Referrals on a Shoestring Budget

When I talk about how to create your referral generating plan, most people think a large budget is needed to make it work.

It’s not (thankfully).

But I understand how that perception happens.

When I use words like “experience,” “memorable and meaningful” and “top of mind throughout the year” the typical thought is a sizeable budget is needed to go along with it.

But the truth is you can have a successful referral generating plan on a shoestring budget or any size budget.

Here are some basic “rules” to consider when building a referral generating plan on a shoestring budget. One idea I am going to give you for free so read on!

Rule 1. Focus on Building Connections

At the heart of referrals is relationships so consider activities you can do that allow you to connect with your referral sources.  You can schedule coffee or a call just to check in and see how your referral source is doing and if you can help them in any way.  Now you can’t schedule coffee with people every week or month and you certainly can’t call them every week or month – nobody has time for that – but sprinkling in the face-to-face or voice-to-voice connection is powerful and helps maintain the relationship. But what you say when you get together or talk on the phone is important – focus on caring about them, asking how you can help them and then acting on whatever you agree to do.  That is crucial – do not drop the ball when you agree or offer to do something for a referral source.  Which means don’t offer if you know you can’t commit and honor the commitment.  Now extenuating circumstances will happen so just make sure to communicate why you aren’t able to fulfill the commitment.  But saying you forgot or got busy has a negative effect on the relationship and impacts what your referral source will think about you.

2. Don’t Forget to Thank (Even Randomly)

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 below – Keep Calm and Referral On.

Since I don’t want anything to stand in your way of having a memorable card I want you to steal my Keep Calm and Referral On card design.  Just click on the link below 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.

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3. Gain Some Runway by Being Memorable or Meaningful

I think the best way to explain how to be memorable or meaningful is to give you some examples of what you can do for free to connect with and stay top of mind with your referrals sources in a way they won’t see coming and will appreciate it.

Be Memorable by Being Funny
Is there a national day that ties to your business that you can share with a funny eCard or email? For example, it won’t cost you a penny to recognize that November 19th is National “Have a Bad Day” Day and you give permission to your referral sources to rock out to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves whenever they are having a bad day (even if it is not on Nov. 19th).  Just make sure to include the link to the song in the email so they can jam out right then and there.

Be Meaningful by Helping
One year I came up with a resource list for my referral sources that are financial advisors, bankers and mortgage brokers letting them know about national “Teach Your Children to Save” Day which is always in April.  (In case you are wondering, next year’s date is April 20, 2018). I wrote a quick email about the day and in the email, I shared a few resources they could use to connect with their clients who had kids.

The “teaching kids to save” resources included the following:

A bookmark for young kids (cheaply ordered and mailed)

A book for college kids (a little more expensive to purchase and mail)

An infographic on saving for all ages (freely emailed as attachment)

All the resources I included were tied to how to teach kids to save money. The email I sent to my referral sources – those financial advisors, bankers and mortgage brokers – contained links where they could easily check out these resources and order them for their clients if they wanted.  I made sure to include the free option as well as options that would cost some money so I was giving them ideas and options.

Best part is sending that email to them didn’t cost me a penny (but gained me a lot of goodwill).

At some point, you may want to consider upping your referral generation game and spend a little money on your referral sources and as part of your referral generating plan.  But again – you don’t need to break the bank.  But you may have to find the money to support a budget so let’s talk about that.

Finding the Money

Since I reap the benefits of a successful referral generating plan I know that focusing on taking care of my referral sources is truly a no brainer.  In fact, I do believe the money I spent every year on my referral sources as part of my referral generating plan is the most important item I have in my budget.  It even has its own line item in my budget.  You may actually have the money but you just need to get comfortable with spending it or you may have to cut something to make room in the budget.

Here is something to consider…I encourage you to re-direct some of your “prospecting” or “sales” activity budget to generating referrals.  Could be that telemarketer you are paying to set cold appointments for you, or one or two of the many organizations and associations you belong to and pay dues to, or that upgraded software to track your prospecting activities that you never actually use.  Do an audit of your “sales” expenses and just see if there is something to cut so you can shift those dollars to outreach and touchpoint to your referral sources.

[Related: Where Referrals Fit in Your Sales Strategy (and complete the sales strategy activity that is included for free)]

I understand this scares most people. But sometimes that fear is rooted in this particular thought process…

“I do these 10 activities and have brought on 10 new clients so the activities must be generating the clients. Which means I can’t stop these 10 activities and shift the money that supports these 10 activities to anything else.”

When in fact if we unpacked where those 10 new clients actually came from we would learn what is working and what is not working. Then we can re-direct the money from the activities that aren’t working to a plan to generate referrals.  I once had a client who felt his pipeline was getting low and he panicked.  He jumped into action and hit a few networking events over the next few weeks and made a bunch of outreach calls for the specific need of drumming up business from the people he reached out to.  There were 29 meetings held over a 20-day span.  His result?

Three new pieces of business.  Not bad, right?  Oh, but there’s more.

Here’s the kicker.

Those three new clients came from existing referral sources he already had and whether or not he had sprung into action with that flurry of activity, he was going to get those three new deals.  Because they came from existing referral sources.

Imagine the time – oh the time – and money (29 meeting is a bunch of coffees, lunches and happy hours) he could have saved by having a system or plan to follow to stay top of mind with his referral sources in an ongoing way so that he didn’t have to panic in the moment.

You don’t need a big budget to benefit from referrals and you can do it with little to almost no money – but you must have a system that you follow that will actually work.

I’d love for you to share what ideas you have that you can do to be memorable and meaningful to your referral sources in the comment section below!

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