5 Steps to Creating a Referral Generating Plan

Will you do me a favor?

Please close your eyes (okay just close one until you read the next line.)

Imagine what the perfect day looks like for you and your business.

Just take a moment – close your eyes – and imagine it.  It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Now how many days a week or month or year do you have where what you imagined is actual reality, the perfect imagined day is real day?

[After reading this article, check out the Stacey Brown Randall Live Show (Episode 6) where I reveal more details anout one of the five steps in creating a referral generating plan.]

For me the perfect day involves getting a walk in, actually eating breakfast and dinner with my husband and kids, spending time working on my most valuable and important tasks (like creating content, delivering a VIP referral session or training with a client or answering questions from my online community*) AND when checking email…I find a referral or two has arrived in my inbox.  

[Bonus for a really good day means I resisted the urge to go to Starbucks or drink a cold coca cola…and now I’m thirsty!]

Do you know what my perfect day says to me…it says, I took time to take care of myself, I took time to invest in my family, I took time to provide value to my clients and online community and I received a reminder of what great work I actually do because someone referred a new client to me.

My perfect day says something else too…that my business grew and I didn’t have to stress about where the next client was coming from.  It means that I can relax and focus on doing great work instead of worrying about being a great “salesperson” which I did not go into business to become.  Quite the contrary, I started my business because I enjoy making a difference for my clients and delivering a service they need.

My perfect day is a reality…not every day…but close.

Those referrals received would never show up if I didn’t provide value, if I didn’t do great work, and if I wasn’t referable.  They wouldn’t show up if I was constantly asking for them either.

The referrals also wouldn’t show up if I didn’t take care of my referral sources by showing them the gratitude they deserve, continually strengthened my relationship with them and made a commitment to be meaningful and memorable so I stay top of mind.

But with all that being said – while it may sound like a lot of work – my referral generating plan is the easiest process I follow in my business and produces the greatest results.  I love that it is simple and authentic.  It is because of its simplicity and authenticity that I am willing to follow it…year after year after year.

Creating a referral generating plan shouldn’t be complicated or complex.  There is some work involved to create and execute on a referral plan but following a referral plan beats cold calling, incessant networking or stalking on LinkedIn any day of the week.

There are five basic steps you need to follow to create a business that is sustained by referrals.  But these five steps are built with the understanding that you do great work and are worthy of referrals.  Think of being referable as the foundation and the five steps move you up from the foundation to generating consistent referrals that sustain your business growth.

To help you with the 5 steps I created an easy to follow blueprint that you can download for free now.

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Here are the 5 Steps to Creating a Referral Generating Plan:

  1. Identify who refers you (or should be referring you)
  2. Follow an immediate thank you process
  3. Create a one-year plan following the 3 Platinum Principles™
  4. Weave in critical language to plant referral seeds
  5. Automate the plan and measure results


Step 1: Identify Who Refers You (or should be referring you)

Knowing who refers you is the most important step in generating referrals.  The easiest place to start is by looking at where you current or past clients came from…how did they find out about you.  There are two ways to do this.

First, if you use a CRM (client relationship management tool) then you should be able to generate a report that lists out your clients and the source.  The source is how they heard about you.  There are many different types of sources including attending a networking event, meeting you at a trade show, finding you in an online search, seeing your sponsorship of an event or charity, an advertisement, direct mail received, a cold call or cold email and by far the best source – a referral from someone.  Now you will only be able to pull the client list with the source if you entered that information.  Almost all CRMs have a “source” field but you still have to use it for the information to be there.

If you don’t have a CRM or don’t have this information captured somewhere else (like in a document) then you can follow the second way to generate the list of those who refer you.  You will need to create a list of your clients and sit down with that list and try to remember how they first heard about you.  Sometimes you can use your memory to remember where your clients come from and other times you may be able to look in their files, notes you took during your first prospect meeting with them, in your email, in your calendar, etc.

An additional step you can take that will make this data much richer is to also pull from the CRM or list out the prospects you received via referral – even if that prospect didn’t become a client.

Now the second way definitely takes longer but trust me – whichever way you have to use to generate the list – will be totally worth it.

