Word-of-mouth marketing is great for every type of business, but it truly is the life blood of small businesses. Not only is traditional advertising more expensive, small business owners and entrepreneurs operate with the understood advantage of being able to offer personalized service the way big brands simply can’t. In a crowded market, this assumption helps small businesses compete, and it makes people more likely to recommend a business they’ve tried to a friend.
But how do you encourage word-of-mouth marketing? Coming right out and asking every one of your clients to send their friends your way feels awkward – as well it should, since that how it makes your clients feel too. These requests should be individualized, because there are a lot of variables to consider: What if they didn’t actually have a great experience with you? What if they’re not the type of person to talk about things they’ve bought with friends? What if they would have recommended you on their own, but now they feel like it was your idea and no longer feel compelled? Murky waters, to be sure.
Your approach will surely vary based on the type of business you run and the kinds of relationships you form with your clients. But today we’re going to talk about one method of asking for referrals that is more comfortable for everyone involved: not asking. Instead of asking, give your clients the opportunity to bring you referrals on their own. Here are two ways to do it:
1. Make your client the hero. People love to discover something new, and be the first tell their friends about it. They also like to feel like they have an inside connection to that new thing that other people don’t. So why not offer them something they can share with their friends and family?
Let’s say you run an interior design firm. You have just finished decorating the home of a new client. After a week or two, you send a hand-written card, thanking the client for their business. Enclosed with the note you give the client 3 vouchers for a 1 hour design consultation to share with friends. This gives you client the opportunity to share a discovery with their network, while inadvertently vouching for your business and providing you with 3 quality referrals. Your client feels special and is excited to treat their friends, and you get 3 new leads. Everybody wins.
2. Reward and incentivize. Sure, plenty of clients would probably gladly recommend your services to friends and the public on Yelp – if only the remembered to actually do it. Help motivate them to set aside a minute to refer a friend by offering a little incentive. LivingSocial’s “Me+3” promotion is a good real-life example. When I purchase a voucher for a wine tasting class, I then have the opportunity to share my purchase with my social networks. If 3 of my friends buy the voucher too, mine is free. So I have a stake in referring people. If your business doesn’t have the development resources to make something like that work, you can always take a more personal approach.
Let’s say you’re a spa owner, and you want to encourage clients to send their friends in. You could start a referral program that offers them 10% off a service every time a new client comes in and gives their name. You diligently ask each new client if a friend referred them, and when they say yes, you automatically send that person an email thanking them for the referral and letting them know that you’ve credited their account. They’ll be delighted by the surprise, and you’ll get the good vibes of encouraging referrals without asking for a thing. Knowing that they’ll get a 10% discount automatically, that person will be eager to tell their friends to patronize your spa in the future.