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Build a Referral Network for Your Mediation Business

To expand your client base for your mediation business you need to build a referral network. This is often easiest when you approach it as a team sport. Join forces with an elite squad of like-minded professionals and associates in your niche market and work together as business partners to generate clients for one another.

To find recruits for your referral network, look to the communities you’re already a member of, including

  • Local attorneys in your area of expertise

  • Professional associations and networking groups

  • Social networking circles, including those on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

  • Legal and mediation bloggers and journalists

Be selective. Finding recruits is about quality, not quantity. Invest time and energy networking only with people or groups who are likely ideal clients or are able and willing to refer you to potential clients that meet your criteria.

To expand your search, draw up a list of organizations, associations, and communities in your target market or niche. Place the ones that have the most potential for generating business at the top.

After you identify your short list, join a group and provide leadership. A visible leadership position in the right kind of business organization can be the cornerstone of your referral network. Too often a mediator simply attends the meetings and is just one more face in the crowd. When you take a leadership position, you immediately raise your profile, and members become more motivated to get to know you.

Mingle with prospective clients and referral network recruits

Although your primary networking goal may be to generate referrals to garner some business, that’s the worst way to approach it. The best way is to become a servant; that is, focus on meeting the needs of others. Do that and the people you serve will reward you. They’ll hire you when they need a mediator and refer clients to you when they meet someone who needs your services.

If you go to an association meeting, be prepared and have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Go with the intention of meeting one or two new people. If possible, target specific people in advance and introduce yourself to them.

As you meet new people, work on perfecting your networking skills. Following are some networking do’s and don’ts:

  • Be curious. Transfer your mediation skills to the networking arena by engaging in small talk and asking diagnostic questions to gather information about what people do for a living, where they live, what challenges they face, and details regarding their family and interests. Then, move toward questions about their profession or their business and the function they serve in that business.

  • Listen actively. Make sure you understand what your conversational partners say by restating your understanding of any communication that seems important to them or that you genuinely don’t quite get. Ask follow-up questions to clarify your understanding.

  • Don’t make it all about you. If you’re networking at a cocktail party, concentrate on your conversation partner instead of yourself. Ask her how her day is going, how business is, and what her greatest challenges are.

  • Be a problem solver. If the person mentions that he’s struggling with a certain problem, recommend professionals you know who may be able to provide assistance.

  • Be open-minded. If people stray into those forbidden topics of politics or religion, remain tolerant, open-minded, and able to see the flaws in your own thinking.

  • Don’t sell. Engage and inspire. If asked about yourself, be ready to say how you help people. Deliver your elevator pitch in a way that frames your services as a benefit to your conversation partner.

  • Ask for the person’s business card. Getting a person’s contact information is essential for following up. If the person has no business card, ask for a phone number and e-mail address.

  • Close with an invitation. Ask your conversation partner to take the next logical step with you — coffee, lunch, an e-mail follow-up, a complimentary consultation, or whatever you feel is suitable.

Focus more on giving than getting. Be of service and provide something of value in every interaction, including connections to people who can help your conversation partners achieve their goals; tips, tools, strategies, articles, and links; or invitations to upcoming events, workshops, or speaking engagements.

Thank your referral sources

Whenever a prospective client contacts you, ask how the person heard about you. If someone’s sending clients your way, you need to know who that someone is so you can show your appreciation. If you don’t know the person, ask some follow-up questions to find out who the person is and to gather details to help you find him. Your conversation might go something like this:

“So, how did you hear about me?”

Jill Martin told me about you.

“Really, Jill Martin? Hmmm, I’m not sure I know a Jill Martin. What does she do?” (or “Where does she work?” or “How do you know her?”)

I don’t know her very well either; my business partner told me that Jill Martin recommended you.

[If you feel too much like a private investigator trying to track down a murder suspect, preface your next inquiry with a statement of your intention.]

“I’m in the habit of sending thank-you notes to referral sources. Would you mind telling me who your partner is?”

Jane Kelly.

[If you don’t know who Jane Kelly is, continue your interrogation.]

Initially, you’ll tend to get referrals from friends and colleagues or former colleagues. Keep a list of referral sources and be sure to send a note of thanks to each one. (I prefer to send a handwritten note because it’s much more personal than an e-mail.)

As your marketing activities expand, you’ll tend to get referrals from people who read your blog, people on your mailing list, and people in organizations and companies to which you’ve spoken or whose networking or training events you’ve attended.

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