You get into your car, turn on the ignition, and look at the address for your next appointment. You’re heading to a potential customer’s house and you have been on this ride before. There is a good chance that you’re not the only contractor the homeowners will interview. My question to you is simple: What will you do to take advantage of this opportunity? Are you going to be and sound just like everyone else?

Potential customers choose a contractor based on who they know, like, and trust. The best way for you to focus on this is by using referrals to leverage that “know, like, and trust.” Staying in touch with previous customers is the key to referrals. A common practice is to send newsletters, mailings, and holiday cards, but I have a better idea: Get out and talk to and visit past customers. A face-to-face meeting shows a more personal touch, and you’ll receive greater appreciation from your past clients. A previous customer who has a good relationship with you is priceless.

Referral Book Basics

Create a referral book that has contact information for your customers and keep this book with you in your car. The information should include the usual phone numbers, addresses, and job description. Also write down names of children and pets, and important events that are meaningful to your client. Why? When you call your previous client, you can refer to your notes and ask about that great trip they took for their family vacation. You can talk about their 25th wedding anniversary, the dog named “Pepper,” and their kids, Amber and Brandon. All this information will promote a nice conversation and make your client feel appreciated (which they are!).

Organize this information by geographic location so you can refer to the book on your way to visit a new client. If you have been doing work with your business for a long time, there may be many clients in various areas of town and in different ZIP codes. If you have previous clients near the appointment you are going on, call them. Don’t just call one — call a few. Engage in a conversation and remember to talk about their project and ask how they are enjoying it. If they have time, stop by for quick visit. Mention to them that you are headed to a potential customer’s home and whether they would be willing to put in a good word if the need arises. This is also a good time to ask for a referral.

When you arrive at your appointment with a potential client and feel the timing is appropriate, mention that you just chatted with or visited a couple of your past customers. Talk about the previous client’s project and tell the prospect a story about it. I used a referral book to develop a good relationship with quite a few customers. I visited them often and they were proud of their projects, so they would go out of their way for me and allow me to invite people over to their homes to show them off.

I enjoyed talking about aspects of previous projects with potential customers. “The Andersons’ wanted to add living space but still keep the comfortable and cozy feel they had created over the years. Here is what we did ...” People like to know you are involved with previous clients and have relationships with them. Being proactive by making calls helps you continue to build a relationship with your previous clients and network for new referrals. When you mention your relationship with previous clients, your potential customer will know you care, which emphasizes the “know, like, and trust” factor.

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Tim Nagle is the president of Remodel Buddy, a business specializing in coaching and peer roundtables. He is an active industry speaker on building a culture of success and developing marketing systems. Early in his career, Tim headed a local home improvement business with a $1.4 million volume and yearly profit loss of $200,000 and used systems and processes to grow the company in five years into a $10 million company with an annual net profit of $1.4 million. He was also in a partnership for 15 years, which evolved into a large national home improvement company. You can reach him at or 804.614.5132.