Having just celebrated our third full year in business, I started to think back on what brought us to this point. In our current, high-technology, low-interaction world, I find the basics often fall by the wayside. Our marketing plan consists of meeting other small business owners, listening to and getting know them, and cultivating relationships. To that end, I've spent a lot of time learning what to do (and what not to do) in terms of etiquette, introductions, and being a "connector".
There have been times at an event someone tells me "I gave your card to this person who was looking for a Web designer" or "this is my friend's information and they were just telling me they needed a designer". Both of these are leads, but they're not referrals. They're a step above cold-calling. I've never had an instance where someone called me and said someone gave them my card, nor have I ever gotten a warm welcome from the friend whose information I was given. Rather than leads, I prefer referrals.
A better option to make the introduction is to bring both parties to coffee so you can all chat. It's a less formal situation that doesn't instantly put someone on edge. A second option, and my go-to method for connecting people, is to send an introductory email to both parties. Make sure you include name and phone number in the body of the message. I mention the body of the message because there are some companies that automatically hide emails in the recipient list. If some other method of contacting the person isn't included in the message, the people you're trying to introduce can't do anything with the referral since they can't see their email.
Don't Try So Hard
This is more personal preference than anything else. I'm not a fan of the "hard" sell. If every time I see another member of a referral group, they try selling me their product, it tells me they care more about when I'm going to write them a check than they do about helping me learn how we can grow our respective companies. Remember that it's not about what the other person can do for you, but what you can do for each other. Get to know the person on the other side of the table - what drives them, their interests. Find out the "why" and you'll learn if the person is someone you can do business with.
Respect Other Professionals
This is where technology tends to fail us and has brought what was once inconsiderate to be commonplace and "acceptable". Since we never leave home without our cell phones, we give the appearance that we're always connected with a phone call, email, and instant messaging, it's often assumed that everything can happen in an instant. On the contrary, it takes time to travel to meeting locations and when scheduling meetings, you're often juggling other tasks on your to-do list.
If you need to reschedule, give plenty of warning. Nothing drives an irrevocable wedge between potential referral partners faster than cancelling a meeting 5 minutes before it's scheduled to begin (or worse, waiting until the other party contacts you when you're 10-15 minutes late and letting them know you were "held up" and can't make the meeting).
As small business owners, we're all busy and if you want to do business with someone, you should offer them the same courtesy you expect in return. Certainly, emergencies happen (car accidents, sick friends, etc), but schedule time around a meeting to accommodate travel to the meeting site. Scheduling two appointments back to back in two different locations is a sure-fire way to arrive 15-30 minutes late.
These may seem like common sense, but when was the last time you arrived at your meeting on time or got to know what drives the fellow business-owner on the other side of the table?