Referrals are terrific tools for PR professionals. Recently a colleague landed a story by asking for a referral to a newspaper editor and a communications start-up is growing by asking others for help.
Talk about referrals often turns to sales, marketing and business development. Today I’m talking about personal referrals where either you ask for help or set out to help others. That can be to source information, get an interview, land a job or get buy-in for a project. There is art and etiquette to referrals which can help you succeed, or if neglected burn your bridges.
Take it as a compliment when someone asks you for a referral to your network. Obviously they think you have the connections, skills and experience to help them advance a business idea, learn a skill, get an interview or otherwise help with an opportunity.
If you’re a boss you may want to provide referrals so staff can grow their careers, skills or their income. Yet while it feels good when someone asks for help never give a referral lightly. Because when you introduce another person you put your good name and credibility on the line. So consider the following before you do so:
- Be sure those you recommend to others share your ethics and sense of professionalism. This will save you from awkward situations down the track.
- Match the person asking for your help with someone you know who can really help. It can be tempting to throw around names and numbers to boast of your circle of contacts but people need your help not your hubris.
- Be specific and tell your acquaintance how you think they can help anyone you refer. That way they are prepared when someone asks to get together and always check with colleagues before passing along their details.
- Finally thank those who have agreed to meet or help someone at your request.
You might be well established in your PR career but we all need help from time to time. Never be afraid to ask for a referral if you think someone can line you up with a person who can help. But consider a few simple tips because how you handle a referral makes an impression on your old contact and your new connection.
- Most of us are terribly busy so save time and be explicit about what you want from a referral. That way your contact can guide you straight to the right individual and then brief them accordingly.
- Research the people you are referred to either through their social media accounts, an online search and by asking your contact about the best approach to take.
- Be patient when arranging a time to meet some one recommended to you, and when you do meet build rapport before asking for anything. Above all never let your appearance or behaviour reflect poorly on your introducer. Start professionally because later you can always dial back to causal.
- Make your contact aware of the progress of any referral they give. Check in to advise when meetings take place and the outcomes of encounters. People feel good when they know they have contributed to your success and you get a head start when you next need their help.
- Thank anyone who has provided you with a referral irrespective of the outcome. Email or Linked-in are fine but a handwritten note or a gift -proportional to the benefit you receive – is both personal and effective. When people do help stand ready to reciprocate however you can.
Referrals are a wonderful way to help others or help yourself. So use them to strengthen your relationships with existing contacts and gain new connections.