LinkedIn is one of the best tools for finding and generating referral business.
If you're looking to kick start your networking, start with LinkedIn and who you already know. According to Dale Carnegie, 91% of customers say they'd happily give referrals, but only 11% of salespeople actually ask for them.
Step 1: Make a List of People Who Know Your Work Well
If you've neglected your LinkedIn network and haven't already connected with people you've worked with and for, make a list. It's surprising how often people miss opportunities. Write names down with good old pen and paper - somehow it jogs the memory better. Include people you've worked with on projects. Include associates, superiors, vendors, even assistants involved on the project. People change jobs. As long as they're familiar with your good work, they'll be interested in helping you at their new company, or in a new position.
Step 2: Connect with Those People You're Not Already Connected To
For the people on your list who you haven't yet connected to on LinkedIn, send them a PERSONALIZED connection message. Write something simple.
"Hi Brendan, Long time no see. How are you? How are things at X Company? Let's meet for coffee to catch up."
In my experience people don't tend to respond to their connection messages. They just see Connection Invitation and Hit Accept. Once someone accepts your invitation to connect, email them, message them or phone them directly to follow up - while you're still fresh in their minds after connecting.
Step 3: Search Through Your Connections
For those people you're already connected to on your list, search for each person. You'll be surprised by the amazing intel and opportunities you'll discover. Send a quick LinkedIn message to reconnect and set up a conversation offline. Here are some ideas:
"Hello Diane. How are you? I see you're still at Company X. Congratulations on the promotion. My company recently developed a new program I think could be very useful to you. Let's set up a call or coffee meeting."
"Hi John, I noticed you're no longer at Company X. How are things going at Company Y? Do you think our X services might be useful at your new firm? Would love to take you to lunch next week to catch up."
"Hello Sydney! Recently thought of you and checked out your profile. I see you're at a new company. I know someone who might be very interested in your services. Let's set up a time to talk."
Step 4: Advanced Search
Run an Advanced Search for your ideal client. If your results produce a second connection to a first connection who knows your work well, reach out to that first connection and ask for an Introduction or Referral.
"Katrina, It's been so long! I hope you are well. I see you're connected to John Doe on LinkedIn. Our services might really help out a company like his with the new Federal regulations. How well do you know him? Would you take a few minutes to talk to me about him or perhaps be a referral."
Step 5: Connect on LinkedIn with People You Meet Offline
If you're at a conference, and get people's business cards, turn those people into LinkedIn connections. Then search through their connections to see if there are people you might want to be introduced to. However, it's best to build the relationship, before asking for something. Go through YOUR connections to see who you can introduce or refer them to, first.
LinkedIn search results always show connections that are closest to you (1st/2nd) at the top, and for good reason. The closer the proximity and stronger the connectivity the greater the likelihood people will find you trustworthy. In order to strengthen your 2nd degree / referral network, you must first be connected on LinkedIn to the people you know. Secondarily, start your referral networking by referring people in your network before asking for referrals from others.