generating more referrals.

Related: 10 Powerful Business Networking Skills to Build Rapport Quickly

Consider a client appreciation event

Our experience has taught us that most businesspeople fail to hold appreciation events even though the potential upswing is great.

Here's how it works.

First, partner with one or two friends or colleagues, especially if you're doing this for the first time, because doing so will help ensure success by taking some pressure off yourself. Second, choose a date and time. We prefer two-hour events that include appetizers that the hosts provide, plus a cash bar if appropriate. A good time to have this would be from four to six p.m. so you catch people who are leaving work and looking for a social event. We also like this time because it doesn't take away from "work time" where people might be less inclined to want to attend.

Lastly, pick up the phone and start making calls. Call past clients, current clients, referral partners -- pretty much anyone who you think could benefit your business. All you have to say is, "Hey, just wanted to let you know we're having a client appreciation event in a few weeks. Free appetizers and a cash bar, and I wanted to know if you'd like to come." There's no need to overcomplicate this part. To keep track of the number of people attending, you can set up an Eventbrite ( registration page.

As far as the event itself, keep it simple. During the two hours, you'll want to mix and mingle and depending on how you feel, have someone take pictures. Afterward, you can post the photos on your website and potentially have people share them on social media.

About 45 minutes into the event, you and your partner(s) can quickly address everyone there and thank everyone for attending. You can also let people know about the specific referral you're looking for (e.g., more speaking engagements, more realtor contacts), that way they can be on the lookout.

From there, you get a drink and have fun talking with people. Afterward, you can individually follow up with people who said they might have some potential referrals for you.

The real magic actually has nothing to do with the event itself, but rather the dialogue before, during and after. Just by making calls to invite folks, you'll find yourself running into people who were "just thinking about you" and are "glad you called." Seriously. It happens all the time. The same thing happens when you're talking to folks at the event.

Related: 16 Tips for Becoming a Master Networker

Make calls to former clients

Even if you don't hold a client appreciation event, you can still call past clients to see how they're doing, which is a great way to generate business and get more referrals. Go back 12 months and write down the names of everyone with whom you've worked. Then call everyone on your list to check in and see how they're doing.

We recommend coinciding this call with an upcoming holiday; New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day all work great for clients in the U.S.

Why? Because it's a great conversation starter to say something along the lines of:

"Hey, John, long time no talk! How are you?"

"Fine, thanks, how are you?"

"Great! I know it's been awhile since we've chatted, but with Labor Day coming up, I figured I'd just reach out to some folks and see what they've been up to. I know last time we talked you were doing X. What's the update on that?"

If you make an hour's worth of calls to past clients, we can just about guarantee that someone will say, "I'm so glad you called! I was literally just thinking about you last week. Do you have a second to talk?" Give it a try and see what happens.

Referrals don't happen overnight. They're the product of time, thought and a good bit of energy put toward deepening the relationships of those around you. But, when you get organized and structure your referral-generating activities into a formalized strategy, we feel you'll absolutely increase your referral-based business.

Brian Hilliard

Bestselling Author & Client Acquisition Coach

BRIAN HILLIARD is the co-author of Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017) and popular speaker. As creator of the program "How to Market Your Business in Less Than 90 Days," Brian works with busy entrereneurs in the areas of Marketing, Mindset and Personal Achievement. Some of Brian's work has appeared nationally in Black Enterprise, Coaching World Magazine and the Martha Zoller Morning Show. During his free time, Brian enjoys playing golf and basketball and watching as many movies as possible on Netflix!

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.

Personal Finance

How to Get a Lifetime of Investing Experience in Only One Year

Plus, how day traders can learn a lesson from pilots.


94% of Customers Say a Bad Review Made Them Avoid Buying From a Brand. Try These 4 Techniques to Protect Your Brand Reputation.

Maintaining a good reputation is key for any business today. With so many people's lives and shopping happening online, what is said about a company on the internet can greatly influence its success.


Save on Business Travel with Matt's Flight's Premium, Only $80 for Life

This premium plan features customized flight deal alerts and one-on-one planning with Matt himself.

Science & Technology

Here's One Reason Urban Transportation Won't Look the Same in a Decade

Micro-EVs may very well be the future of city driving. Here's why, and how investors can get ahead of it.


I Got Over 225,000 Views in Just 3 Months With Short-Form Video — Here's Why It's the New Era of Marketing

Thanks to our new short-form video content strategy, we've amassed over 225,000 video views in just three months. Learn how to increase brand awareness through short-form video content.