Using partnerships to grow your business is smart business. Partnering drives market awareness, aligns your brand with other credible brands, opens doors to new customers and can even provide value-added products and services to increase your average sale.

Referrals are key to growing your business. But rather than waiting and hoping to get some referrals, a proactive approach is to strategically develop Referral Partners – people with whom you already have a relationship with, and those who can proactively introduce and refer you to your target prospects. The prospects they send you are the easiest-to-convert leads you’ll ever get.

But how do you find them? Below are 3 steps.

Research who has regular contact with your target customers

This step brings you closer to potential referral partner candidates.  Figure out what other products and services that your ideal target customers buy.  From whom do they buy their supplies, and who do they contract for the services they need?

For example, If you want to market to computer shops, you could find out who else provides them with services or products.  Find out who provides their internet connections, and who supplies their hardware and software.   Those providers are doing the same for numerous other computer-related shops in town. This puts them in a perfect position to introduce you to their other potential owner-partners.

Go where they go

After you have identified your targets based on the industry, area of operation, and potential to hook you up with your market target, find out where these prospective referral partners go, and find a way to meet and introduce yourself to them.

This would not only mean that you go to networking events where they are – remember that there are dozens of other people who have the same purpose as you. This means finding out what coffee shops, gyms, restaurants and the like they go to. Don’t be too creepy-stalkerish about this, though. After all, you might end up reported to authorities. Be as “natural” and casual about bringing yourself closer to where they are.

Use this approach so that you don’t scare them off: “I think you and I do similar work, but perhaps not for exactly the same market. I’d like to see if we might be able to refer each other clients now and then. Would you like to have lunch sometime?” or: “I believe you and I may share the same target market, and I’m wondering if we might be able to help each other make more connections with potential clients. Would you like to get together and talk about it?” This way, you assure them that you are not there to steal their existing clients.

Remember, the more familiar they are with you – the more they know about you – the bigger the chances they will trust you to be their partner.

Return the favor

Once you and your new partners have agreed to be connected, do what this referral relationship requires – mutually refer customers to each other. Most people make the mistake of expecting to receive referrals, but never pull their weight with their part of the deal. The surest way to erase yourself from the good graces of contacts is to be labelled forever as a user, and never giving back.

The best potential partners will welcome your contact, because they will understand that it may also benefit them to get to know you.