How to Grow Your Business with Referral Groups

Are you ready to take business networking to the next level? Then try a business referral group. Business referral groups, also called business referral networks or leads clubs, are networking organizations with a difference: They’re all about giving and getting referrals. For business owners who want to get fast results, a business referral group can offer a proven way of expanding your customer base.

All good business referral groups have a few things in common:

Commitment: Members must commit to attending all meetings and arriving promptly. Referral groups typically limit the number of absences a member can have without being removed from the group. (For instance, you might be limited to one absence a quarter.) Because many groups have weekly meetings, this is a major commitment—one that’s intended to ensure only serious business owners are accepted into the group. For the same reason, members must also be working full-time in their businesses or professions.

Exclusivity: A business referral group typically restricts membership to one person from each profession, specialty or industry. This prevents members from competing against each other for business. For example, if you own a dental practice, you can’t join a business referral group that already has a dentist. Each group determines what constitutes a conflict of interest. For instance, an attorney specializing in personal injury law and an attorney specializing in estate planning may not feel they are competitive with each other, so both could be in the group.

Results Oriented: Business referral groups follow a highly-structured agenda to maximize results from each meeting. They also typically have quotas for members to give referrals; this ensures all members get something out of the organization. For example, LeTip requires passing on an average of one qualified referral each week, or doing business with another member each week.

Invitation Only: Because business referral groups are so structured and exclusive, you can’t just show up. Contact the group and ask to be invited. You may need to contact several different groups to find one open to your industry or profession.

Find a Business Referral Group

Are you interested in trying a business referral group? Here are a few places to look:

  • BNI With over 211, 000 members in 7, 800-plus chapters worldwide, BNI is the world’s best-known business referral organization. Last year, member referrals generated $11.2 billion in revenues for member businesses. Visit the BNI America website for more information.
  • LeTip LeTip functions along the same lines as BNI, but isn’t as big. Founded in 1978, this business referral group has 500-plus chapters in the U.S. and Canada. Visit the LeTip website for more information.
  • Meetup: The Meetup website is another place to search for business referral groups.
  • You can find other referral groups in your area by searching online for “business referral networks, ” “business leads networks” or “business referral groups.” Your local Chamber of Commerce may have its own business referral group or be able to direct you to nearby groups.

Test the Waters

Once you’ve received an invitation, find out exactly what will be expected of you at the first meeting, and prepare. In most cases, you need to show up with plenty of business cards and be prepared to speak concisely about your business and the value you can add to the organization.

As I said, you will likely need to try a couple of different business referral networks to find the one that’s right for you. Part of this comes down to where you feel comfortable. You also get the most benefit from a referral group if its existing members are complementary to your business. For example, if you own a home staging business, you’d benefit from joining a group with members that include real estate agents, home inspectors, remodeling companies and other businesses related to selling and buying homes.

The regular meetings and small group size have several benefits. First, you’re forced to be an active participant, unlike some networking groups where you can just show up whenever you feel like it. Second, because of the small group size, the members really get to know each other and understand each other’s businesses. When your business contacts have a clear idea of how your company can add value, the quality of referrals they give you will soar.

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