People don’t do business in a vacuum. They do business with people they know and like. Understanding that one principal can make the difference between a business that works well and one that doesn’t, says Megan Oltman, regional vice president of Hopewell-based Team Nimbus, a small business development and strategic planning company.

“We train and inspire businesses to create strategic alliances and referral partnerships and to cultivate continuous referrals that will make their business profitable without sacrificing their quality of life,” she says.

Team Nimbus joins BNI New Jersey (Business Network International) to present “Heat Up Your Referral Relationships” on Thursday, May 4, at 6 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel Palmer Inn. Cost: $35 per person. Call 609-466-6592

“A lot of people do networking quantity, but forget about quality,” says Oltman. A “quality” referral relationship takes time and effort to build, she says, but is well worth it. “If you really work on quality relationships,” she says, “all you need is between three and five great referral partners to have a really successful business.”

There are several parts to getting and maintaining those great relationships, says Oltman. It may sound obvious, but the first step is to identify potential partners.

Find your referral partners. “When you ask people who their referral partners are, it is amazing how many people don’t know,” says Oltman. They may “get and give” a referral on occasion, but they have no planned method for identifying the people who can help their business to grow. “Ask yourself who has given you a referral in the last six months. Who has given you more than one referral? If the answer is no one, then you need to ask yourself who you know who is in a good position to give your business referrals.”

Every business has natural referral partners, people who are in related industries who may need each other’s help to do their business. For example, a real estate agent can easily refer business to a mortgage broker. A satisfied client may be your best referral partner, but if you never mentioned that you’d like more business, they may never think to refer business to you. If you aren’t receiving referrals, the next step is to take a look at your business relationships and ask yourself why.

Assess your relationships. Do you feel a connection to your referral partners? Do they feel a connection to you? “Take a look at the intensity of your relationships,” says Oltman. “If you haven’t spoken to your referral partners in months, you need to start to work on that relationship.”

“Have you been clear to your contacts about what a good referral is for you? Do they understand your business and do you understand theirs?” If the answer is no, you may need to work on those relationships. The more specific you can be about just what kind of work you are looking for, the higher quality referrals you are likely to get. If, for example, you specialize in pharmaceutical marketing, you don’t want to waste time turning away requests for retail marketing assistance.

The referral process. “We like to refer business to people we like,” says Oltman. In other words, if the other person doesn’t know you, they are less likely to refer business to you. “When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with that person? What did you talk about?” Taking the time to learn about your contacts’ interests, goals, and accomplishments — as well as their networks — is the best way to “heat up” relationships.

“Spend non-business time with the people you want as your referral partners,” says Oltman. “Get to know them.”

Intensify your relationships. “If you have checked the temperature of your business relations and find that most of them are tepid, it is time to heat them up,” says Oltman. “Look at your relationships and figure out what is missing. Then make an action plan to improve those relationships.”

You may decide that you have a great personal relationship with a potential referral partner, but you’ve never actually asked him to refer business to you. That person may be a good friend or even a relative, but if you don’t ask for referrals, he will never know you want them, or need them.

“They may be assuming you have all the business you can handle,” says Oltman. In this case, the action plan is easy — just ask.

Most often the problem is that you have never taken the time to really get to know potential business partners, says Oltman. Take them out to lunch. Show them that they are appreciated.

Say thank you. “If you get a referral that brings you business, do you thank the person who gave you that referral?” she asks. “Every business coach and every networking organization will preach that you should send a thank you note. But if you really do it, you will be in a small minority and you’ll really stand out.”

Be creative with your expressions of thanks, she adds. “Don’t just send a note. Send a jar of homemade jam or find something personal that relates to them. Make them feel appreciated.”

“If you work to really maintain your business relationships you will increase your business without spending massive amounts of money on marketing,” says Oltman. In the process, you will also be gaining friends and really enjoying your business.

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