Has anyone at your company ever asked you to refer them to a friend or past colleague for a business opportunity? It sounds like a great idea and you want to help, but deep down you’re dreading it. Perhaps you don’t know what to do? Or if it will be mutually-beneficial? Maybe you’d rather spontaneously combust than navigate a potentially awkward situation?
Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain: learning how to connect people in your network is a valuable skill that every professional needs to have in their toolkit. The relationships you’ve built with friends and former colleagues over the years can help you establish credibility, give referrals that generate business, and even advance your own professional development and career opportunities.
Admittedly, making introductions comes naturally to me. It’s part of my job. But a recent encounter with a colleague who needed advice on approaching contacts made me realize that not everyone is as comfortable as I am. It’s time that we change that.
If you’re ready to conquer the art of the introduction once and for all, here are 4 ways to do it without feeling awkward:
1. Do your homework
Are you terrified to introduce your neighbor to your Fortune 500 company’s CEO? I hope so. Referrals aren’t right for every situation and a lapse in judgment can reflect poorly upon you. So, make sure you exercise your due diligence by clearly identifying the pros and the cons beforehand. Have you identified a problem that can be solved? Is there a good fit? Are there any concerns you need to address with both parties? Using your best judgment helps to ensure a mutually-beneficial connection.
2. Get help from the pros
If you don’t know how to make a professional introduction to someone in your circle, ask for help or feedback on your message. I promise you aren’t alone; and I bet someone with a sales or business development background would be glad to offer assistance. Quiz your sales, HR and recruiting teams on how to/when to make an employee referral or introduce a potential client. They do it all day long! Then work with them until you feel confident enough to do it on your own.
3. Keep it simple
The good news is that people genuinely want to help each other, but we need to make it as simple and painless as possible. This means that your email or in-person introduction needs to be specific and purposeful.
How? Don’t make your connection sift through text or decode jargon - just to get to the point. Keep the focus on why the dialogue is relevant. Remind them how you know one another, if they aren’t expecting your email right away. Lastly, use email subject lines wisely, avoiding clever or witty language that muddies up your intent.
Here are a few examples of subject lines from both Thrive Hive and myself:
- Quick favor
- Catching up and favor
- Matt, meet Tom
- Let’s catch up
- Quick Hello
- Checking in – Hello & Request for Help
- Introduction from [Jill]
- [Company] Introduction for [be specific about the opportunity – Digital Agency, Product Owner Opportunity, Potential Partner]
- It’s [Jill] – Opportunity Knocking
Now that you’ve got a few ideas for the subject line, craft an actionable message in the email body. Here’s a template to get started:
4. Learn how to maximize your Linkedin network
LinkedIn is powerful. Every member joins for the same reason - to keep in touch with their network and expand it to include more valuable connections. In fact, studies show that nearly 50% of users have over 500 first-level connections. Do you know how many opportunities that presents? Those connections can lead to relationships which may drive revenue for your company or introduce a problem that only you can solve. But first, you’ll want to engage with them by commenting on their updates, sharing their articles, and asking questions. Building relationships organically is imperative to networking.
While all of these tips are important, don’t skip tip #1 and remember that tip #3 is what makes you effective. The other rules are up to you to personalize.
Learning to meaningfully leverage your network is an important life skill. What better way to help your colleagues, gain credibility, and further your own career development at the same time? Once you get the hang of it, it’ll reward you both personally and professionally no matter what role you play in any organization.
Now that you’re equipped with the tips, are you ready to make referrals?