Are You Still Asking for Referrals from People Who Don’t Know Your Business?

As a public figure in the CPG industry, I get a fair number of inbound messages, mainly on LinkedIn (and I answer every single message!). And some of them still are from folks in a hot hurry to get referred to this or that specialist. Investors. Agencies. You name it. Everything except therapists!

Almost all of these folks (99%) have never worked with me. A fair chunk has never even contacted me before. I assume most have read my book. 

I’m honored that so many readers of my book think I’m so well networked, BTW. But here’s how a professional like me reacts to this kind of cold referral request.

“Um. Why would I connect you to a vetted, trusted expert in my network if I have no idea how you operate as a businessperson, what your goals are, what your risk tolerance is, whether or not you will treat my network well if you are even sane

Another way to think about it is the analogy of blind dating. Would you ask a stranger to set you up on a blind date, or would you ask a close friend?

Think about it. 

OK. Here’s my take: How could a stranger possibly know who would be a good fit for you and your team? This is crucially important when it comes to legally sensitive partnerships like investments in your business. Maybe you are just super confident about figuring out the match yourself? So, then, you just need the names of initially vetted folks? OK, so you’re asking for help building a shortlist? Do I work for you? Let me check my tax files. 

Again, you may be thinking look I just need an agency for my package design. And I don’t know any. And what if they all suck? I get it. But here’s the thing.

Wouldn’t you rather have someone who knows you and your business make the right suggestions based on deeper knowledge? I mean, what if you think you need a graphic designer but what you actually need is a new competitive strategy first. Sending you a referral might help you, based on your current understanding of your needs, which may be completely off-base. Were you then really helped? 

Asking for referrals from strangers, even industry experts makes little sense to me. Rather than worrying about who can refer you magically to the right person, perhaps you should step back and learn how to a) find the top folks yourself and b) how best to vet them. People do this all the time. But it takes time. Time is the one thing that costs you nothing as an entrepreneur. The best founders I know do this automatically. They don’t post ads for referrals on LinkedIn. It’s just lazy. Not sorry. 

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]