Breaking the referral drought

By Shelley Dunstone | Nov 26, 2012

Many lawyers say, “Most of my work comes from word of mouth.”

But referral work does not come automatically.  Your referral network is valuable, and needs to be nurtured.

Professional referrers such as accountants, financial advisers, doctors and even other lawyers are constantly targeted by lawyers seeking referral work.  If you don’t maintain contact, they might send the work elsewhere.

If your flow of referral work suddenly, inexplicably, dries up, what can you do?

How can you strike up a conversation and break the drought?

Think before you pick up the phone.  What’s in it for them?  There’s a risk of looking desperate, and even worse, it can look as if you only contact them when you want something.  What other reason can you think of to get back in touch?

Here are some ideas:

  • Invite them for coffee or lunch – and have some interesting information to tell them or a topical issue to talk about;

  • Send them an article you have written;

  • Send them an article you have read (and in both cases, include a note to explain why you think the piece will interest your referrer);

  • Invite them to join your network on LinkedIn – it’s an ideal tool for getting back in touch;

  • Plan a cocktail party or lunch and invite them to attend (unless your referrers are all competitors of each other);

  • Refer a client to them;

  • Invite them to attend a business event with you – this gives them a chance to network at the event, and meet people through you.  You could book a table, or take just one person so you can give them your full attention.

  • Send them information about a sponsorship opportunity, for example for a community organization or an event – you’re offering them a chance to promote themselves.

  • Invite them to join you at a social event for a charity or club.

The challenge is to focus on value for your referrer, not just for you.

Investing time in a referral relationship can be very worthwhile.  My client Matthew was a lawyer who worked from his home office.  Larry was an elderly, retired lawyer whom Matthew had known for many years.  Larry lived nearby, and called in regularly for coffee and a chat.  Matthew was a bit concerned about the non-billable time he was spending having coffee with Larry, but because of their long-standing relationship he did not discourage Larry from visiting.  Then one day Larry referred a valuable piece of business to Matthew, which more than justified the investment of time.

Building relationships often does not feel like “work”.  It can feel unproductive.  Naturally, you need to control the amount of time spend on non-billable work.  But relationship-building is an essential aspect of running a business.

Which of your referrers can you get back in touch with today?

Shelley Dunstone lives in Australia and is a former law firm partner.  She is the Principal of Legal Circles, which helps lawyers to build profile and attract clients.  Visit her web site

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