Do you know - or have you ever tracked - how you get most of your new business?
Referrals are often a key source of work for electrical estimating businesses. The saying “it’s who you know” is often true, even on some of the bigger tendering jobs. Having a foot in the door with the procurement manager can have a lot to do with your success.
So, if referrals are one of the best ways for small businesses to get more work, how can you get more of them for electrical estimating jobs?
1. Get more testimonials
Testimonials are a vital marketing tool for most businesses. They provide the “social proof” that there are others who are using your business for their electrical estimating jobs and are happy with your work.
We wrote a while ago about getting good testimonials from clients and how to use them. One of the pointers for ensuring they are effective is to have them attributed to a real person, rather than posted anonymously. This way, anyone who is interested in hiring you and looking for proof can probably find a real person and ask.
Testimonials can lead to more referrals. A customer might recognise a testimonial from someone whom they are connected with, especially if your business is serving a local area. They talk to that person, then they are referred to you.
2. Ask for referrals
One of the best ways to get more referrals is to ask for them. Customers often don’t think to refer people to you unless you ask, yet many businesses simply don’t.
Timing when you ask is important - if possible, try to ask after they’ve had a positive experience with you. When they’ve just experienced the value and quality that you deliver, they’ll be in a more agreeable frame of mind. For example, this might be after a successful installation, or even as early as after a contract is signed.
It may seem obvious, but you wouldn’t want to ask for referrals from a customer who may not be particularly happy with the work you've done; for example if a project has fallen behind or if it's gone over budget. It wouldn’t be appropriate to ask for a referral at any time if you've missed the mark.
It also might seem a bit strange to ask if a lot of time has passed since you worked with the client. Ask at the time of working with them, or otherwise stay in touch somehow so you don’t seem to be appearing out of the blue.
3. Incentives for referrals
Should you offer incentives for referrals or not? There has been some controversy around this as many people feel it might be taken as a bribe. In truth though, people generally will not provide positive referrals to businesses they don’t personally believe in.
Why? Because most people don’t want to risk tarnishing their own reputations. People - on the whole - like to be helpful and would rather refer to someone who has proven themselves, rather than giving a referral just to get an incentive.
Besides that, you’ll find that your most loyal customers tend to be the ones who refer business to you the most - it’s nice to recognise them for their contribution. What might you offer as an incentive or acknowledgement? It could be anything from free follow-ups or maintenance, to a monetary incentive. Incentives are most effective when they are something the customer will value.
You may choose to have a formal or informal programme in place. There are tools available online that help with setting up formal referral programmes and these often give a professional look to clients. People feel comfortable referring when there is an organised system in-place.
4. Community involvement
Being involved in community events or activities is a great way to generate referrals. You might sponsor local events or volunteer for charitable organisations.
Whatever your community involvement, it provides the opportunity to meet many different people and get to know them. You never know who knows someone - or knows someone who knows someone else! - who is looking for electrical work to be done.
5. Networking groups
Similar to community involvement, networking groups can connect you with “people who know people.” For example, BNI (Business Networking International) is a well-known networking organisation with chapters all over the world, including the U.K.
One of the key things about referrals is that you preferably want highly qualified leads - those who are most likely to be a good fit for your services, rather than just anyone. A trick to getting more of those sorts of leads is to be clear when you’re asking for referrals. Tell people exactly who you’re looking for as specifically as possible.
For example, most people seem to use some variation of “I’m looking for anyone who…” when they request referrals. This tends to be too broad. If you can say “I’m looking for small business owners who want to install smart technology” (or whatever your specific target customer looks like), you have a better chance of getting relevant referrals.
To be even more specific, identify exact people or businesses you’d like an introduction to. “Does anyone know the procurement manager at X?” for example.
6. Leverage social media connections
LinkedIn is one of the first social media channels that comes to mind when considering how to get more business referrals, especially as it was set up for business networking and career opportunities. However, you might also find referral opportunities in groups you belong to on Facebook.
One way to proactively use LinkedIn is to create a list of people you’d like to be referred to (much like what we talked about in the last section), then do a “people” search. This should bring up the correct person to speak with (if they’re on LinkedIn, of course!), then also show you anyone who is a mutual connection. You could then try asking your connection to refer you.
7. Refer to other companies
Reciprocity is a powerful reason for people to refer business to you. If you refer business to companies you know and trust, they may reciprocate by doing the same for you. This works especially well within the construction industry: if you refer to other contractors as they may have clients they can also refer to you.
One suggestion on how to do this is to form informal “partnerships,” where you get to know other contractors who share the same work ethic and quality and refer to one another. Usually these would be contractors who have similar target customers, but aren’t direct competitors. For example, a lighting contractor might refer to a security systems contractor, or a builder might refer to a particular electrical business.
One thing that should go without saying is that if you want to generate more referrals, you need to be worthy of those referrals. It’s not just about the quality of your work (which of course, should be excellent), but your customer service too.
If you work on the small things that can delight customers, then you give them more reasons to refer business to you. It’s not that you have to go overboard; often being friendly and reliable, and available to make helpful suggestions is enough.
Besides referrals from clients, look for ways to leverage your networks for the referrals you’d like. Be very specific about the types of clients and jobs that you’re looking for as you’re more likely to get “right fit” referrals that way.
Lastly, we love referrals because they’re a great way to keep you in business without always hustling for new projects. If you can get a good rhythm going, many electrical contractors end up almost exclusively working on referral business.