The foundation of a strong law practice is a strong referral network. Even your best clients probably don’t need you all the time. This is particularly true for litigators. But what is a strong referral network and how do you build it?
Fundamentally, a good referral network starts with a focused marketing message. It is difficult to generate referrals if you do not have a clear idea of who you want to serve and what services you want to provide. (Who are you, who do you do, who do you serve, what have you done and how do you differentiate yourself from other lawyers?)
Having a well defined niche is important because it helps you communicate what you do in a way that is memorable (so that it is easy for happy clients and other professionals to pass your name along at the right moment). Having a niche also helps you think more strategically about who you might want to cultivate (e.g. other service providers who serve the same clients).
Beyond this, understand that not all referral sources are created equal. Some individuals are more apt to make referrals by nature. Look for the people in your network who are always trying to be helpful and have the ability to think outwardly (and don’t forget to be someone who is always on the lookout to make your own referrals).
The other day, I was playing squash with a retired doctor who happens to be the “helping type”. We play pretty regularly and have lots to talk about. But on this particular day, he started asking me questions about what I do. I told him that I consult with lawyers and other professionals on marketing and he immediately began telling me about some of his family members who he thought could use my services. He volunteered to introduce me and I graciously accepted. While this has not yet turned into an engagement, I did end up speaking to one of his relatives who may hire me to coach his daughter. The key here is that my squash partner wanted to help and was able to introduce me to a potential client.
It helps to identify happy clients who are willing to make referrals. When I conduct client interviews for law firms that have institutional clients, I ask the question, “What is the likelihood that you would refer Smith and Smith’s services to someone else?” If the answer is a 9 or 10, then I know this is an individual that the firm should further cultivate.
If a lot of your clients are individuals (or unlikely to use your services more than once), send them a survey at the end of your engagement. Ask them how happy they were with the services you provided and on a scale of one to ten, how likely are they to refer your services to someone else. If anyone gives you a 9 or a 10, see if they would be willing to write a testimonial for your website or mention your name to others.