How to get referrals

Have you ever sat there and wondered how to get referrals? After all if you listen to your partners, supposedly all you have to do is ‘get yourself out there’. You wouldn’t be the first accountant, lawyer or consultant in practice who has wondered how they are going to win their own client work. And as we all know, referrals – both from inside and outside of the firm – are the answer.

So let’s go one step back and actually consider how referrals are generated in the first place. This article will help you understand the 4 ingredients needed for a referral to take place. And more importantly, what you can do to maximise the chances of all 4 ingredients coming together at the right time for you.

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How to get referrals: the 4 ingredients needed for a referral to take place


Imagine a good friend of yours, rang up and said, “I need a plumber, can you recommend someone?” This is a great example of an ‘opportunity’ taking place.

When you were a more junior member of your firm you may have been told that, “Oh you can just ask for the referral”. Perhaps, you may even still get given the advice to “be confident and ask for the referral”.

As you will find out this advice may feel correct, (after all, why would you doubt the advice of a senior work-winning member of your firm) but very rarely does ‘asking for the referral’ actually work. Basically, because you need an opportunity first.

Our brains are wired to want to help people. So we are great at spotting opportunities for a referral for others. What we are not great at doing is being put on the spot and asked for a referral. By the way, if you ever try this, you will realise that it often results in a very awkward conversation!

If you can’t go to someone and ask them for a referral, what can you do if you want more referrals? The rest of the article is going to show you how to make sure that when that opportunity happens, you are best positioned to be the person who gets the call or email.

If you’d like a bit of help to get referrals and win work for your firm this guide is for you! Get your hands on my free guide to getting referrals (over 50 tried and tested tips to help your network pass more work to you. Click to Get the Guide Here


Continuing with our example about the telephone call with the request for a plumber, what are you thinking about right now? I bet you are wondering: who do I know who’s a plumber? You’ll then think: who do I know who’s a good plumber? And also, why do they need a plumber? In the context of the UK, the plumbers tend to split into the ones that do big things like bathrooms, those ones whose day job is about boilers/central heating, the ones that are there for emergency call outs. And you don’t want to get the wrong plumber for the wrong job. An emergency plumber’s charge out rates will make it a very expensive new bathroom for you!

Based on this understanding of what job the plumber is required for, your mental list will be narrowed down to those plumbers you know who is best suited for the job. Moving away from plumbers for a moment. What this means for you personally is, to get that recommendation, and even to get onto the long list, you’ve got to be visible. Or in other words, you’ve got to be top of mind of the people who are well-placed, i.e. your introducers, to refer you in. Get your Networking plan to help you stay visible with potential introducers Read:


Going back to our plumber example. If you recommend a plumber to a friend your reputation is on the line. After all, how bad would you feel if the plumber you recommended did a really bad job for your friend? It doesn’t bear thinking about. In other words, whether you are recommending a plumber or a member of your professional network, your reputation and credibility is on the line.

This means if you are the one who is going to be the one receiving the referral you need to be seen as credible. And not just credible generally, but credible for the type of work you want to win. And this is where having a niche or specialism for your area of expertise works really well. After all, if your reputation is on the line, you want to recommend the best person for the job. This normally means an acknowledged expert or specialist. Get your niche worksheet to refine (or start working) in your speciality area So that you are seen as the expert for the referrals you want. Read:


Going back to our plumbing example. If you had 2 shortlisted plumbers for the recommendation to your friend. Who are you going to recommend? Likely to be the one you like the most. It’s the same when it comes to you being referred in. You need to have generated some good will in advance of receiving a referral. That’s why the accountants, lawyers and consultants that get the most amount of referrals are often the people that give the most amount of referrals out.

Changes in the process of giving referrals

When you look at the stats from six to eight years ago, 90% of customer buying decisions started online, and about 75% of B2B buyers used social media to research vendors. In April 2020 right at the height of lockdown globally, McKinsey surveyed across the world, about how people are researching for B2B suppliers. I.e. people like you. This survey revealed that for the first time ever, people were trusting online routes to research B2B suppliers more than the traditional non-digital routes, i.e. asking for a personal recommendation or referral. We used to think it was all about that personal recommendation, isn’t it?

But, suddenly it’s not. Again: Digital was preferred for the first time over traditional methods. If you just think about it, we previously used to be really connected to people. We went into the office and spent time with people in the office. We’d go to physical events and hang out in person with our friends. Whereas now, we’re not in the office every day. And our ‘hanging out’ time with friends is very restricted. So actually, our opportunities to ask a friend or trusted colleague for a referral are less. It’s no wonder that we’re turning more to online methods.

Therefore, one of the things to realise is that, if you’re going to get this core premise of only doing 30 minutes of business development a day without leaving my house or office, you’ve got to make a major investment in your online presence. It’s your online presence and content that are going to put you on that top of mind. Want to learn more about how to become the person people go to when they have work you want? Make sure you sign up to Progress to Partner Academy and start the The Go-To Expert course.

If you’d like a bit of help to get referrals and win work for your firm this guide is for you! Get your hands on my free guide to getting referrals (over 50 tried and tested tips to help your network pass more work to you. Click to Get the Guide Here

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