A question I receive all the time is “how far back do I have to go, meaning how many years?”  I always suggest two years at least but would prefer more if possible.  This step takes the most work of all the steps and if you do it right, will be beneficial to you in many ways.

Once you have your list you are just going to focus on those clients or prospects who came through referral sources.  Essentially just create one list of referral sources – meaning the names of people who referred you.  The other data is important because it will show you what is also working or not working in your business and I encourage you to consider ramping up other new client generation methods that are working and eliminating those that are not.

For my online and VIP students, I provide them a “Client Look Back” document that helps makes process #2 more manageable by giving them a step-by-step guide to list out their clients and capture – as best they can – their referral sources.

Having this list of our referral sources is excellent data for your business and provides us with a starting point.  We will know a few important key points after we complete step one.  You will know:


  • Who has actually referred you (this may surprise you)
  • How many times they have referred you (the further you go back in years the better)
  • The type of prospective new client they refer to you (important later if you want to change the type of referrals you receive)


Typically, two concerns are raised after completing this exercise.  The first concern is what if you don’t have two years or more of clients to look back through to pull the sources?

The second concern is what if you pull the date for the last five years (or more) and the smallest source of all your sources is referral sources?  Meaning most of your new clients or prospects have come through other means and were not referred to you?

It is okay – don’t stress.  At least 50% of those I work with start in this place.  I call it starting from scratch.  When you go through your clients and prospects to pull out the sources you will either have a list of at least 5 to 10 referral sources identified or we will need to first focus on growing your base of referral sources.  It works the same way if you are new in business or just don’t have many clients yet, meaning you don’t have many sources, including referral sources.

It is important at this point to identify who should be referring you.  Referrals will typically come from two main places – clients and centers of influence.  Most people want a combination of both clients and centers of influences but some people only have one type.  There is not a right or wrong – it is more about what will work within your business.

If you are interested in generating more referrals sources because you are starting from scratch I encourage you to read this article – What to Do When You Need More Referral Sources and then follow the exercise included within the article.  It is a great place to start to identify your ideal referral sources so you can create a plant to cultivate the ideal referral sources.


Step 2: Follow an Immediate Thank You Process

To have an immediate thank you process you need two things.  A way to track all of your referrals received and plenty of thank you cards.

Let’s first tackle the tracker.

When it comes to tracking your referrals received…you just need a few data points to collect.  When we try to track too much data it starts to overwhelm us and we are more likely to abandon it.  Tracking referrals should be easy – one of the easiest processes you have in your business.

You need to have one document where you capture some basic information – the date or year the referral was received, the name of the referral source is and the name of the prospective new client they referred to you.  You can track outcome – if they become a client or not as well but I find when getting started this is optional.

Once you have the tracker, you need a “keeper” of the tracker.   If you are a solopreneur and it is just you in your business – then you are the keeper.  I was for many years.  But if you have an assistant – virtual or local – part-time or full-time – you can delegate the job of “keeper” to them.  It doesn’t matter to me who the keeper is – it is just important to have someone responsible for the list.

Here is how my assistant and I follow the referral capture process.

When someone refers me to another person – a prospective client – I simply send the information to my VA and she inputs the data in the tracker.  She loads the info in and can send me the most up-to-date version when I ask for it.

Almost 100% of my referrals come through email because that is how I position myself to receive them.

Following this process, I can feel confident that I will have a record of each referral received. There are many reasons to keep the tracker current…you know how many referrals received, you know who to thank, you know how to categorize your referral sources to leverage more referrals, and you know who you should be following up with to become new clients.

If it helps you, you can download my referral tracker for free.

Now on to the Thank You card.

I believe you should invest in note cards and stamps.  Use those note cards to write a thank you note for past referrals, acknowledge what your referral source means to your business, or just say hi and thinking about you.  You can buy some inexpensive note cards from a local store or spend less than $100 to have cards printed with your logo. You may not have to pay a designer if you design the cards online but you’ll always have to pay for printing.

If you want to go a little further with your thank you cards, I encourage you to create ones that are memorable or funny.  When you can catch someone’s attention they remember it.  I designed a few different thank you cards for my business and people appreciate receiving them.  One of my favorite cards is my Keep Calm and Referral On thank you card.

