By Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis

Originally published in Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers Journal

If you received a check for a considerable amount of money from an acquaintance who expected absolutely nothing in return, would you go out of your way to express your gratitude and acknowledge the sender’s thoughtfulness and generosity? Of course you would.

Then why do we so rarely extend this same courtesy to our businesses contacts who have referred potential clients? This is particularly puzzling considering that, as a rule, a quick and personal acknowledgement of a contact’s thoughtfulness can and often does lead to additional referrals from that source.

But wait, you say. Passing along a name is simply not the same as sending something intrinsically valuable – the aforementioned check, for instance. This is correct. A referral source actually holds a much greater value to you than any single monetary windfall. Business and professional contacts who send you potential clients are not merely handing you an opportunity to make money, they are stating, quite publicly, that your performance is exemplary. In effect, it is their judgement, which the referral has come to trust, that now will be put to the test. And, with each referral, a source’s good name and reputation is slightly more vulnerable than need be.

A referral, that is, a recommendation, is by definition an implicit endorsement of your legal skills and professionalism. What’s more, a referral represents a vote of confidence in your ethics, honesty and integrity; and it also says a lot about you as a person. This referring person believes in you, respects you and has confidence in your demonstrated ability to work effectively with others.

But referral sources must be nurtured, or they will go away. It requires only a minimal investment of your time to establish a procedure for regular and timely acknowledgement of referrals. In return, you can rest assured that your referring contacts will know their efforts have been worthwhile and appreciated.

Personal Notes

A personal touch is a crucial element in your acknowledgement procedure. In many cases, a personal note to your contact is all that is necessary. Always respond as soon as possible. Write a brief, but personal, handwritten message, acknowledging not only the referral but also the source’s thoughtfulness and confidence in you. Many attorneys have an inventory of quality note cards, blank inside for a personal note, printed in quantity. The number of your acknowledgment mailings will increase simply by having a supply of these notecards conveniently nearby – in the top drawer of your desk, in your briefcase and in your study at home.

Gifts

Prepare now for the occasional situation that calls for acknowledgement beyond a simple note. Over a period of time, have your secretary conduct a bit of research among all your potential referral sources. Discover which wine is favored; perhaps a box of cigars is better, a gift basket of favorite foods, a flower or plant arrangement, a gift certificate for a special restaurant. The possibilities are limitless. Without exception, also include that personal, handwritten note.
Advance preparation is your key to success. Know your source’s preferences and favorites well in advance of needing the information. Make sure to update this database at predetermined intervals.

There’s no need to wait for a referral to communicate with your network of contacts. In fact, nurturing and expanding your universe of business contacts should be a systematic part of your routine. Schedule weekly breakfasts or lunches with different contacts. It’s a great opportunity to build rapport, to find out about their businesses, and, often, to uncover a way that you might fit in.

Although the process of nurturing your business contacts and expanding your potential for referrals must take place over a period of time, you can, and should, establish this as a priority for your practice immediately. Commit now to a procedure of acknowledging all those who will help you along your way, and couple this with an ongoing push to broaden your network of referral sources.

True, it may be enough to watch as your bottom line soars, but odds are that all your goodwill, as a dividend, will make you feel even better for all the good you do.

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