Successful leaders know the value of hard work, innovative thinking, and perseverance. But they also know this basic truth:
Most of the best things in business — and life — come to you through other people.
Good business is rarely a solo enterprise, and relationships are essential to sustained, successful business. And whether you’re doing lead gen, raising your next round, or looking for a new role, LinkedIn is one of the best ways to intentionally build and nurture a referral network — that is, a network of relationships with people who can offer you the connections and opportunities you need to move forward.
When your referral network is optimized, you are surrounded by like-minded individuals who can help you achieve your goals by connecting you with opportunities.
Regardless of what you are working towards, referral networking can help you achieve it. Here are a few tips on how to use LinkedIn to build a strong referral network that will help you accomplish your goals:
1. Define Your Objective
Before you start reaching out, it’s important to define your objective. Why are you reaching out? What do you hope these new connections will help you achieve? Once you have a clear objective in mind, you can identify the people who can help you. For example:
- If you are doing lead generation, your referral network might include people who know ideal prospects.
- If you are raising a round, your referral network may include people who are known and respected by investors, such as CEOs who have already been funded.
- If you are looking for a new role, your referral network could include people who are connected to hiring managers in the type of company you want to work for or people who already have the type of job you want.
2. Go Beyond Your Current Network
You might expect that the people who know you best are the most likely to make referrals.
But recently LinkedIn published a study, in which they looked at the behavior of 20 million people over a five-year period. They found that most job referrals came from people with “weak ties,” such as acquaintances or friends of friends (or on LinkedIn, from connections of connections or from its suggested connections).
While strong ties have value, of course, you may find more strategic payoff from identifying people who are well-connected in your space and investing in engagement with them.
3. Choose Quality over Quantity
In general, people tend to think that more is always better, and it’s tempting to invite and accept any connection on LinkedIn to reach 500 connections (the number LinkedIn considers a good-sized network) or 2,000+ (the number CEOs ought to have).
But a network filled with random individuals who aren’t friends, co-workers, mentors, leaders you admire, or meaningful potential relationships isn’t a network — it’s just a group of people. In fact, that network is a distraction from everything you’re working towards.
Don’t do it. Instead, be patient and intentional as you make connections and build relationships with value. Invest your time and efforts into finding and nurturing the right people, not in hitting a number.
You’ll also avoid the frustration of trying to quickly build a large network on LinkedIn, which discourages you from spamming people and inviting them to connect. When you focus on building a network of people who can refer, you need fewer people. That’s less effort for you, and you won’t run afoul of LinkedIn’s volume rules.
Plus it’s much easier to maintain strong relationships with a few people who really get to know you.
4. Commit to Your Network
A strong network is not built overnight — it takes time, effort, and commitment. For your network to be truly effective, it is important that you nurture it and regularly keep in touch with the people in it.
You need to give, give, give before you take. Follow people, engage with their posts, comment, and share. Support them in as many ways as possible.
After all, your ultimate goal is to create relationships built on mutual trust and respect.
While LinkedIn is a great place to find people who can make referrals — it’s not enough to connect with people and hope for referrals.
A network of real relationships requires nurturing — and creating opportunities for people to talk with and about you. Here’s what that looks like:
Educate: What do your connections need to know about who you help and how you help them? Share the details about your business’s value proposition (what makes you unique) in posts, by linking to blog posts and articles, and in comments on their content
Nurture: Engage with content posted by your connections. Authentically support them by liking, commenting, or sharing their posts with your network.
Reciprocate: If someone can refer to you, then you can and should be able to refer to them, too. Pay attention and look for opportunities to help. This activates the reciprocity principle Robert Cialdini talks about in his famous book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. When your name pops up in their feed, they’ll be more likely to try to find ways to return the favor and support your goals.
Deepen the Relationship: Look. for opportunities to do favors for them, and also ask for small favors in return. This builds trust in the relationship and makes it easier for the person to refer others in the future. And as Cialdini says, people like you more when you ask them for a favor — whether they actually do it or not. Just asking shows that you value them, and it makes them feel good.
Create Opportunities to Refer: Host events they can invite people to, give them special offers they can extend to their community or team, and do interesting things that make them want to talk about you or suggest your content to their network. For example, our LinkedIn Profile Glow Up is a free program that helps people make simple changes that improve their LinkedIn presence. We hold it several times a year and ask our folks to refer.
When you make a point to create a referral network that is intentional and optimized, you expand your professional reach, open yourself up to new opportunities, and build lasting relationships with other industry leaders.
Remember: Clarity + Research + Quality Connections = Strong Referral Network
Can I ask you a favor? Will you let me know how these tips work out for you?
If you have questions about building a referral network, would like help with next steps, or to talk about making LinkedIn work for you, please reach out. You can contact me on LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, schedule a quick chat with me.