The Secret Art to Asking for Referrals

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Trust is a big issue when it comes to doing business. Customers are looking to work with companies that they can depend on and that they can trust to do the job well.  For that reason, one of the best ways for a company to gain new clients is to have current customers refer their colleagues and business acquaintances to the company. But getting referrals can be tricky. You might feel awkward asking for a referral, as you might think that doing so makes you look desperate for new business. Current customers or clients might want to help you, but might not necessarily think of mentioning your company to a colleague.

Asking for referrals–and getting them–involves a bit of art. Here’s what you can do to increase your business and build your customer base.

Know Who to Ask

Some customers are going to be more likely to give you a referral than others. The key is to identify those customers and ask them for referrals. One way to get a sense of who’s likely to recommend you to other clients is to run a survey. Ask customers to complete a survey after they make a purchase or after your company provides a service. Surveying customers will give you a sense of how happy they are with your company, or not.

To get an idea of how likely people might be to refer you, one of the survey questions should be something along the lines of “how likely are you to recommend our company to others?” You can have customers answer on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not likely and 10 being very likely or have them choose “not likely” “maybe likely” or “very likely.” You can also ask the customer to explain why he or she would or wouldn’t recommend you.

When customers return the survey to you, can sort out the responses who said that they are very likely to recommend you or who chose 9 or 10 and follow up with them about a referral.

Know When to Ask

Getting referrals is about getting the timing right. For example, if a customer is coming to you with a complaint, that’s not a good time to ask him or her to refer you to others! But if a customer thanks you for helping him or her solve a problem or if a customer is providing you with a good review or testimonial, either instance can be the perfect opportunity for asking him or her to refer you to others.

Another option is to make asking for referrals part of your contract with a customer. At the start of a project, you can ask a client to give you X number of referrals if he or she is happy with your work. That might feel like a forward thing to do, but if your company ends up delivering on its promises or over-delivering on its promises, a client is likely to be more than happy to recommend you to people he or she knows.

Follow Up Afterward

When a client does give you a referral, and that referral turns into new business for your company, the polite thing to do is to follow up with the first client. Send an email or letter or call him or her. Thank the customer for the referral and state that you appreciate their help. You might consider offering the referring client an incentive as a part of saying thanks. For example, you can offer a discount on service the next time the client works with you.

Give Referrals Yourself

One way to get referrals is to freely give out referrals yourself. If you have a client who needs a particular service or product, and you know of someone (perhaps another client) who does a great job with that particular service, go ahead and make the referral. Remember that part of building relationships in business is giving more than you receive. If you’re ready to help your clients, odds are likely that they will be ready to help you when needed.

The team at New Direction Capital understands the importance of referrals for helping your business grow. To learn more about how we can help your company, contact us today.

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Cliches aren’t always true. For example, you’ve probably heard people say that “too many cooks ruin the soup,” suggesting that having too many people on a project can spell disaster for that project. But, in the workplace, having more than one “cook” on a project can be a good thing. Collaborating with a team can mean that roadblocks are broken through more quickly, problems solved more easily, and more ideas are generated.

But collaboration isn’t always smooth sailing, to steal another cliche. People can have different opinions or might have trouble communicating with each other. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can encourage your employees to work together and to foster a collaborative spirit at your company.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

The first step towards collaboration is making sure everyone knows why they are working together and what they are working towards. In order for a team to truly be a team, it needs to be working towards a shared goal.

There are a few ways you can get everyone on the same page when it comes to a project. The first option is to hold a brainstorming session, during which you and other members of the team decide on a goal , discuss the reason for the goal, what will be done to reach the goal and put a plan in place to achieve it.

Another option is for a leader to have a goal or project in mind, then approach employees who might be interested in working towards that goal or participating in the project. This might seem like a less collaborative approach, since the entire team wasn’t involved in the initial goal setting or planning. But it can streamline the process of getting a project off of the ground and can help everyone involved feel as though they are there for a specific purpose.

Have Clearly Defined Roles

Jealousy can often get in the way of a collaborative spirit. So can having one member of a team feel as if all of the work and responsibility are falling on his or her shoulders. One way to avoid that and to foster true collaboration is to clearly define the responsibilities and roles of each team member.

Defining people’s roles can be as simple as divvying up the day’s tasks and having people volunteer to take them one. Who ever volunteers is expected to complete the task, no matter what.

Another option is to divide up roles and responsibilities based on people’s positions at your company or after reviewing each team member’s performance in the previous quarter or year. When determining who will do what, it’s often helpful to decide roles based on people’s strengths, rather than having people sign up for tasks or projects at random.

Don’t just define and assign roles, though. Work together as a team to figure out who will help whom and how each person can assist the others on the team to help complete the project and establish a sense of collaboration.

