Getting (& Giving) More Referrals

We’re guessing you’d love more referrals, but worry about pestering fellow professionals? If so, it’s worth keeping in mind that giving referrals benefits the referring party, too. It may fill a need and provide value-added capital with a client, such as when a vet refers a frustrated or frightened dog guardian to a trainer. And giving referrals often just feels good—most of us enjoy helping out by offering an expert suggestion. Still, most referral sources in the dog industry have many dog pros vying for their referrals.

Here are some tips for getting to the top of their lists:

Give More Referralsgiving and getting referrals
One of the easiest ways to get more referrals is to give more of them. Doing so increases your visibility while creating motivation for reciprocity.

Don’t miss an opportunity. Be on the lookout for every chance to tell a client, friend, colleague, family member, or friendly stranger in line at the grocery store about your favorite vet office, dog daycare, dog trainer, pet sitter, pet supply store, groomer, or dog walker. The more you give, the more you get.

Make your referrals stick. Don’t just mention the boarding facility you recommend. If at all possible, hand over a piece of their marketing literature. Or write down the facility’s name and contact information on a postcard branded with your logo and contact information. Then, if it’s someone you know and you already have their email address, send a follow-up message: “It was great talking with you today. I really think you’ll love the one-on-one attention Buddy’s Boarding gives the dogs. Here’s a link to their website for convenience: _______.”

Take credit. It’s nice to give referrals just to help, but better if you also get the business credit. Email dog pro colleagues to let them know you’ve sent someone their way, and that you hope they’ll get a client from your referral. (It’s okay to mention the potential client’s name, but don’t share her contact information unless given permission.)

Get More Referrals
Passing out more referrals will help get more coming your way, but here are additional steps to speed up the process.

Make yourself memorable. People are more likely to refer to you if you’re on their minds, especially if they have a personal relationship to you. So be present to and engage with the businesses you want work from. Offer staff talks for vet offices or volunteer training for the shelters. Show up in logo clothing with a surprise pizza lunch on their busiest day. If it’s particularly hectic that day, stick around for an hour or two to help walk dogs or clean kennels. Feature businesses you’re attempting to cozy up to in your newsletter, and ask them how else you can help.

Make referring to you easy and effective. Provide your referral sources with professionally designed, content-focused marketing materials. Business cards are easily lost and carry little marketing punch. An informative handout about resource guarding will have much more impact when a potential client complains to her vet—and it makes the vet look good, too. Try a How To Choose A Dog Walker flier instead of a plain postcard or brochure. Or a branded tip sheet about how exercise impacts behavior. If your referral sources are open to listing you on their website, in their newsletter, or in an email blast, provide them with the language and images they need to make execution easier and faster.

Make sure they know what you do. If you have a niche—puppy training or small dog-only daycare or pet sitting for elderly or infirm dogs, for example—make it work for you. Mentioning what you do once or twice won’t do the trick. Your marketing materials should scream your niche—a branded handout on housetraining your new puppy or the benefits of exercising your small dog, or a brochure full of pictures of happy and content older or bandaged dogs enjoying cuddles and walks with you. And don’t be shy about working your niche regularly into conversation.

Follow up. Always call anyone referred to you, even if you don’t want the business. Take good care of them, making sure to refer them on if you can’t help. Never let it get back to a referral source that you don’t return calls. And take the time to thank your referral sources. Send a personal thank-you card for best impact, and occasionally make a bigger splash by sending or bringing by a gift basket, staff lunch, or small denomination gift cards to a nearby café.

Building a referral source network is about making and nurturing relationships. Like any good relationship, that means communication, steady attention, and looking for ways to give before you get. But also like any good relationship, a little hard work can go a long way.