In real estate, referrals are the name of the game. Ask most agents and they will tell you that 95 percent of their business comes from past clients or referrals. So how can you get referrals for free?

Start by considering the motivation of those who generate referrals. Referrals will most likely be satisfied clients or other agents you know and respect.

Important: These people don’t really care so much about promoting your business. Instead, the best kind of referrer wants to solve a problem for a friend or mutual customer.

Concentrate on creating a real estate business that uniquely and reliably delivers results that people need and want.

Here are eight ways to elicit (not solicit) referrals:

1. Offer a service that is unique. Think about your specialty — what type of report or article could you write that would help you stand out? What type of signature piece could you develop that is unique to you? Take the time to write it — and then put it on your website, hand it out at open houses, and e-mail it to your clients. Show them that what you do is "one step ahead" of everyone else.

2. Be reliable, even if you can’t be unique. Make it your mission to be the most reliable person you know. You call people back and answer e-mails quickly, you go above and beyond by passing on leads to others (what goes around comes around), you are always on time (better yet, early), and, most important, you do what you say you are going to do!

3. Truly understand and convey your specialty to potential referrers, such as current clients, colleagues and others in complementary businesses, and even competitors with whom you are friendly. They will be aware of the very specific problems that you aim to solve.

4. Build relationships with industry colleagues. This is a no-brainer, but make sure it is part of your marketing plan to attend one face-to-face networking event each month. Mixing that in with a strong social media plan is a great way to network and build referrals. Once you get a new contact, treat that person like gold! Send a personal note or e-mail — do something to help them before you ask for help. Make your contact with them 95 percent about building rapport and 5 percent or less about "pitch."

5. Be easy to find and contact. Do the obvious: Have business cards handy for customers, run a search engine-friendly website, and engage in social media. Put your e-mail and phone number all over your website — not just a "contact me" form! List contact information prominently on every social network, on your e-mail signature and your website, making it simple and fast for customers to get in touch with your business.

6. Be an approachable expert. Stay on top of industry trends, but spend just as much effort talking with potential clients, learning about their needs, and gaining new insights from others. Make it a point to attend a few training events a year. Look to your local and state associations for this!

7. Find ways of doing business with those outside of your original client target. Expanding your horizons may mean adding service options that you provide for a client or going outside your regular community for a listing.

8. Thank everyone who attempts to make referrals (not just the ones who produce them), and let them know how much a referral base really means to the success of your business. Showing gratitude will encourage referrers to keep spreading the word. Send a personal note — not an e-mail.

Do you have tips on generating referrals? Leave us a comment below!

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