Planting the Seeds for Exponential Growth in Your Business

You can have everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” - Zig Ziglar

In the legal profession, like any other business, you need to attract new clients to your practice. There are many forms of marketing and promotion to consider – traditional methods like yellow page listings, flyers, magazines, radio, networking and cold calling. And then there is the whole online world of websites, online advertising, search engine optimization, social media, etc. The variety of options can be overwhelming, and when extra marketing dollars are in limited supply, the results can be very much the same – limited.

You’ve probably heard that word of mouth is the best form of advertising and that referrals are often your best source of customers.

It’s likely that some percentage of your business is already coming from referrals. If business is booming and referrals are flying in the door, congratulations! You can probably stop reading here. If however, you are interested in finding low-cost/low-risk ways to exponentially grow your business, you’ll want to read on.

Why You Want to Build Your Law Practice With Referrals

Referrals buy faster, they tend not to price shop, they negotiate less, buy more, more often, and in turn refer more people. They are just generally more enjoyable to deal with. And as a bonus: the person doing the referring, to ensure congruency between what they say and what they do, unconsciously strengthens their loyalty to you and your service.

The foundation of consistent referral-based business is obviously built, first and foremost, upon consistency in providing valuable service to the clients you get. They need to be confident in your work and trust you and your organization.

But let’s face it, many people are satisfied with the services they receive, yet it’s a rare situation when someone will voluntarily shout it from the roof tops or actively refer others. Waiting passively for referrals will only ever result in a moderate level of referred business. This is where there’s a huge opportunity to create and optimize your referral process.

Build Strategic Referral Systems

Referral Systems are strategic and formalized processes that leverage your interactions with your customers and marketplace - processes that incentivize those around you, allowing multiple streams of referrals to flow. If you’re living off the land and need to grow your own food to survive, depending on one plant alone is obviously a bit of a risk. Generally speaking, the more seeds you plant, the more consistent and abundant your crop will be. Similarly, law firms can benefit by putting multiple referral systems into place to ensure fruitful harvests, even during generally tough economic seasons.



You spend weeks or months working with a client and the case finally comes to a close. In addition to payment, they offer you their gratitude and tell you how much they appreciate your service, how friendly your staff is and how it would have been so costly had they not employed your services to work through that Widgetco case. You feel good receiving the compliment but quietly wish they’d turn around, walk out the door and tell that same story to their friends, family, co-workers, etc. who could possibly benefit from that same quality service.

As you may have noticed, simply hoping for referrals or saying to your clients, “tell your friends”, isn’t generally going to inspire much activity.

The leverage potential of your satisfied customer base is huge, but the only way to tap into that is to move these clients to a referral process that has incentives and motivation baked into it. You’ve got to make it easy and compelling for these customers to refer business to you.

How do you turn satisfied clients into active advocates for your business? 


A.Start with acknowledgement: Tell your best clients that they are your favorite people to do business with. (It’s true, after all.) Give some reasons why this is the case and explain that you’ve come to realize that they probably associate with other people who are quite similar to themselves, in terms of their qualities, values and some of their needs.

B.Invite them to refer: Since they likely know the kind of people you prefer working with, let them know that you’d prefer their referrals over any other source of clients.

C.Get them thinking: Paint a clear picture of what type of person or business could benefit from the same level of service you offered them. Where might they be encountering these people: Are they family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, people in their church, professional networks, service clubs, etc.?


D.Make the referrer look / feel good by offering value: Extend a special risk-free, obligation-free offer to the people your customers refer. For instance, you could let your customer know that you will offer some period of your time for free to anyone they feel is important enough and in need of your service. Offering your time, expertise and advice to that referral with no expectation of purchase is very powerful. Not only does it help entice the referral to take action, but your customer will see you as a valuable expert whom they can trust, and they will feel comfortable, and even proud, to refer their friends, family and colleagues to you. You can probably imagine how they might present it: “Just tell Bill that I sent you and he’ll take good care of you. In fact, I’ll let him know you’re coming. I’m sure he’d be happy to just sit down with you for a half hour at no cost, and give you some initial direction or advice.”

E.Incentivize and generously show your gratitude: Think of some incentives that would motivate your existing customers to more actively refer people to you. How can you thank customers in exchange for referrals? Could you offer them future legal services at a discounted rate, send them a referral fee, or is there some other gift that might motivate? What is referred business worth to you and what will keep your clients in the referring mindset going forward?

A Side Note: You might be thinking, “wait a minute…I’m going to tell a customer that if they send people to me, I’ll spend a bit of my valuable time consulting or offering some advice to that person…for free? How am I going to get paid for this time?”

The purpose of this process is to connect with more great people who are in the market for services you offer. You’re getting interested people in the door who have a higher percentage chance of employing your services, because someone they know and trust sent them. Chances are good that you’d never be sitting in front of them if it weren’t for the referral.

This kind of campaign isn’t costing you thousands of dollars to create, print and distribute, and it’s not requiring you to spend time engaging in uncomfortable cold calls or mingling aimlessly at another business mixer. These people are being sent to you and all it costs is a bit of your time (maybe you schedule a half hour meeting after hours, or meet casually for lunch or breakfast, etc.).

Most businesses find that this is a small price to pay considering the average amount they otherwise spend to attract new clients. We also can’t forget to factor in the long term value of an average customer that does repeat business, not to mention the possible referrals you could potentially get from the referrals themselves.

