Mafia Boss Cartoon

How to get referrals from the Mafia

Ever joined one of those “business referral groups”?  You know the ones I’m talking about: they meet for coffee at 7:00 a.m. once a week, everybody gives an “elevator speech,” then everybody else promises to keep their eyes peeled for prospective customers for that person during the coming week.

For some members, this works great.  The real estate agents, armed with a hot prospect, call the insurance agents, who then call the home inspectors, and so on.

Same with the wedding planners.  (Everybody wants to be on their list, because nobody spends money like Bridezilla.)  Photographers, caterers, graphic designers (somebody’s got to design those custom cocktail napkins, darling) — they all pass business around to each other, and everybody’s happy, happy, happy.

The group I was in even had a name for it: mafias.  As in, the real estate mafia for the real estate agents and the insurance people, the wedding mafia for the wedding planners and photographers, etc.  The goal was to get everybody hooked into their own mafia so they could pass prospects around.

And that worked great — for those in transactional businesses.  For others, though, the whole scheme fell a little flat.  In fact, one of the persistent criticisms I heard when I was a member of a networking group is that this whole mafia thing doesn’t work for business consultants and life coaches and their ilk.  To those folks, it hardly seemed worth getting up before the crack of dawn for the meetings.  Our membership churn rate reeked of disillusionment.

But what were we to do?


The mafias aren’t the problem. Their execution is.

In a transactional business, referrals are easy.  A real estate buyer’s path to closing is pretty set: home inspection, title insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc.  The requirements for closing the transaction are well known, and the referral chain is linked up in predictable ways.

The further away you get from the “transactional” model, however, the less obvious the referral chain is.  For example, if you’re a computer consultant, who else sees your customer when he/she needs your services? What related but not competitive businesses are in a position to refer to you? That answer is less obvious. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from mutual referrals, too.

You don’t need a transaction mafia. You need a media mafia.

You’ve probably got colleagues in related businesses who would love to refer business to you. But it’s not always obvious to them when someone does need you.

Rather than wait until a referral opportunity hits them between the eyes like a baseball bat, why not engage in some subtle mutual marketing that prompts your colleagues’ customers to think about your products and services?  Here are some ideas:

Put out a group newsletter. If you’ve ever wanted to publish a newsletter for clients, but you didn’t want to take on all that work, spread the work around.  Form a cooperative of like-minded businesses, then have each business produce an advertorial piece to focus on the part of your mutual prospects’ problem that business solves.

For example, a tax attorney, a CPA, and a business coach can all write about the consequences of certain business financing decisions. A chiropractor, a dentist, and a health food store owner can write about how diet and lifestyle impact health.

You can spread the publishing costs among the group and each use the newsletter as appropriate — in your client waiting rooms, as an invoice insert, whatever.  In fact, start thinking beyond newsletters. What about joining forces on white papers, press releases, case studies, and other pieces where appropriate?

Guest post on each others’ blogs. Similarly, if you’ve all been blogging for business (or thinking about it), you can contribute related content to one another.  Get together and look at each others’ editorial calendars (you do have one, don’t you?) to spot opportunities for filling gaps others might have.

Form an expert panel for live or web-based seminars. Rather than look for speaking opportunities individually, team up to offer related expertise as a group. One low-cost way is to offer a webinar. You can spread the work around, and no one person feels such intense pressure to be magnetic for an entire presentation. And if you record it, that’s a media asset you can deploy on your websites and as part of your press kits.

The potential applications are unlimited

The above ideas are just a start.  You can probably think of more ways to leverage this concept.  And once you get the hang of it, you even can form multiple mafias with different businesses for the wide variety of issues your customers face.

What sort of “media mafia” relationships could you form?

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