Observe the UNWritten Rules of Referrals

The following is a version of section of The Secrets of Savvy Networking, updated for today’s market.

Upon meeting an audience member at a presentation, her first words were, “I’d like the name of your agent.” She obviously had no clues about unwritten rules of referrals that make or break our reputations. “You’ve got to be kidding!” was what I wanted to say. I didn’t know her from Adam —or Eve— and she thought I should give her the name of my literary agent??? Based on what? We have no connection, have had no conversation and there is no relationship that supports or justifies her request.

But this doesn’t beat the fellow speaker who called my then agent, said he was my friend and that he wanted to send her his newest book proposal… without ever letting me know. Well, that agent let me know and was put out… not just with him and his arrogance but also with me… for (allegedly) offering the referral and not clearing it with her first. You can imagine my reaction. Unprintable.


I assured her that he used my name without my permission. After all, my book was about SAVVY networking not nitwit networking. I told the agent that she should have known that I would have called her to make the “intro”. The upshot: she dropped his material in the circular file (pre- filling peoples’email inboxes with material that don’t want) and her office never returned his calls. That worked for me!

Referrals Are Earned!

There is a process of asking for referrals, acknowledging them and keeping people in the loop about the progress. These breeches of common sense informed much of The Secrets of Savvy Networking. It’s time to revisit savvy networking and the dues-paying process that gives us the right to request referrals, leads, and names.

I repeat….referrals are earned! Nobody owes anyone else their list of contacts. We “earn” referrals in several ways.

1. knowing someone in a position to provide access to THE PERSON because of their relationship or connection .
2. knowing someone who knows someone who knows THE PERSON (the basis for social networking sites) The most powerful is the third way:
3. directly knowing THE PERSON. This can happen via membership in an organization, being part of a community, a family, a neighborhood, a company roster or alumni list. This person can be your neighbor, your cousin, an acquaintance from school or a former colleague. Or the barber, mechanic, butcher or personal trainer.
A timely reminder: be nice to everyone because you never know!

Another important piece of the puzzle to remember is that people who refer us are lending their “endorsement”; their stamp of approval and good name to us and our endeavors. We need to be sure that we are worthy and behave accordingly. By the same token, if someone asks you for a referral and you have no idea about that person’s skills, habits, competence or ability to get along, it’s not only ok to say no, it makes sense to do so. We can’t afford to stake our reputations on those we can’t vouch for. I know I won’t!

The biblical reminder, “Ask and Yee Shall Receive” has a contact codicil: Know when, how and whom to ask. If you aren’t savvy in doing so, you may cut connections rather than build referrals, relationships and your business or your career.

Susan RoAne is the undisputed networking authority who has written the trilogy on connecting and communicating that are cornerstones of business development and relationships: How To Work A Room®, The Secrets of Savvy Networking and What Do I Say Next? She has spoken for clients from a variety of professions: Deloitte Touche, Citibank, Stanford University, Boeing, Lockheed, Monsanto, The United States Navy and Hershey’s Chocolate and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and others.
You can find her at:
415.461.3915 or

• Conversation is an art, not a science.
• If you like people, you’ve won half the battle for more conversational prowess.
• The ability to schmooze (easy going conversation) contributes to personal and professional success.
• Small talk is the most important talk we can do.

About Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne leads a double life as a sought-after professional keynote speaker and a bestselling author. Known as The Mingling Maven®, she gives diverse audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. The San Francisco Chronicle says she has a “dynamite sense of humor.” To hire Susan to speak for your company, association or college, 1.415.461.3915