Last week, an architect in a workshop approached me. "I’m loving this program," he said. "You should work with some of our construction firm partners." Two days later, I scheduled a meeting with the head of a large construction firm, a great prospect for us — based on a referral from that architect.

For those of you who want to learn to develop business, one of the easiest ways is to learn how to ask for referrals.

Step 1: Earn your clients’ trust.To get referrals, you need to be referable. That means that you need to provide great value.

"In the business of referrals, trust is the most important reason a recommendation is made, and conversely, lack of trust the single greatest reason referrals don’t happen," writes John Jantsch in his terrific book, "The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself."

We used a publicist several years ago to help market a book. But she didn’t get us any meaningful publicity. When she sent an email asking for referrals, I deleted it.

Referrals rely on clients as marketing resources. If those clients aren’t raving fans, you won’t be successful.

Step 2: Ask when the client is most excited.Even if the client is happy, you can lose the chance to get a referral by waiting too long. I once tried to get a referral from a banking client six months after a successful program. He still loved us. But by that time, other projects had replaced the excitement.

The time to ask for the referral is when they’re in the afterglow of a great experience. When that architect said he knew a construction firm that could use my services, I engaged him right then in a discussion of how he might help me connect with that person.

But there are other good times to ask. Whenever we finish an engagement, we schedule to get feedback on the workshop. Assuming that the client was happy with the program, we ask for a referral.

Step 3: Be clear on what you want.Here’s how not to ask: "Do you know anyone else that we might do business with?" The problem here is that your client doesn’t know who you want to do business with. Instead, steer the client to the kind of prospect that you want. In our case we might say, "We’re trying to connect with large construction firms here in Charlotte. Do you know any business development VPs that we might connect with?" When you give a clear description of the ideal prospect, they’re more likely to find someone who can help you.

Step 4: Ask for an introduction.Just asking for the referral isn’t enough. You need to ask for an introduction.

Here’s what I say: "Would you be willing to send Fred an email introducing me and telling him to expect my call?" Or sometimes I say, "If you’d like, I’d be willing to send Fred a copy of my latest book. Would you be willing to let him know that you’ve asked me to send it?" That endorsement is huge.

Step 5: Cowboy up and ask.A lot of people fear asking for referrals. But if you do great work, then your client will be more than willing to spread the word.