What are your habits when it comes to asking for referrals? Have you fully committed to proactively asking for referrals on a regular basis? Or are you, like most financial professionals, dabbling in referrals?

Sure, you know what to do with a referral if you trip over it, but do you have a process in place that has truly become a habit? If you feel guilty about not asking for referrals–because you just haven’t solidified a habit–then this article is for you. If you already ask for referrals, I still think you’ll find a lot of value in this piece.

Replace fear with confidence

There’s no point in beating around the bush. The reason most people don’t ask for referrals is fear. While many don’t like to admit that they are referral wimps–so they don’t use the fear word–that’s really what it boils down to.

People don’t ask for referrals because they don’t feel confident with the process. In the absence of confidence is fear. If this remotely describes you, then your main task is to replace your fear with confidence. This is the first and most important step in making asking for referrals habit-forming.

Build your referral confidence

So, how do you build your referral confidence? Here are some simple steps to take. Be aware that your referral fear, or self-doubt, will fight you on this all along the way, making you procrastinate and find reasons why you don’t have to do it. But, ultimately, based on what I’ve learned in my 15 years of teaching financial professionals how to master the referral process, this is what it takes.

Create your referral script

You need a track to run on. When you wing it, you lack confidence and you’re much less effective. It’s important–and tell your manager this if he or she is trying to force a script down your throat–that your script must be genuine for you. If it’s not in your own words, then you’ll never fully master it and be able to deliver it with sincerity.

Own your script

Practice, practice, practice. Practice delivering the script with your colleague. Practice with your manager. Practice on clients who love you. Get so good at this that you start to dream about it. Learn to deliver it in a natural, sincere manner. Talk about confidence!

Come prepared

When you expect to ask a client for referrals, come prepared with people whom you think you can help and/or categories of people for whom you typically do good work. I recommend you have a sheet of paper that lists all the life situations and money-in-motion events that can trigger someone needing your products/services. Carry this with you to every appointment.

Many producers like to have a template in their computer that they print out and put in every client folder as they prepare for their meeting. Then, as you prepare for your meeting, jot down names or other categories that you know are specific to your client. I can assure you that this preparation will give you a huge shot in the arm of confidence.

Dare to be held accountable

One of the best ways to establish any new habit is to be held accountable to that new behavior. Sometimes just being reminded is enough. As regards referrals, to which people bring so much psychological baggage, full-fledged accountability is usually necessary.

Find someone you trust to hold you accountable to asking for referrals, or any other new behavior you wish to adopt. This person can be a colleague (who also wants to become good at asking for referrals), a manager, staff member, or anyone else in your life whom you trust to hold you accountable–in a supportive manner. If there’s a chance I might wimp out, the thought of a friend calling me a wimp is usually enough for me to face fear and take action.

Simple reminders can help

While all of the above is probably the most important part of forming referral habits, advisors use all kinds of “tricks” to make sure they remember to ask for referrals. Here are a few things I’ve seen that have worked:

–Types of reminders

In your contact management program, or whatever software you use for your task list and alarms, put a reminder that attracts your attention every day. You might want to vary this reminder so you don’t start to ignore it. Alternatively, you might set a referral-oriented website as your home site when you boot up your computer. When the site pops up, you’ll be reminded of one of the most important activities in the business–getting referrals.

Don’t want to go digital with this? Fine. Put some sticky notes in your office and/or home to remind you of this behavior you say you want. Or get an inexpensive stop watch for your desk (or car). Start the clock at zero each time you ask for referrals. In this way, every time you look at the stop watch, you can tell how long it’s been since the last time you asked.

–No such thing as referral fairy dust

The bottom line: You have to want the referral bad enough. If you have a burning desire to master referrals, you’ll do whatever it takes. If you don’t want it bad enough, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. All the evidence I’ve seen, both statistical and anecdotal, tells me that the most profitable and fun way to build a thriving financial practice is through referrals.

And not just waiting around for them, but being proactive for them. It starts with your commitment, followed up by consistent action. I have no referral fairy dust to sprinkle over you. It’s up to you to get it done.

Bill Cates, CSP, is president of Referral Coach International, Laurel, Md. You may contact him at BillCates@ReferralCoach.com