Most of your peers, friends, and family might know what you do for a living, but aren’t exactly sure who your ideal clients are. Or perhaps they do know several people who fit your ideal client profile but are unaware that you would like to meet them, which can create a lot of missed opportunities for you. By the same token, they may think they know who your ideal prospects are but regrettably refer you to the wrong people.

Referrals that don’t fit your ideal prospect profile can cause real damage to your business building efforts for two reasons. First, the person who referred you may feel unappreciated and the referral may be unhappy when they learn you aren’t interested in pursuing a business conversation with them. Both parties may feel their time has been wasted through miscommunication. Second, that crossing of signals could hurt the relationship between your referral source and the referral.

Many people make referrals to advance their relationship with the person they are referring. If the referral is not welcomed, trust between the referral, the person making the referral and you can be diminished and set three relationships back.

Worst case, your advocate could be reluctant to refer you in future for fear of getting it wrong again.

Here are five ways to ensure you receive more quality of referrals.

  1. Articulate your ideal client: Think about your business and determine the type of clients you are seeking. If you serve many types of clients, make a list prioritizing five types of ideal clients. It may sound as if you are making unrealistic demands on your referral sources or advocates, but if you communicate this information to your most productive referral sources, you will save them (and you) a lot of time. Consider sending them a short note to the effect: “Thank you for your support – I truly appreciate your efforts in referring me to some of your valued clients, colleagues and friends. For your convenience, here is a prioritized list of the kinds of clients I am looking to serve: law firms, wealth management firms (including banks), accountancy firms, and family business owners/operators and insurance companies. I hope this helps save you time, and if you would like to refer me to someone and aren’t sure about the fit, please call or email to briefly discuss. “
  2. Stay top-of-mind: Be consistent in keeping your wish for referrals top-of-mind among your advocates. This doesn’t mean bothering them or mentioning referrals in every conversation. Consider instead sending a quarterly newsletter with content about the art and science of making good referrals that they can share with their clients and prospects to benefit their referral gathering efforts. The topic of referrals will remain in their minds and they will be more likely to think of you and perhaps pass on your newsletter to potential prospective clients.
  3. It’s a two-way street: Stay in touch with your 10 top advocates and try to refer them to appropriate prospective clients or employees. Referrals are really a two-way street and you need to be sure any referrals you give are qualified and of the highest quality if you expect the same in return. (A qualified referral involves talking to a person to confirm they are interested in a product or service before you refer someone to them.) Two qualified referrals are more meaningful than 10 hastily considered ones that could potentially damage your reputation.
  4. Respect others’ time: Be prompt in responding to an invitation to refer you, whether the person is a good referral, or not. Professionalism involves regard for others’ time and quickly acknowledging their efforts on your behalf.
  5. Build relationships: Regardless of the outcome of a referral, be sure to thank all parties for their time. The referral that didn’t work out could be the source of many great future referrals. As the year ends, consider forsaking another email and sending short hand-written notes to your top advocates (or as many as you wish) thanking them for their support.

A version of this article was originally posted at