I looked back and so far this year I'm averaging 5 referral requests per month. By referral request I mean one of my graduates or industry contacts asking me "Who do you know in (fill in the city) that is a Wickman grad I can trust to send a referral to?" When I was an active Realtor, I'd ask that question all the time but in the last five years the way I'd find that person has changed dramatically.
Go back five years and ask me for a referral to an agent in Las Vegas and I'd most likely connect you with a Realtor named Debbie. I met her once at a convention and every month since that I'd received her monthly newsletter which was basically just a local market update. She occupied that spot in my mind, the spot of "agent in Vegas" and so she got the referrals. I'm sure each month she sent out thousands of those newsletters in her local market and probably up to a thousand across the country to other Realtors. And when I say every month, I mean every month - without exception. Getting her newsletter so consistently basically forced me to get my own referral marketing out the door with matching regularity.
If you've been doing something like this, keep it up for sure. But if you can't afford to start a large mailing campaign right now, don't sweat it. I don't think you really have too these days to get the same result. Ask me now for an agent referral and I'm first going to try to find my own graduate and if I don't have any, I'll see if others in my company do. But what if you were to ask me for a referral to an agent in Texas or Oklahoma? That's no small request given the hundreds upon hundreds of Realtors I've personally trained just in those two states. In fact, even if I've done just one class in a city, that's still a lot of great people from which to choose. How in the world can I pick when I so deeply care about every single one of those grads?! A couple of weeks ago the "how" became very clear to me because I actually did have to pick someone.
Those occupying the "agent in [fill in city] spot" in my mind now are those I'm connected to online through sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, those who blog and those who have me on their email list. That's not the whole story however. A quick look at my Facebook profile will show you I'm connected to over 1000 people. The people I think about in a given city are not only connected to me but they are active on the sites, which means they leave comments on my Facebook wall or they send messages via Twitter or leave comments on my blog posts. In other words, they are using technology to stay in front of me. Whereas five years ago I'd have to get on a plane and meet someone like Debbie in Vegas in person at a convention, then stay in touch through snail mail or those sad early email newsletters, today's referral relationships are maintained online in a sort of year-long convention that happens in little bursts of activity. Thinking back to who I've directed referrals to this year, in every case it's been someone I've kept in contact with online.
Interestingly there is a dividing line in my speaking/training career and it's drawn at the point I started using social media. From that point forward I'm much more connected to the folks I do business with post-graduation. I'm often asked how people "get business" from social networking sites and in many cases, I think the person asking is expecting a complicated answer, so much so that the simple answer gets missed. What is happening is no different than pre-social media days. People meet, they stay in touch, they interact and get to know each other, that's it. It's the how that has changed. Now instead of the monthly newsletter + quarterly phone call + yearly hug at convention its: connect on Facebook and/or Twitter and/or LinkedIn + leave comments on walls and blogs + participate in group discussions online + update your audience through Twitter and Facebook status + all the old stuff if you want.
What this all comes down to is this: If you want more referrals from your own book of business, you have to find your own way of not just existing in the social media world but participating in it. If I make decisions on referrals this way, imagine what your local connections may do!