I’d love for you to download my card and use it if it makes your life easier.  You can download my Referral On thank you card design for free.

Just click on the link above to download the design file and upload it direct to your favorite online printer or email the file to your favorite local printer.  Once you download the file I will also send you steps on how to upload it to one of the online printers I use which is Vistaprint.

To have a fully functioning referral plan you need to be sending out thank you cards as soon as possible once a referral has been received.  I believe 24 to 48 hours is a great timeframe to aim for but make sure you have the thank you note in the mail before a week has gone by.  To nail step two, you need to track your referrals and then send the appropriate thank you note within a reasonable timeframe, the sooner the better.


Step 3: Create a one-year plan following the 3 Platinum Principles™

What makes a referral generating plan so simple yet so crucial for your business is that it is a plan.  One that you have to follow for it to work, of course, but you plan it out in advance.  For my online and VIP students, we build their referral generating plans on a 12-month cycle.  This way we can see what we are going to do to build and strengthen our relationships with our referral sources and can assess the cost.  Now a referral generating plan does not have to take a big budget – in fact you can build your plan on shoestring budget and here is an article to help you understand how to do build it correctly without a lot of money.

But how long you build your plan for and the budget considerations you have are logistics – it is the what you are going to do that makes this plan work.  Remember the what you are going to do is the outreach to your referral sources.  Your referral sources are on the receiving end of this plan.

If you followed me for any length of time you know my referral philosophy…


    Referrals only come from relationships.

            Relationships come from connecting.

            And connections are built through ongoing touch points. 


The 12-month referral generating plan is the series of touch points.  No, you don’t need 12 touch points and yes, you can have a few touch points within one month if it makes sense.  The point of the touch points or outreach to your referral sources is to keep you top of mind by being memorable and meaningful.  Our goal is to create an ongoing experience for our referral sources that encourages them to send more referrals.

I teach my VIP and online students to follow a simple mantra known as the 3 Platinum Principles™ of generating referrals.


3 Platinum Principles™

  1. Must be all about them
  2. Must be authentic to you
  3. Must keep you top of mind

Referrals come from relationships so you must look at each of the three principles from that perspective.  To receive more referrals, we need to be focused on developing deeper relationships with those who do refer us or could refer us.  And by deeper relationship I don’t mean “let’s grab a beer every night after work.”  What I mean is taking time to know your referral sources, understand what matters to them, what they need, and why they refer you.

You use the Platinum Principles to guide the decisions you make to help you create the experiences, the moments, the touch points you create for your referral sources.

Let’s look at each on in more detail.


Platinum Principle #1: Must be all about them

You cannot confuse marketing, branding or promotion with referrals.  While marketing, branding and promotion have their place within your business they should not impact how you structure your referral plan.

When you think about your referral sources first consider what can you do that makes it all about them?  What do they need?  And specifically, what do they need from you.  Most people who refer to you are looking to be thanked, acknowledged and in some cases helped by you.  What can you do to make the connection and relationship all about them…genuinely and authentically?  Can you share knowledge about your industry that will help one of your referral sources run their business smarter?  Can you give them a gift that they need and shows you know them?  Like a car wash gift card to the parent of kids or pets to acknowledge them and what them mean to you.  Your logoed water bottle just won’t cut it for a referral acknowledgement.


Platinum Principle #2: Must be authentic to you

When considering and applying Platinum Principle #1, you must balance what they need against what feels authentic to you.  Meaning don’t make things you don’t want to do a part of our referral experience.  This is probably best explained with an example or two.

I worked with a financial advisor on his referral plan and when we started talking about what his referral sources needed (clients and Centers of Influence) he was pretty clear on principle #1.  He was extremely appreciative of his referrals sources but there was a fundamental principle of who he is that he had to honor.  To him it was more important to be a part of his kids’ lives by throwing the ball in the front yard, coaching their sport teams and being home for dinner so he wasn’t interested in having to spend time a lot of time with his referral sources after work hours like grabbing a beer, attending dinner charity events or networking dinners.  Because what was most important to him was to head home after work and be a dad, spend time with his kids.  It wasn’t that his referral sources weren’t important, it was just that being a dad was more important.  So, I would never create a plan for him that violated who he was as a person because he wouldn’t have enjoyed it and it wouldn’t have been authentic to him.

