“I’m Sorry, but I Just Can’t Refer You…”

SorryWouldn’t it be awful to hear those words from a client or partner or colleague? “I’m sorry, but I just can’t refer you…”

Wow, what a slap in the face. Or a wake-up call.

But what if you’re actually great at what you do, and you’re still not getting referrals? What’s the problem then?

Maybe you’re just not referral-ready.

What makes a person or business not referral-ready? As someone whose entire business model is built on referrals (me referring others, and others referring me), I regularly see a handful of missing pieces that keep people from getting the referrals they deserve.

Here are the most common reasons you may not be referral-ready:

1. Your offering – your unique value – is not clearly articulated. You sound like a bunch of other competitors, making you a forgettable commodity. I don’t know why I should refer you.

2. You say that you do so many things, I can’t remember your sweet spot. I don’t know when or where I should refer you.

3. You use technical terms and jargon to explain what you do, which I cannot grasp (and therefore can’t explain to others). I don’t know what I’m supposed to refer.

4. You don’t narrow down your target audience. If I don’t know who you serve, and what you’re looking for, I don’t know who to refer you to.

5. Your story and success cases are not memorable. I don’t have memory hooks and words that bring you to mind when a referral could be forthcoming. I don’t know how to refer you.

You see, it’s not enough to be good at what we do. We also need to put into succinct and memorable words exactly what we do and whom we do it for, if there is to be any hope that others can refer us.

Here is the simple test I use to see if I’m referral-ready in the mind of another. When a person I know introduces me to someone new, and that individual inevitably asks me what I do, I turn to my friend/partner/colleague/client who made the introduction and say, “Why don’t you explain what I do?” It’s surprising how often people with whom we have a professional relationship cannot accurately articulate our value and our niche (but how rewarding when they can, and enthusiastically do!).


We are refer-able when we occupy a distinct and clearly understood position in the mind of others. So before we do ANYTHING else, our highest priority should be to get clarity about our value and our message.

Being referral-ready is like having verbal business card that you – and others – can pass out.


Also on the blog: How to Become Referral-Ready – I’ll Speak at Your Next Event!

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  1. Steve this is a great article. Wonderfully written – covering all the points someone needs to think of when building burliness / relationships through networking. Thank you for a terrific piece.

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