I work with a lot of agency owners who tell me that they get the majority of their business from referrals. That’s pretty typical of the industry overall — as well as most professional services firms.

Those businesses that want to accelerate growth need to move from passive referrals — those that show up out of the blue — to active referrals that they help generate themselves.

The problem is that most agency owners go out and network with friends, former colleagues, and other professionals without painting a clear enough picture of the clients that they want.

It’s pretty typical for someone to say, “keep me in mind if you run into any businesses that could use my services.”

The problem is that most people in your network don’t know exactly what you do or who your ideal clients are.

Sure, they may know that you are a PR agency — but what specific services do you offer? That’s especially important these days as the lines between different types of communications-oriented firms continues to blur.

Even if they are a client, they may not know how to describe your best types of clients — by industry, size, stage, need, staffing, etc.

If I say to you, “do you know of anybody in your network that needs public relations help?” you must tap into your memory banks and scan a large number of contacts to try to grasp for a good fit.

But if I say instead, “do you know of any SaaS companies with less than 100 employees that are looking to grow aggressively” you now have a much narrower pool of names to scan in your mind.

Agency owners fear that being specific may limit your thinking in making referrals and exclude good prospects.

But that’s not true.

First, you only want referrals to potential clients that you could likely help. Why waste your time and theirs if you know from the outset it is likely a bad fit?

Second, if you are so broad that your networking connection may come up with no good names.

Third, people will broaden their thinking a bit from your specific description anyway. In the example above, I might respond “how about this SaaS company that is a little bit larger? Or I don’t know any SaaS businesses, but there is another high-tech firm that might be a good fit.”

Your description of an ideal referral may change over time — don’t be afraid of that.

Nothing is etched in stone here. As your business grows, you will learn more about what you excel at and adapt to it. Let your ideal client description that you share with others evolve at the same time.

When I started my current business a little over a year ago, I said that I helped agencies grow their businesses. It’s pretty broad, but I was still feeling my way and figuring out who were my best-fit clients.

Today, I tell people that I’m looking for PR or integrated communications agency owners with between 5 and 50 employees who are looking to drive double-digit growth and ready to make change in their businesses.

See how much more specific that second description is? I bet you found it a lot easier to look through your memory bank for ideas than with the generic “agencies” description.

Does it mean that I can’t help an agency with 2 or 200 employees? No. Does it mean that I can’t help agency executives who are not owners? Not at all.

But I have learned over the past year the types of clients that seem to be the ones where I can make the biggest difference. So I want more of them wherever I can find them.

Will that description be the same a year from now? Probably not. I’ll have many more data points available to me that enable me to grow and adapt.

How can you better describe the types of referrals you want so you can accelerate your own growth?