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How to get more referrals from your network

March 3, 2012

Most people I know go networking for one ultimate reason – to get referrals for their business. Note that a referral is not a guaranteed sale – it is an introduction to somebody who may have need of your services. So in order to achieve your sales, you need to maximise the number of referrals you  receive initially. So here are some tips that will help you get better referrals:-

  • Network in the right places – Not all networking groups are the same. If you are trying to connect with corporates in the City then  a business group focusing on the local high street would not be relevant


  • Finding related professions – If you can find related professions then they should provide you with a steady stream of referrals. For example if you are a plumber then associated professions could be a gas safety engineer, a builder, an electrican etc. As I know that my best referrals come from accountants, business coaches and IT support companies, I am always looking for them.

However, there is no guarantee that you will get referrals from such a group. You need to ensure:-


  • You actually get on with these related professions on a personal level. Nobody is going to refer you if you they don’t like you.
  • You act professionally – i.e turn up on time, wear appropriate attire etc
  • You refer back – if all you do is take referrals from others, without given referrals in return, then you will not be highly regarded and sooner or later the referrals will dry up


  • What do you actually do This might seem obvious e.g a cleaner just “cleans” – but if you focus on what benefits you deliver than your service you could get better referrals. In the case of the cleaner, this could be “clean using standards that have been proven to eliminate MRSA from hospitals” (assuming that this is true). 

Similarly my business is building spreadsheets and databases. However, I actually help companies by saving them reducing processing time from days to minutes – and when companies see the benefits I get the referrals

  • What do other people think you do It is actually quite surprising what people perceive you do. Most people I know aren’t aware of the benefits of the systems that I offer. Hence, I spend a lot of time getting feedback from people on my services. Likewise ask people what they believe you do and what benefits they believe you deliver.


  • Showcase your work – Although people know what you do, it is actually when they seen examples of your work that they get more of an understanding.  So if you are a photographer  you should show people examples of your photographs e.g on your website, or carry around a small portfolio of your work. This also applies to trade professions as well e.g if you a builder take regular photos of your projects as they progress – especially if they show that you are clean and tidy in your work.


  • Offer related services Is there a related service that you can offer clients that offers additional benefits ? For example if you run a computer repair business, can you offer remote back up services that automatically back up clients data ? Since I added databases to my portfolio, I have opened up a whole new offering to clients who were previously confined to using spreadsheets.

How a database can improve your return on networking

September 12, 2011

Networking  has proven to be an essential part of growing my business. I realised last week , that I will probably earn over 90% of my fees from networking this year.  For comparison, last year it was 10%.

However I regard having a database as a crucial part of acheiving this.  Of course for a database to be effective, it needs to contain information that can help you reach your target.  The obvious things are for each contact:-

  • Their name
  • Company Name
  • Sector (e.g accountant)
  • E-mail address
  • Phone number

If you just collected this information after each event that you attended, you probably won’t get much in the way of financial return. At the end of the day, networking is about developing relationships – making sure that people don’t forget you.

Hence your database needs to be a bit more advanced if it is going to help you hit serious money. There are 3 key areas.


The first thing that needs to be in your database are fields for FOLLOW UP. When’ve met somebody for the first / second time, you might agree to meet for longer over a coffee. Hence in your datbase have fields for :-

  • Type of follow up (coffee, arrange to meet another event etc)
  • Date of follow up

Potential customers regard reliability as a key part of whether or not to engage somebody – so follow up is a key part of networking.

Note that having a database containing all the follow up plans is useless you actual do the follow up. If you build your database in Excel then you can use conditional formatting to make the cells go a different colour when the follow up date arrives.


If I like somebody when I meet them at an event, then I always ask who they are looking to meet. Often such people are in the room and it is easy to introduce.   When I go  home, I add this information to my database.

I then look in my database to see if anybody meets their criteria, and then drop them an email introducing them to each other. The crucial thing here is that the database has helped me introduce them to somebody who is not in the room. It also keeps alive existing relationships (without spam email marketing).

