Making a professional referral is the trifecta of networking.  The person you refer is a winner, the person who fills their vacant position is a winner, and you’re a winner.  And just like a bet on the ponies, referrals can pose risk.

Providing a Professional Referral

Referring someone for a position you’re not 100% certain they can fill sets up what we might call a reverse trifecta. A referral mismatch disappoints all parties. It can set the referred person up for failure, which may reflect poorly on the person who hired them and can diminish your credibility with your network.

Seeking a Professional Referral

When you’re seeking a professional referral you increase your odds of success if you provide key information, including  a careful definition of WHY you’re seeking the referral, clarity about WHAT you have to offer, WHICH company needs your offering, and WHO the decision maker is at your target company.

For example, let’s say you learn in your Linkedin feed that Smith Engines just won a multi-billion-dollar design and manufacturing subcontract for a defense contractor. Your company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors.  You believe the decision maker at Smith Engines is the Vice President of Engineering. You could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in your space.  This is where you leverage your 500-connection network.  

You search your connections and find Jane—a 1st Connection who knows the Vice President of Engineering at Smith Engines. You call Jane and after providing the why, what, which and who you ask for advice on the best way to get in front the VP, and for her referral.

Leveraging a Referral Opportunity

Another type of leveraging opportunity occurred recently while I was leading a consulting engagement.  The project lead from another project (let’s call her Laura) called to tell me two of her team members were becoming available.  She asked if I could find a place for them for a couple of weeks while she worked on securing her next opportunity.  These two consultants were so valuable to her that she wanted to make sure they would be available to her when she secured a contract. 

We discussed the capabilities of each consultant and figured out how they could temporarily contribute to my engagement. They turned out to be two powerhouses who came in and after ten minutes of introduction got right to work.  Their immediate contributions helped our team exceed my clients’ expectations, and Laura was able to rehire them shortly thereafter.  Trifecta!

In an industry where we’re all independent practitioners, referrals can be risky. Laura put her reputation on the line when she referred her team members to me.  Her willingness to take that risk said it all about her confidence in those two consultants and made it easier for me to say yes. Referrals are just one way to leverage a strong network.  Successful referrals are one reward for developing and maintaining awareness of your connections’ capabilities.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups

Published by Leah Ward-Lee

Leah Ward-Lee, the author of "$1,000 Start-Ups", is a serial micro-entrepreneur. She opened her first business at ten after lobbying for and receiving a shoe shine kit for Christmas. She pulled her wagon through the neighborhood, going door-to-door, offering to shine her neighbor’s shoes for twenty-five cents a pair. Once her wagon was full, she took the shoes home and polished them. Unfortunately that business was short-lived. She hadn’t tagged the shoes and couldn’t remember whose shoes were whose, so her dad went with her to retrace the route until every pair was returned. Since then she’s had businesses developing and teaching college courses, instructing aerobic classes, owning half a plane that was rented to a flight and maintenance school, and renting homes. She’s also owned a consignment store, a gift shop, a gift basket business, a consulting firm, hosted The Executive Toolbox (a weekly radio show), and a publishing company. She also spent twenty years in the US Army, served as the Chief Information and Technical Officer for two major insurance companies, and has a second career as a management consultant. Leah resides in Dallas, TX and on Amelia Island with Sammy and Goliath, her two rescue dogs.

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