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Broadening the On-ramp for Women-run Companies

How to Ask for Referrals

I've benefited greatly from warm introductions, but it always feels a bit akward to ask for those intros. Asking for referrals requires some courage and I've learned that it is a bit of an art form. I want to share some suggestions on how to ask for a referral from a current investor, portfolio company, customer, client, patient, etc. While this post is meant for any professional seeking referrals, there are also useful tips here for anyone who wants to learn how to ask for exactly what they want or how to better communicate what they have to offer.

Start with an authentic compliment. Let your referral source know that you love working with them and why. It may help to tell them that you would like to work with more people like them.

Be specific. Articulate some qualities of your ideal referral. Rather than asking whether they "know anyone" ask them if they can think of "one person".

Create scarcity. Let them know that you are choosy about the referrals you pursue. Since you have chosen to work with your referral source, this will likely feel like a compliment to them as well.

Create a sense of urgency. Let them know that you have a time-sensitive window to accept new referrals. I would suggest mentioning a specific timeframe like "I have some openings next week."

Offer other skills. Remind them of other ways your experience might benefit either them or the referral. As one example, my physical therapist recently asked me for some referrals. She reminded me that she is also a writer and can be especially helpful to patients who like to discuss writing while doing their PT treatments. This helped me think of three additional potential referrals.

Make it EASY. Ask them if it would make it easier for them if you drafted an email to forward on that explains why your ideal referral could benefit from your offering.

Follow up. Ask them if the person they thought of was interested. You might say something like: “Because it is helpful for me to understand why people do and don't decide to work with me, I'm curious: Did you get a chance to talk to the person you mentioned? What was their reaction?” Depending on their response, you might ask "Can you think of one more person who could benefit from working with me?"

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