Give Them Access to Collaboration Tools

Make it easy for your team to work together and stay connected to each other by providing it with access to helpful collaboration tools. Those tools can include software programs or apps such as Skype and TeamWork, which allow people to communicate directly with each other, no matter where they are. Having a room or space at the office that’s dedicated to working together can also help teams collaborate more.

Have Them Work Close to Each Other

In some cases, the best way to get people to work together is to have them sit near each other when at work. A study from MIT found that proximity to teammates increased collaboration.  The study specifically looked at research papers and patents, but it can be applied to other aspects of business, too. According to the study, people who shared a workspace, even if they were in different disciplines, were more likely to work together than people who worked 400 meters apart. Working 800 meters away from someone made collaboration even less likely.

Remember that your collaborators don’t have to be employees. You can also collaborate with a partner company, such as New Direction Capital, to help with your company’s strategic planning and financial management. To learn more about collaborating with New Direction Capital, contact us today.

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Often, the smaller your business, the more interconnected your staff and team members are. One of the selling points for working at a smaller company for many people is that smaller companies tend to have more close-knit cultures. When there’s just five or 10 people working for a business, it’s easy for people to feel as though they are working with friends or family, not just with a group of colleagues.

But as a business grows, it’s common for some of that culture to wear off.  It’s easy to schedule a weekly breakfast for a team of five, but much more difficult to do so for a team of 50, especially when some of those team members work remotely or work in an office in another city or state.

Your business doesn’t have to lose its culture as it grows, though. There are a few ways you can work to maintain a feeling of camaraderie and a sense that you’re all working towards the same goal, whether your business has one location or several, a team of 10 or a team of 200.

Commit to Team-Building Programs

One way to keep your company culture even as you add new employees and open new locations is to keep the focus on building and maintaining teams and to keep the focus on recognizing the contributions people make to your company. You can start an employee of the month program or give out rewards to employees who hit certain quotas or who go above and beyond for a particular quarter.

Another option is to have an employee recommendation program. With this type of program, co-workers are encouraged to nominate a member of their team who’s done something particularly great or a co-worker who’s always ready to help out. Implementing a program that encourages others to see the good in their team members and that encourages people to work hard to help their colleagues will help your business maintain its culture, no matter how many people you have on staff.

Make Smart Hiring Decisions

When companies are just starting out, it’s common for the people doing the hiring to look at a candidate’s fit with the culture of the company more than his or her skill set. Skills matter, but many business owners recognize that you can always train someone or teach skills. You can’t really teach someone to fit in.

As businesses grow, that focus on fit and culture tends to fall away during hiring decisions, which can create some stress among co-workers. A new employee might be great doing the work, but might have a management style or approach to work that rubs other team members the wrong way.

Although you do want to have top-level, talented employees as your business grows, don’t sacrifice fit for skill set. Use the same criteria for hiring that you did when your company had just a handful of employees.

Establish and Maintain Traditions

Just because your company has gone from a team of five to a team of 50 doesn’t mean you can maintain traditions or participate in team-building exercises together. While it’s harder to get a group of 50 in a room all at once than a group of five, it can be done.

There are a few ways you can establish company-wide traditions to help your business maintain its culture. If your team regularly ate lunch together when there were just five of you, keep the employee lunch, but have it be more flexible. For example, you can have a group lunch every Thursday in one of your conference rooms. Don’t make attendance mandatory, but invite everyone and let them know that the invitation is open. If someone can’t make it one week, they can always try again the next.

Listen to Your Team

One last way to keep your company culture as your business grows: Keep an open door policy between executives and other employees. Few people want to work for a faceless boss or want to feel that their needs aren’t being met or that their concerns aren’t listened to. Invite your employees to schedule meetings with you to discuss concerns. You can also have an anonymous feedback box, for people who want to share concerns confidentially.

Do you want more advice or guidance to help your business as it grows? New Direction Capital offers virtual CFO services and strategic planning to help your company. To learn more, contact us today.

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Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.netBuilding strong, long-lasting relationships is part of the key to business success. One way to lay the groundwork for business relationships is to network. But not everyone enjoys networking. For people who are introverted or shy, networking can be the last thing they want to do, ever.  Few things feel more awkward for some business owners than standing in a hotel conference room with a plate of cheese and crackers in one hand and a pile of business cards in the other.

Fortunately, there are ways to network that aren’t so uncomfortable or cringe-inducing. Here’s what to do to make networking a more enjoyable experience, even if you’ve never liked it in the past.

Choose Events Carefully

The good news: Not all networking events are created equal. Some are much better than others. The key is finding the better events and avoiding the awkward ones. For example, if the thought of 50 or more people meeting in a big public area gives you the chills, look for events that limit the number of attendees to 10 or fewer.

