Actively generating new leads using a classic marketing funnel can require an enormous amount of effort and resources. While typical marketing strategies are a valuable way to generate leads, the most efficient way to drive growth is to turn your existing business connections into a referral network. Existing and former customers and other industry professionals that you have an existing relationship with can provide quality leads that you may not be able to reach with your traditional marketing efforts.

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Of course, getting referrals means first being the kind of business that others feel secure referring to their own contacts. The key to building a great referral network in this way, more than just your business’ operational excellence, is developing real, human connections.

Connect with related businesses

A simple way to boost the number of referrals you receive is to work on cultivating relationships with complementary businesses in your industry. For example a small solar energy products installation company would stand to get far more referrals by networking with established roofing and construction companies than other types of businesses. Determining which businesses and people might be particularly valuable to you in your industry, and going out of your way to focus on them, can make all the difference.

Similarly, you’ll represent a more valuable connection to those types of businesses as well. Having reliable partners to whom they can refer existing clients helps them to develop their own reputation as a well-connected and established business.

Leverage your own contractors and freelancers

Referrals don’t just flow from bigger, more established companies, but from smaller contractors too. It’s important not to neglect networking with much smaller businesses or freelancers that you may already be working with. These eses often work with a variety of larger companies, and can provide valuable referrals as well.

For example, a screen-printing and embroidery shop might work with an independent graphic designer to provide occasional design services. This designer likely works on a variety of contracts with a host of other small or medium sized businesses, many of whom are likely to be in the market for branded clothing or other branded promotional items. By working to leverage these smaller partners, you can build mutually beneficial relationships that can grow both businesses while providing better and more complete services to clients.

Do favours for people

Making strong connections often means making a business relationship less transactional and more interpersonal. A simple way to do that, is to go out of your way to be a friend and do someone a favour. In the case of a customer, that might mean providing helpful feedback or taking the time to do something extra for free. This shows that you like them, and want them to be successful beyond just whatever product or service you’re providing for them.

Similarly, you might refer potential clients that you encounter to people in your network in hopes that they’ll return the favour in the future. Giving a referral is almost as valuable as receiving one, because it communicates that you trust the business that you’re referring someone to with your own reputation. Doing this indicates that you’re invested in the relationship, and that it’s worth it to cultivate closer ties with you.

Giving good gifts

Another, different way to stand out is gift giving. While gift giving is discouraged in some countries, it’s absolutely vital in other parts of the world. Always do your research. In recent years, as corporate cultures globalise and evolve, gift giving has become more popular in the West.

Giving an acceptable gift isn’t necessarily difficult, but giving a good one requires some work. While the right choice is very different depending on the person and culture that you’re working with, a great gift will have a few specifically important qualities:

●       It’s non-perishable: Perishable gifts like wine or flowers aren’t ideal because the recipient won’t keep them for a long time. Ideally a gift will remain with the recipient, and help them to keep you in mind

●       It means something: The best gifts aren’t just appropriate, they specifically help to characterise your relationship and show your appreciation for the recipient

●       They are NOT branded: Branded items could easily give the impression that you’re self centered, and are not a great way to make a good impression.

Building a strong referral network requires a lot of work, but it can produce incredible results, even without the benefit of a team of inbound marketers. Personal connections are a powerful way to reach new clients and quickly build a level of trust that traditional marketing simply can’t compete with.