Building referrals on Ecademy (Updated)

Many members ask me about how they can be more effective at getting referrals from their activity on Ecademy and I thought others might be interested in my experience here and also may have some comments and ideas that can help me and others become more effective.

What is a referral

Referrals involve three people and some work. The three people are
  1. the Donor - the person giving the referral,
  2. the recipient - the person receiving the referral; and
  3. the subject - the potential client.
People are not enough though, because just because the right people know each other, will they give each other referrals? There needs to be a compelling reason for the referral to happen. A referral happens when a donor knows the recipient well enough for three things to be in place:
  1. Mutual respect and friendship
  2. Credibility in the service
  3. Absolute trust in all matters
The donor needs to be able to identify the potential subject and then ensure that the recipient will fit the bill. This doesn't just mean that they are capable to do the job, but that they also will fit with the client at an emotional and personal level. There will be a meeting of minds between recipient and subject, All that means that before I can give a referral I need to spend time getting to know people really well, building trust, understanding their character, reading what they write, understanding how they react under pressure, seeing how they behave in different circumstances and forming a view about whether I want to expose that person to the people who know me.

You refer more than the business

When you make a referral you refer more than the business because the donor is referring the recipients skills and experience, but he is referring the donor's reputation. The subject of the referral will hold the donor responsible for the outcome of the referral as much as the recipient. Personally, I won't refer people to my contacts beyond the level of my current reputation with that contact. Sometimes, I've held back on a referral, not because I have doubts about the recipient himself, but because of my experience of others in the same company, my reputation with my contacts is too important to risk with those who do not show equal or better regard for reputational matters.


Leads on the other hand only involve two people, there will usually have been no effort taken with the subject to ensure that you get a warm reception, and they tend to happen when two people who are both clearly capable have a discussion and something along the lines of 'Have you talked to.....?' crops up.

Why give a referral

When you give a properly qualified referral you are helping your contact, the subject, and the recipient, done well, giving referrals wins for your reputation, wins for the subject by helping them with a great service or product, wins for the recipient by building their business, a win win win. Referrals demand a lot of work to do properly though, as a donor you need to identify the subject, then properly qualify them, sell in the recipient and warm up the sales process enough so that in effect the recipient is the 'only show in town'. That's a lot of effort. Done well though, the wins make that a no brainer, it's definitely worth taking the effort.

Receiving referrals

Clearly with all that effort when referrals are received they need to be treated appropriately. After all the work has been done for you for nothing, perhaps over many months, perhaps through the relationships that pre-exist the recipients relationship with the donor. That puts a massive onus on the recipient to follow up not just with the subject (amazingly, I've given 2 or 3 really well qualified referrals to people in the last year that were not followed up and the business went elsewhere) but also with the donor. Remember it's the donor's contact, not the recipient's - the subject and the donor are likely to be talking regularly, there should never be a surprise)

How do you receive more

In simple terms I started receiving more referrals when I stopped looking for them! Referrals are predictable, and they arise from action that you take, rather than having to rely on action others take for you. A key question someone asked me a long time ago was 'Why should anyone give you a referral?' I concluded that there was absolutely no reason anyone should give me a referral at all. However, I might be able to create an environment around me where people want to give me referrals. What would make you want to give someone else a referral? Not just the soft fluffy "it's a nice thing to do" stuff, but what would make them want to do so with passion and dedication? Why would someone take all that effort for me? I concluded that I had to demonstrate that I was prepared to do that for them, in a way that was unambiguous and consistent. Ivan Misner and BNI taught me the VCP model,
  • Visibility,
  • Credibility,
  • Profitability
First you must be visible, (most Blackstars and many Ecademists are, but it's not enough on it's own), then you must be credible (and that's still not enough), but they must both be present to move to profitability. Profitability from your relationships starts to appear when the donor and recipient meet the three criteria above, so time must be spent developing the mutual respect, credibility of service and absolute trust. I knew that what I had been doing wasn't generating me referrals so I had to change what I did, rather than hoping that others would change what they did.

What did I learn?

I learned that a 121 is not an opportunity to demonstrate my credibility, so I stopped talking about what I do and how I do it, for me a 121 is an opportunity to build a relationship, to start to form a bond of friendship that may lead to more interesting conversations later. In 121's it's common for people to say to me 'but we haven't talked about what you do' - that's when I know I've had a good one to one, it means I've listened well, questioned, challenged and understood my one to one partner. If they want to talk about what they do, or not, I don't mind, we're getting to know each other and that's very valuable. I learned that credibility comes from helping others in the way that they want to be helped and not in the way that I want to give help, That means using a different approach with each person and a responsibility on me to be empathetic. For some that's about recognising their content through the LIke feature, for others it's about comment and challenge, for others its other things. It's hard to know exactly what to do, but I know that a 'one solution fits all' approach won't work for everyone. On Ecademy you can help people by writing informative content and taking time to add to the posts and debates on Blogs and in club forums. Challenging others constructively based on your own knowledge and skills and experience and accepting challenges to your views demonstrates a willingness to collaborate and build better knowledge. Those traits demonstrate and build credibility. All that we do, all we have ever done, builds on that picture.I learned that I don't get referrals from the people I give them to. When people who I give referrals to ask me how the can repay a referral I ask them to ask one of their clients what they need and refer the best person they know to meet that need. If we all do that I'll get my share of the referrals that are generated. The only way there are more referrals is when people give more referrals, not when people ask for more. Please do not give me a referral that I am not the best person to deliver either, give it to the person who is.For me the real test is when I gave away work that I could have done (when I have none), because someone else was much better qualified to do it that I was. I learned to measure and target the things that make this 'machine' work, I measure 121's, and referrals given, and work generated for others. Please add your comments and thoughts to this, challenge me where I have it wrong and I'd really like to hear your success stories too. Thanks
Updated and reviewed May 2009 - this blog was originally published before the LIKE Feature and reference to that has been addedM: 07880 794127 T: 01291 622598 E: W :