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Letters to Editors: How to Give and Receive High-Quality Referrals

Cristen Iris

by Cristen Iris, originally published in Unbound Northwest


Referrals are perhaps the most efficient way to get new business and establish yourself as a problem solver, but some referrals are better than others. And the way in which you give and receive them matters--a lot.


A referral is, in its simplest form, a recommendation.


A referral facilitates a business transaction that benefits all parties.


"Hey, you should check out so-and-so's site. They might be able to help you," may qualify as a referral but not a high-quality one.


If you genuinely want to help people connect for mutual benefit, there are a few things you can do to increase the chances of success.

1. Qualify and Educate the Lead

After the person to whom you are speaking (the lead) expresses a need that someone you know may be able to fill, mention your connection and why you believe that professional would be a good fit. Give a short rundown of the professional’s bio/resume and the results they’ve gotten for similar clients.

Remember, the goal is to facilitate a meaningful connection that achieves the result the lead wants and needs.

2. Make the Introduction

Assuming the lead gives you permission to do so, connect the two parties by email. Here’s an example of what that email might look like:

Travis and Kate,

If we were all in the same room, I’d introduce you face to face. But since we aren’t, an email is the next best thing.

Travis, Kate is the website developer I mentioned when we talked today. Kate [hyperlink her professional website from name] has worked with X, X, and X [mention a few top clients, perhaps even linking to their sites] and is known for X [mention expertise and results]. **This should be a repeat of what you told Travis during step 1 and, if you include hyperlinks, gives him the opportunity to personally vet Kate. It also demonstrates to Kate that you know her business and that you know how to set a relationship up for success.**

Kate, Travis is [give title or a brief description that gives a clue about how she can help—hyperlink to the lead's website, LinkedIn profile, and/or company page if appropriate]. When Travis described his needs and goals, I thought you might be a good fit.

I’ll leave it to Travis to tell you more, but if there’s anything I can do to help either of you, please let me know.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

An email like this shows attention to detail, care, and respect. Even if Kate and Travis don’t end up working together, you’ve established yourself as a professional who cares about others and thinks and acts like a strategic partner.


When you find yourself in Kate’s position, respond with care because not only are you opening a dialog with a prospective client, the subtext communicates a tremendous amount of information to the referrer. They will use that information when making decisions about whether to refer others to you in the future.

I recommend a response (reply to all) like this:

Hello, Travis. It’s nice to make your acquaintance.

[Referrer’s name], thank you so much for thinking of me and introducing me to Travis. **Here’s an opportunity to say something nice about the person who sent the referral and demonstrate to Travis that you’re a team player.**

Travis, your project sounds interesting. Feel free to poke around my website. [If the referrer didn’t provide a link, do so here.] If you think we have the potential of being a good fit, let’s schedule a time to talk. [Put a link to your booking page or offer a few calendar slots.] In the meantime, if you have any questions, let me know. I’m here to help in any way I can.


[Your Name]

Notice that this is not a sales pitch. This is a nice-to-meet-you, no-pressure email. If the referrer has done a good job and if your website and other forward-facing media are set up properly, they'll prompt your new connection to make the next move if they see value and a potential fit.


Respond quickly and professionally. And ...

Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.

Keep the referrer in the loop by letting them know how your conversation with the lead/prospective client went, if you’re going to work together, or if it wasn’t a good fit.

If it wasn’t a good fit, this is your opportunity to say why. This information will help the referrer better qualify a lead the next time.

Assuming you do contract with the lead, follow up with the referrer when the project is done, and share any testimonial you received from the client and the results. In Kate’s case, she could send a link to the client’s new website.

When you stay connected and play the long game, you become a strategic partner. This will allow you to serve more people, grow your business, and develop your brand.


If you give an unqualified lead to a strategic partner, you are wasting their resources—their time and energy. If you don’t demonstrate your attention to detail and respect for their work, you risk losing their attention and respect.

If you receive a referral but don’t respond professionally, do great work, and follow up, you aren’t likely to receive more referrals from that source. However, when you consistently demonstrate the ability to connect and help others connect, you build trust: when you do that, everyone wins.


Related: Letters to Editors: Don't Make This Rookie LinkedIn Mistake


Photo Attributions:, CO0

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