If you feel uncomfortable at events that are designed to just be “mixers” or “meet and greets,” look for networking opportunities that have a specific activity behind them, ideally an activity you enjoy. For example, you can find a hiking club for business professionals or join a business book club. You’ll get to meet people and grow you network, but since “networking” isn’t the sole goal of the event, you’ll feel less pressure.

Bring Along an Associate

Another key part of running a successful business is knowing the strengths of your employees. Perhaps you have a colleague who is very adept at approaching new people or making small talk. Bring that person along to be your wing person at your next marketing event. He or she can approach people and introduce both of you and your company.

Just make sure you don’t depend on your associate too much during a networking event. It can also be helpful to spend some of the event on your own, talking to new people. Your associate can be there as a back-up, so that you have someone to talk to or connect with when you’re feeling uncertain about what to do next.

Set a Goal

Go to each networking event with a specific goal in mind, one that you can easily achieve over the course of the event. For example, if you’re shy, don’t make your goal “get 100 business cards.” Instead, make a goal that’s something along the lines of “have a decent conversation with one other person.” If you know who will be at the event, decide who you’ll try to approach before  you get there. Pick a few different people, and make your goal to speak to at least one of them. That way, if you choose one particularly popular person and one less popular person, you can speak to the less in-demand person and still achieve your goal.

Make a Long-Lasting Connection

Some people view networking as a quantity over quality game. While it can feel great to leave an event with a huge stack of business cards, what you do with those cards when you get back to the office is what matters. It’s better to have just one card or two and follow up with the people you met rather than have 50 cards that you stick in a rolodex and never look at again.

Once you get back to work after the event, send a short email to the people you met. Mention that it was great to meet them, rehash something that you spoke about at the event or bring up anything memorable that happened. Think of this message as a giving message rather than an asking message. Don’t ask your connection to do anything for you. Instead, make suggestions or offer to help them in a way that seems relevant.

New Direction Capital understands the importance of building long-lasting, thriving business relationships. Contact us today to learn more about how our CFO services can help you grow your business and move to the next level.

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Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.netYou’ve heard it said that it’s not what you know, but who you know that can help you get ahead. That is definitely the case when it comes to growing your business or taking your company to the next level. Having a strong network and social support can help you grow your business. Building up that network can take time but is often worth it in the long run. Here’s why being social can pay off.

You Get Inside Information

Harvard Business Review recently published a study examining the difference between male and female champagne grape growers. More grape growers are male than female, which might seem to set the female growers up for unfair treatment or otherwise put them at a disadvantage. But HBR’s study found something else entirely. Women growers were able to ask for and receive higher prices for their grapes than male growers.

The authors of the study chalked the female grower’s advantage up to their ability and willingness to be social with each other. Since they were in the minority among growers, women tended to bond and to form relationships and networks with each other. Those networks led them to share information about pricing, which in turn allowed them to get more competitive rates for their grapes than the male growers. Meanwhile, the male growers were likely to insist that no one shared pricing information with each other, a belief that prevented them from getting a higher price for their grapes.

You Get Support When You Need It

Another benefit of being social is that you develop a support system. Then, when you have a concern or need help solving a business problem, you have people to turn to who might already have an idea of how your company runs and what it might need to take the next step or otherwise advance.

You Can Get Referrals

Many businesses get a lot of their customers from referrals. When you know people, and they know what you do, they are likely to recommend you to others who might need what your company has to offer. But people are only going to recommend you or refer you if they know you and have a connection to you.

Likewise, you can also refer your customers to a member of your network if you know that your customers are looking for something your fellow business owner offers. Referrals don’t just help your business or your colleague’s businesses grow. They also reinforce trust within your business network.

How to Network

Knowing how to network and connect with other businesses or other business owners is a key part of using your network to help build your business. There’s a fine line between networking and socializing and expecting everyone in the room that be always willing to solve your problems.

The most important thing to remember is that networking is a two-way street. Think about what you have to offer your network before you ask for help or advice. You don’t want to be the person who shows up to a networking event and expects everyone there to immediately help you nor do you want to be the person who’s only ever asking for advice.

If a member of your network does help you out or give your some advice, find a way to reciprocate. You might refer others to his or her company, for example, or hire his or her company the next time you need that particular service.

Remember that being social isn’t the same thing as being a freeloader. The people in your network are also in business. They depend on other paying to benefit from their skills or service. It’s acceptable to ask for simple advice and to ask a question or two. But if you want more in-depth guidance, it’s better to hire the person you’re networking with, rather than continue to try to get information for free.

Great relationships are key to your business’ continued growth and success. New Direction Capital takes our relationships with our clients very seriously, with the goal of helping those we work with grow. To learn more about our CFO services, contact us today.

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