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As with most businesses, trainers tend to have five main sources of training work: existing clients, recommendations from existing clients to their network, introducer referrals, associate work, and speculative enquiries.
Realistically, the first four of these sources are the most reliable for winning contracts and yet most of us put the bulk of our energy, at least initially, into attracting business from speculative enquiries.
When it comes to attracting new business, there’s nothing better than a referral or recommendation from a happy client. One of the biggest obstacles to securing a new contract is the prospective client’s wariness of the unknown so if you come with the seal of approval from a trusted person in their network, you’re potentially streets ahead of your competitors in a prospective client’s eyes.
But how can you attract referrals and win more training contracts as a result?
Your existing clients will need to be coached to make referrals, reminded regularly and you’ll need to make it as easy for them as possible.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get
I’m a great believer in the adage, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. One of the most effective ways to secure a referral is to ask for one from your existing clients. You may feel uncertain about how to do this. Won’t it smack of desperation? When should you ask? How should you word it? Won’t it be embarrassing for you and your client? These are common concerns.
In my experience, the best time to ask for a referral from a client is when you’re actively working with them but perhaps nearing the end of your current project or contract. This is the time when you’re still at the forefront of their mind and they have hopefully seen the value you provide. I find it works well to say, “If there’s anyone in your network who you think could use my services, I would welcome a referral”.
You could even try adding ‘Referrals appreciated’ or ‘Referrals welcomed’ to the bottom of your email signature, newsletter or business card to let them know that you’re open to referrals.
If a client seems reluctant to make a referral, it’s worth asking why. There may be something that they’re unhappy with that they haven’t voiced. If you can show a willingness to resolve any issue, if possible, this can help secure future referrals.
This is a key point. Before you ask for referrals, you should be sure that you deliver what you promise and that you add value for your clients. The person making the referral wants to know that they are sending their contact to a reliable business as a poor referral can damage their reputation too.
Make it easy to refer you
Many clients would be happy to give you a referral, but they may not be sure how to go about it, especially if they’re not 100% sure how to explain your training services or experience.
You could create a short document that outlines your business, skills and training experience that they could refer to or even pass on to their contacts. Try focusing on showing what you do and what sets you apart. Alternatively, you could pass on some case studies about recent client results or create a short e-brochure showcasing your services and clients.
Another tactic is to ask clients for a recommendation on LinkedIn or a review on Facebook, for example.
You could even give your clients a Q&A-style form to complete for a review or email them an example of how other business reviews look, so they know what you’re expecting.
Your clients are busy – if you can guide them, they will appreciate it.
Develop your niche
Another way to encourage referrals is to identify your niche and become known for your niche-specific knowledge. I’ve known trainers who work exclusively with law firms or television production companies as just two examples. When you niche, you have the opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge about your sector that will benefit organisations operating within the same environment. Clients may feel more confident about referring you because you can hit the ground running within their sector.
Also, if it’s clear who your training business is aimed at, you will find it easier to aim your marketing at potential customers and for existing customers to make a referral.
Work on your client relationships
Above all else, referrals are born out of strong relationships. In a recent blog, we looked at why your existing clients are a fast track to a better training business.
As well as being a source of repeat business, if you can keep current in your clients’ minds, maintain your visibility and make sure that the channels of communication stay open, you will boost your chances of receiving a referral.
Let your clients know that referrals are welcome. Equally, you might consider referring your clients to other people in your network to show that you’re looking to benefit your connections as well as yourself.
I can’t stress how important it is to recognise and thank your referral sources. A quick phone call or email may be sufficient, but a handwritten thank you card or note is better. People love to feel appreciated.