I once introduced an insolvency practictioner and a credit control consultant in this way. The two got on so well, that they actually run a quarterly networking event themselves.


The key to networking has to be doing it regularly. Likewise, you need to keep your database up to date – regularly. If you just let the business cards pile up week after week, then they wil become worthless bits of paper. However, if you update your database once a week, and start introducing people then you should start to see some dramatic results in your networking.

How a customer database can help you get more business

August 28, 2011

Many businesses fail to understand how having a customer database can help you win further business.  One of the easiest sources of new business is from existing customers. However, a database can only help  if you are able to extract information from it and analyse it.

A lot of businesses think that Microsoft Excel constitutes a database. Unfortunately, although Excel is  good at storing data, it is not particularly easy to extract information  from. In particular a lot of manual effort is required to extract information such as :-

  • Who your customers are
  • What they have bought – and when they bought it
  • How much they spent

By having a proper database, you should be able to run reports and obtain this information. So how can this information be used to gain more sales ? It is best illustrated by industry specific examples.

Example 1 : Product based industries

Lets imagine that you are a printer and have a customer database. Every year your customers order calendars and xmas cards. So with your customer database you can run reports every year that tell you :-

  • which customers bought cards last year
  • which customers bought calendars last year
  • which bought cards and calendars
  • which bought neither

You can then contact these customers and see if they want to buy cards/calendars  this year.

As a next step, you can contact those customers that purchased only calendars and see if they wanted matching cards.

However if this analysis is done properly you deduce further information – in particular  you can analyse the types of customers that buy both calendars and cards.  You could deduce that marketing agencies purchase both cards and calendars. Hence you could contact other marketing agencies (who do not currently buy from you) and see if they are interested in buying calendars / cards.

Example 2 :  Service Based Industries

In this example, we assume that you run alarm installation company. You install domestic and commercial alarms – which need servicing every two years.  By having a customer database, you can determine when these service dates are due. Armed with this information you can contact these customers and remind them that their service is due. When speaking to them (by letter / phone / email) you can mention new products that may interest them e.g CCTV to increase the security of their property.



10 reasons to automate your invoicing

August 21, 2011

By automating your invoicing, I mean that you generate your invoices at a click of a button- as supposed to creating them by hand. Here are 10 reasons why this will benefit your business:-

1) You will save your yourself a considerable amount of time Have you ever worked out the time you waste on generating invoices ? I had a customer who saved himself 15 working days a year by moving to an automated invoicing system.

2) Your branding will improve By generating your invoices automatically, they will by default have exactly the same look and feel – making you and your organisation look much more professional.

3) Improved Cashflow – Most people hate repetitive tasks such as invoicing – if you simplify a task then you will do it earlier. The earlier you send your invoices out, the earlier you will get paid.

4) Reduced Overheads – A manual invoicing system will involve either your time or your staff’s time (with you double checking everything). If you automate your invoicing, then you no longer incur this cost.

5) Sequential invoice numbering – How many of us leave gaps in our invoice numbering ? i.e going from invoice no. 182 to 184  ? In the UK, HMRC (Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise) take a suspicious view of gaps in invoice numbering. They worry that an invoivce has been raised and the money withheld from the business.

6) Improved Payment Profile By generating your invoices automatically,you should also be able to generate the payment due date automatically. This means you can track those invoices that have not been paid by a certain date.

7) Identify your best and worst customers. If you have a system that creates your invoices automatically then you can analyse who are your best and worst customers and use this to generate more sales.

8) Determine your best selling products – A properly designed automated invoicing system will allow you to determine which products you are selling and who to.

9) Reduced Accountancy & Bookkeeping costs. If you generate our invoices manually then you probably provide your accountant and bookkeeper a stack of paper. However if you automate your invoicing then you can provide them with the summary information that they need – saving you money.

10) You can have a holiday – Well if you save yourself 15 working days a year and your cashfow improves through better payments … then I’d say you deserve  a holiday !!!