Using myself as an example – I happen to like to entertain (my poor husband).  So, for my clients and my referral sources I host a backyard movie event each fall.  I invite my non-client referral sources to attend my client appreciation party to acknowledge what they mean to my business and to give them a night out with the family where all they have to do is show up and have fun.

So, consider as you build your plan what is most authentic to you.


Platinum Principle #3: Must keep you top of mind

The final piece of platinum principles is to create touch points, experiences and moments that keep you top of mind which means you can’t do just one and consider your work done.  Keep in mind your touch points may not be face-to-face…your touch points may be something you mail, a gift, a business introduction or connection, an event you host and others.  The opportunity to create experiences – moments – touch points – is endless.  You just have to take some time to consider what your referral sources need and what you are willing to do.

Focus on the touch points being memorable and meaningful – I call it minding your M&Ms.  Because we are interested in staying in touch…we want to be top of mind because that is how you build the habit in your referral sources to refer more prospective new clients to you.

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Step 4: Weave in the critical language to plant referral seeds

A fundamental principle is to never ask for referrals.  It is what makes my system, my plan for you different from others.  The secret ingredient or secret sauce to making that happen is to weave in language that plants referral seeds.  With the right kind of referral seeds you never need to ask for a referral.

Within the referral generating plan there are key moments to use the right language.  For example:

  • what you say in a thank you card
  • the message you include with one of our touch points
  • how you invite referral sources to an event not just for referral sources
  • what you say when you forgot to thank someone
  • how to turn a warm lead into a referral
  • how to turn an introduction into a referral
  • what you say during your first meeting with the person who was referred to you and considering hiring you.

These are all moments to weave in the right language, to plant referral seeds.  It is with this language that we show our gratitude and authenticity to our referral sources.  This language is never manipulative or takes advantage of the referral source.

Within my Growth By Referrals program I provide the “script” or language for a many different scenarios and then provide feedback to individuals on specific touch point ideas.  I feel it is my obligation to support my students in this way so they can show up the right way to their referral sources.  It is a little bit of an artform which can certainly be learned once you understand the key pieces to every message.


Step 5: Automate the plan and measure results

If step #3 – the one-year plan – is the what you do then this step is how you make it happen. It is the execution of the plan and of course tracking and measuring what is working and what is not working.  The automation portion of this plan is really based on the scheduling of the touch points.  You cannot automate or outsource all of the pieces.  You will have some work to do.  For example, you will need to write your thank you notes.  I don’t care how bad you claim your handwriting to be…you must show up authentically for this to work.

The template I use to build my plan and my VIP and online students’ plans allows us to easily translate that into our current calendar (I use Outlook but Google and others work too) or a project management system if you have one.  You definitely don’t need a project management system – you just need a way to calendar out what you are going to do so you actually do it when the time comes.

And then comes tracking and measuring our results.  If we don’t track a few key metrics then we won’t know what is working and what is not working.

Here are the few key metrics to track:

  • Number of referrals received by year (and you can break down by month as well to track trends over time)
  • Number of referrals received from each referral source (someone who send you 10 referrals in a year needs an upgraded outreach or touch point experience than someone who send your 1 or 2 a year)
  • Increase in number of referrals received from individual referral sources year over year (meaning are they sending you more in a year now that you are following the plan)
  • Breakdown of referrals by client or centers of influence
  • Your close rate for each referral source (meaning the average number or percent you close from individual sources – this helps you understand who is setting you up correctly and who is not)

Well, there you have it.  The 5 Steps to Create a Referral Generating Plan.  Carve out time today or at least this week to take time to understand all five steps and start applying what you can in your business. And don’t forget to download the 5 Steps freebie so you have an easy-to-reference guide of each of the 5 Steps.   I’d also love to know in the comments below what you decide to apply first!

If you need additional support please take the Referral Quiz  to know where you stand with your referral generating skills and join us in the free Referrals Without Asking Facebook group  for additional support.

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