If you are a professional services provider and you want to grow your business, you know the importance of marketing.  Whether you are a lawyer seeking to represent startup technology companies, an agency recruiter like me who is looking to generate more search work from the life sciences industry or an accountant looking for individuals who need help with their tax returns, it is important to speak, write and participate in professional activities that enhance your reputation.

But marketing alone is generally insufficient to generate the work you want.  While branding and advertising may be enough to get customers to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, branding/marketing may not be enough to get a prospective client to pick up the phone and call a professional services provider.

Relationship Building is Key in Generating Professional Services Business

If you really want to generate work, you need to go beyond building your brand and invest time and energy in building relationships (with potential clients and referral sources).  In other words, business development is essential in generating legal, accounting, HR consulting or other types of professional services work and it doesn’t have to be expensive (see e.g. 47 Inexpensive Ways to Build Business Relationships and Generate Legal Work )

The challenge for all of us is that many of the people we want to meet are crazy busy.  Many of our efforts to reach out and connect are unsuccessful.  It takes a lot of persistence to connect with high quality referral sources or with individuals or companies who may need our services.  I recently wrote about the particular challenges of trying to connect through email or social media.

Addressing the Challenge of Trying to Connect With Busy People

There are many ways to address the problem of busy people.  One thing you can do is to find good reasons why an individual may be willing to call you back.

As it turns out, reference checks are one of those good reasons.  Most individuals understand the importance of providing timely references.  In many cases, references want to help the individual who gave their name and the people who are cited as references tend to be higher up in an organization (and may be just the caliber of individual that we want to meet.)

So if you are faced with the need to conduct reference checks, think about whether any of the provided references are people you would like to meet.  If they are, then rather than passing the job off to a subordinate, take the time to do the reference checks yourself.  You are likely to have a captive audience; and if you play your cards right, you can learn more about what that individual does and begin to potentially build a relationship.

I recently spoke to a talented recruiter in the life sciences who is particularly good at employing this technique.  Drew Rothschild of Taylor Strategy Partners, tells me that not only does he go out of his way to take the time and do reference checks himself, but when appropriate, he asks the reference if he can meet with them in person.  In person communication provides him with a better  reference.  He gets to read the body language of the individual giving the reference.

But meeting the reference in person can also open the door for establishing a business relationship that might lead to referrals down the road.  So although it is much less efficient to do so, Drew makes the time to meet references in person when possible.

It’s easy to opt for efficiency and delegate the task of reference checking.  But if you do, you may be missing a good opportunity to meet your next referral source.

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