Why the Letters A&E can save your business

August 14, 2011

Most people when they think about A&E think Accident & Emergency.

However I am talking about Actual and Expected – or how is your business actually performing against what you expected. I have spoken to a number of business coaches and accountants who state that businesses that  grow and thrive regularly review their business progress on either a quarterly or monthly basis.

The converse also applies – those that struggle and go under spend very little (if any time) analysing this information.

You may niavely suggest that your accountant produces your accounts every year and this is sufficient. I would almost bluntly say that it is not – for a number of reasons:-

  • Your accountant will produce information which is typically a year out of date – to keep ahead of your business you need info which is created monthly or quarterly.
  • Your company returns will lack the detail that you require to analyse your business effectively. For example the accounts will show only the annual turnover that has been made – not your monthly turnover

So where to start ? A simple way would be to make a list of questions that you would like to answer about your business and then gather the information that can help you answer these questions:–

  • What is my monthly turnover ?
  • Who are my biggest customers ?
  • How much do I spend on overheads every month ?
  • How long do my customers take to pay me ?

You can set this information up in an excel spreadsheet and develop it over time. You might consider having a seperate tab for each months activity and then a summary sheet that gives you a high level view. To make it easier, you could even put this information on a graph. A simple graph showing your actual sales versus your expected sales can be a real eye-opener.

As you become more proficient, you can develop the spreadsheet and even consider automating it. I remember one of my first clients who used to take 8 hours a month trying to reconcile the actual business activity with the expected. I managed to redesign the spreadsheets so that it produced all the information automatically.

My client said that as well as saving him 8 hours a month, it also saved his business and probably his marriage . He could see exactly how his busness was performing and was able to take rectifying action within a matter of weeks.




Why it pays to automate your invoicing process

August 3, 2011

In any business, cash is king. The more cash you have in your bank, the more choices you can make about your business. Hence, anything that help you get cash faster into your bank is simply a no brainer.  So if you can automate your invoice process, it means that you can start to improve your cashflow considerably.

Just for clarification, by automation, I mean that you can produce your invoices at a click of a button – instead of manually producing them. By automating them the invoice is automatically populated with the following info:-

  • Your customers name and address
  • A description of the products and services supplied
  • Quantative information relating to the volumes and price of the products and services supplied
  • Invoice totals inclding any sales tax such as VAT
  • Payment Terms & Conditions

The alternative is you manually produce them by typing out all the information or copying it from another source.

But just how much time can be saved through automation ? One of the best systems I implemented was for a courier firm. They undertook over 1,000 journeys on behalf of their 30 or so customers in a month.  It used to take them 6 hours a fortnight to generate their invoices. After I finished working with them – just 5 minutes. Over a year they saved over a week – which can be used on other tasks.




4 things you should automate in your business

August 2, 2011

1. Have a single  database that contains all your potential contacts, suppliers, and of course customers.

Businesses revolve around contacting contacts and converting them into customers. However many businesses make their lives unnecessarily complicated by NOT having all contact, customer details in a single database. If you have the same information in more than one database, then how do you know which one is correct  ? When you invoice your customer, and use the wrong address, they won’t receive the invoice and so how can they possibly pay you ?

2. Automate the generation of your quotes

If you have a database containing all your parts list then it should be easy to select the relevant items and build your quotation in a matter of minutes.  Without this, you’ll spend hours generating quotes  (I know of at least one business that spends 3 hours creating a single quote – which if automated can be done in a matter of minutes).

Time saved on generating quotes can be used more profitably in other areas.

3. Invoice generation

Once the quote has been generated, it should be easily convertible into an invoice – a click of a button. Further you should be able to track the invoice back to the quote(s).

4. Payment tracking

Of course it is no good just raising the invoice – we need to ensure that the money is paid on time. Hence every time you raise an invoice, you should know when the expected payment date is. A well run business will make its customers aware of payment terms up front and remind them on the invoice.

Hence having a database that contains the payment due date for raised invoices,  and flags any that are overdue is one of the simplest ways of improving your cashflow.