Returning Value to Your Referral Sources


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Ultimately, networking relationships are reciprocal. There’s a quid pro quo. You give to me, and I give to you.

The key here is that the currency—the thing given by each person—isn’t always identical. It’s crass to talk about these relationships in this way; I get that. But relationships—friendships—require reciprocity. When a relationship benefits only one partner, the relationship sours and ends.

I’ve been asked repeatedly, “How can I go to lunch with lots of mental health professionals when I can only refer to a few? How can I ask them for referrals when I can’t refer to them?”

Redefining Value

It’s important to understand that your referral source may provide referrals and you can reciprocate with something else of value.

For instance, you can reciprocate with friendship. The relationships we’re talking about go well beyond business. If you’re early on in your career, you’ll likely maintain these relationships for a very long time. Your spouse will get to know their spouse. Your kids will get to know their kids. You’ll attend pool parties together, you’ll vacation in Italy together, and you’ll share ownership in a beach house. Don’t assume that referrals need to be met with referrals.

Another form of currency in these relationships is access. Obviously, you won’t own a beach house with every referral source (or maybe you will—that would be nice). Access to you has value. Here’s one example. Your referral source has a client in her office and needs an opinion from an expert before they can move forward with their business. Your referral source says to her client, “Hold on, I know the guru. Let me see whether I can get her on the phone.” You pick up immediately, answer the question, and your referral source is the hero. Access has value.

Your referral relationships transfer value back and forth so often that it’s hard to keep up with the exchanges.

She’s at a committee meeting and they need a speaker for an upcoming event. She mentions your name, everyone nods in agreement, and she explains that she thinks she can get you.

  • She wins because she’s connected.
  • She wins because she served the group.
  • She wins because she feels good about getting something done.
  • You win because you get to speak and expose yourself to more people.
  • You win because your status is elevated when you’re selected to speak.
  • You win because you’ve done her a favor, and she wins because she has done one for you.

She’s had an argument with her spouse. She’s worried that things may come off the rails. Of course, this isn’t the first dispute they’ve had, and she’s worried about needing your services. She calls, you stop what you’re doing, and you’re concerned. You answer her questions and talk her off the ledge. You counsel her toward reconciliation, and things settle down. That’s value.

  • You introduce her to someone who can refer to her. That’s value.
  • You send her updates about the latest legal developments. That’s value.
  • You invite her to your parties. That’s value.
  • You answer her questions about who to vote for in the judicial election. That’s value.
  • You donate to the charity she cares about. That’s value.
  • You answer a question for her paralegal about his cousin’s divorce. That’s value.
  • You give advice about building a referral network. That’s value.
  • You remember her birthday and send a card. That’s value.
  • You send her articles pertinent to her practice that she might not have seen. That’s value.
  • You help her kid by writing a letter of recommendation. That’s value.
  • You buy Girl Scout cookies from her daughter. That’s value.
  • You go the funeral when her mother passes. That’s value.

These relationships go way beyond referrals. They become deep and lasting friendships. For most of us, they’re the thing we value most in our lives. It’s tough to see early in the process how that’s going to play out, but it will.

It’s normal to worry about the back and forth of the referrals early in the process. It’s easy to overthink and overanalyze the system and worry about things that might not go exactly as planned. That anxiety is unnecessary. Once you get into the flow of building relationships and noticing the value flowing back and forth, you’ll forget about your initial concerns.

The key is to get going. Start meeting people and building relationships. Value will take care of itself if you build friendships.

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