Everyone loves referrals. They’re possibly the best way to get clients now, as well as to fill a pipeline with future clients. But not everyone gets referrals, or even understands how to generate them proactively. Even experienced real estate agents often leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t tap referrals.

While there are many ways to do that, I want to share a super-simple technique that anyone can use right away, with real possibilities for generating immediate business. I used this technique to kick start my own business again when I moved to California, and I’ve taught it to dozens of agents, so I know it can work whether you’re brand new in the real estate business, or a seasoned veteran of the profession.

Here’s why it works

Imagine you’re standing around at a party, chatting with a group of friends, when one of them casually mentions, “The receptionist at work just made an offer on her first house. She’s so excited!”

And you think (and maybe even say), “Why in the #!@ didn’t you refer her to me?”

There are any number of reasons he didn’t refer her to you. Maybe he forgot you are in real estate, or doesn’t trust your real estate knowledge, or didn’t know how to give a referral, or he didn’t know you want referrals. Maybe he said to the receptionist, “Oh, you’re thinking about buying a home? I have a friend who’s a real estate agent and he says now’s a good time to buy. So congratulations!”

The Referral Circles technique cuts through all that by getting people to sit down with you and actively think about people they can refer to you. It’s a way of picking their brains in a relaxed environment. Basically, you’re going to invite a friend to coffee, draw circles and ask questions. The questions will help jog your friend’s thinking, so that he/she identifies people who might need your services. It’s a lot softer than simply asking straight-out for referrals, and a lot easier for people who are unfamiliar with how to ask for referrals.

It’s not a difficult technique, but there are some little tricks that make it work. So if you’re interested in getting a little “now” business, then read on.

Here’s how it works

Step 1—Choose people you know and like

Identify 3 people you know and like, and who like you in return. Also make sure they know a fair number of people in the community. Start with 3. You can always add more later.

Step 2—Invite them to coffee
  1. After selecting 3 people, pick the safest person to start with, then take out your phone and invite him/her to coffee. Not lunch or dinner or to the office. Coffee (or tea), where you can both relax without interruptions.
  2. Use some version of this script when you call:

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You: “Hi, Mary? It’s Linda. Listen, you know I’m in real estate, right?

Friend: “Of course. What a silly question.”

You: “Well, then…I’m wondering if you’d be willing to help me with a little experiment that could help me grow my business.”

Friend: “For you? Sure. What kind of experiment?”

You: “All you have to do is join me for a cup of coffee and answer some questions. It’ll take about 20 minutes, and I promise we’ll have fun.”

Friend: “Sounds good. When shall we meet?”


  • The key part of this sentence is: I wonder if you’d be willing to help me with a little experiment that could help me grow my business. Using the words “little experiment” is disarming and sounds fun. Also, your friend wants to help you, so asking for help is important. If anyone asks why it’s an experiment, you can tell them you read it in a blog post and wanted to give it a try. Go ahead and set up all three appointments while you have the momentum going.
Step 3—Conduct the Appointment

Bring a notepad and pen to your appointment. After ordering your coffee and sitting down, begin the process.

  1. Chat about you. Don’t ask how things are going with them. If you do, the process will go astray. Keep focused on the purpose of your meeting…which is to do your “little experiment.” Remind them about your career. Mention the systems you’ve put in place, your customer service ethic, your superior knowledge (or access to it through your broker) and so on. It’s important that they tap into their respect for you and that you keep the conversation focused.

“FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Success” ~ John Lee Dumas

  1. Draw a large circle on your notepad. Tell them it’s a representation of their circle of influence. Remind them what that means.
  2. Draw several smaller circles inside the larger circle. Use something like this script as you draw little circles:

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“Your big circle is actually made up of a lot of other little circles, isn’t it? Like your work friends, your church group, your volleyball team…that sort of thing.  For instance, I have a whole group of friends that I only know from my daughter’s day care. What groups are part of your circle?”


  1. Label the little circles. Make circle suggestions related to them: neighbors, church, clubs, social groups you hang out with, work, volunteer groups, groups involving your kids, etc. Try to add 4 to 6 smaller circles.
  2. Ask ‘life situation’ questions. After labeling a few circles, choose one of the circles, and ask about life situations that you know would involve real estate. NOTE: You’re not asking for real estate referrals yet. Here are the kinds of questions to ask:
  • Is anyone in this group getting married, or just got married?
  • Is anyone in this group getting a transfer?
  • Is anyone renting?
  • Has anyone in this group recently lost a job that you know of?
  • Does anyone from this group have much older parents?
  • Has anyone just gotten a promotion?
  • Etc.
  1. Drill down; be curious. If they do come up with a name, write the name next to that mini-circle, then get more information: When are they getting married? Where did they meet? How long have you known them? What do you admire about them?

Here’s how my page looks when I’m done with this conversation.


  1. Convert the name to a referral. If you get to this point, the next thing to do is get the referral by asking these 3 referral questions:
    • Do you think I’d be a good match for John as a real estate agent?
    • How do you think he’d respond to you introducing us?
    • What would be the best way for me to approach him? Do you want to call him first, do you want me to call him directly, or would an email introduction be best?

Once you’ve finished the cycle, repeat with more circles to get more names.

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Here’s an example from #5 to #7:

You: Is anyone on your rugby team planning to get married soon?

Friend: Not that I can think of.

You: Does anyone on the team have elderly parents?

Friend: Yeah, Alex’s mom is getting up there.

You: Has Alex ever talked about her situation?

Friend: Not really. I mean, he complains a bit. Says she needs a lot of attention.

You: Is she still living at home?

Friend: I don’t really know. Oh, wait. Yeah, she is because he gripes about having to fix things around the house all the time.

You: How long have you known Alex?

Friend: Oh, about three years.

You: What do you admire about him?

Friend: Alex? Ha. Nothing. No, just kidding. He’s a stand-up guy.

You: Do you think I’d be a good match to help Alex discuss his mother’s possible real estate needs for the future?

Friend: Now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea.

You: How do you think he’d respond to you introducing us?

Friend: Oh, I don’t think he’d mind.

You: What would be the best way for me to approach him? Do you want to call him first, do you want me to call him directly, or would an email introduction be best?

Friend: You know, I’d best give him a quick call first.

You: Thank you. Can I ask you about some of these other circles, too?


Whether you want to get clients now, or fill your pipeline with potential future clients, give the real estate Referral Circles technique a try. And if you do try it, leave a response, send an email, or drop by Facebook and let us know how it worked for you.

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Linda Schneider
Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider, a real estate marketer, author, and former agent for 30 years. She thrives on helping agents make money using creative and affordable prospecting tools and real estate newsletters. Get her latest book, Door to Door Real Estate Prospecting on Amazon.com.