Will you get referrals from the very first customer you introduce this referral concept to? Maybe not - and when you do get referrals, they won’t all become paying clients either. But, if you and your staff install this process to your law firm’s day to day operations, and use it with not just one, but all of your happy clients every single day, you can guarantee that a few of those planted seeds will grow and begin to bear fruit. And remember, within that new fruit are more seeds for planting.

The important thing with referral systems is to experiment with your words, your offers and your incentives until you find that magic combination. Once the system is in place, and you habitually run your clients through it, it has the potential to become a perpetual referral generating machine.


In some cases, you’ll come into contact with people who are looking for a service that you don’t normally provide, or aren’t overly experienced with. Taking on such a client may actually be doing them a disservice, when another attorney may be a better fit. Besides, your time is much better spent on the areas of law that you are most efficient and effective at – that’s where you’re most profitable.

Telling this client that what they want is ‘not on your menu’, might feel like lost business. But looked at another way, it becomes a basic opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, help people and profiting on your ‘competitors’ wins.

For instance, if you’ve never done any work in franchise law but seem to regularly encounter, or have access to people who might need that kind of service, why not turn the referral process around? Become the referral source! In other words, ´be the plant that bears the fruit´. Find a franchise lawyer whose service you’d be confident to recommend, and work out an arrangement where you direct potential clients to them (prospects they’d otherwise never have spoken to), and if they end up doing business together, the lawyer compensates you in some agreed upon form. Everyone wins.

If you make arrangements like this with lawyers who cover all of the practice areas you don’t, you set yourself up as a great ally, you induce the laws of reciprocity (ie. referrals will be sent in return) and you build additional revenue streams from services you don’t even have to supply.


Let’s say you’re a real estate lawyer. You’ve already combined your excellent service with an incentive-based referral process to begin turning your happy clients into your own personal sales force. You’re beginning to see the results from that, but you want to turn the dials up even higher – preferably not spending a fortune on advertising.

Here’s the key question you need to ask:

“Who are my potential clients interacting with before they begin seeking the services of someone like me?”

In this example, the answers are: real estate agents, mortgage brokers, bankers, home inspectors, renovators, etc. 

These are what we’ll call your ‘apple trees’. Once the apples (potential referrals) are ripe, you’ll want to have your basket there – nicely positioned to catch the fruit as it falls from the branches. The bigger the basket, the more fruit you’ll get.

The size of your basket is in direct proportion to the quality of your relationship with the referral source, their level of trust in you as a legal professional, and the motivation they get from the incentives you offer them, or have given them in the past.

Once again, the incentive you offer to these strategic referral sources is limited only by your imagination. You’ll probably have a standard incentive in place – maybe a simple referral fee. But if the real estate agent refers you a large commercial deal that earns you tens of thousands in legal fees, and you know he’s got a family with two young children, you might decide to get creative and offer an expenses paid trip to Disneyland up to $5,000. Or an exotic resort package in some tropical paradise. Or maybe you pay a referring home inspector to come along with you on your next long weekend golfing trip.

Not only do these incentives encourage more of the same in the future, they also make for a great story that your referral sources will be eager to share or even brag about at their next industry conference. Over time, the tales of your generosity are likely to spread, which hopefully will result in a new and very interesting challenge: Having more apples than you can comfortably eat.


Think of the professionals, whose services you’ve been employing over the years – doctors, dentists, financial advisors, accountants, etc.

After repeated interactions with those professionals there is a level of rapport that is naturally built. Your loyalty to their services unconsciously strengthens. You’re comfortable with them, you listen to them and trust the advice they give you. If that’s the situation for you, you can bet that a large portion of their customer base feels the same way.

What if there was a way to tap into the trust and rapport someone else has built with their clients?

Let’s take your very own accountant as an example. Why not help your accountant write and send a letter to his/her clients endorsing you? Here’s a sample of how that could look: 

Dear Customer,

It’s rare that I would ever write to you, much less write to you about someone in another profession. But I’d like to tell you about my attorney, Heather Gavel, and all of the ways she’s helped me. (insert all the ways she’s saved or made you money, etc.)

I appreciate your working with me over these years and I was thinking about sending you a gift – something like a wine and cheese basket. But then I decided that maybe a more useful way to thank you is to buy you an hour of Heather’s time – so that’s exactly what I’ve done. There’s no charge and no obligation to ever use her services again, but you’ve got an hour with her to talk about whatever you’d like, whether it’s having a look at your overall business, financial planning, shareholder agreements, commercial leases, or whatever. I’m sure it will prove to be a valuable chat for you. I really can’t recommend her enough. Here’s her number. Just tell her you’re the person I’ve bought the hour of time for.

Obviously, again in this example, even if your accountant is truly thrilled with the work you do, trusts you as a person and would be comfortable referring your legal services, you still need to ensure he has sufficient motivation to make such an endorsement. Some ideas: you could offer to ‘rent’ his list for a fee, you could offer to do a letter endorsing him to your customer base in return, or something similar. The sky is the limit.

One Idea Can Change Everything

As you know, referral generation is not a new concept. There are countless ways that you could structure a referral system – with different offers and incentives, working with people and businesses of all kinds.

Depending on where you’re coming from, some of the concepts presented here may seem pretty obvious and simple, yet for others, the ideas might seem a bit outrageous, far from the norm, and outside of what they are comfortable doing. In either case, we encourage you to push your limits. Get creative! Build, test and optimize the referral systems in your law practice. It takes just one idea to change the game!

Provided by:   Amicus Attorney – The World’s Leading Practice Management Software.