How to increase customer referrals

Knowing how to increase customer referrals for your small business is an important step in growing your enterprise at a grassroots level. Nothing is worth more than positive word-of-mouth promotion, after all—but it’s often up to you as a business owner to kickstart this seemingly organic process. Though it isn’t rocket science, many entrepreneurs are still unsure of how to approach the referral process. Whether you’re comfortable with simply asking your current customers for referrals, or perhaps you’d rather create a structured referral program with customer incentives, it’s important to find the tactic that best fits your personality or business style.

How to increase customer referrals

1. Don’t forget to ask!

Okay, okay, so everyone says this—but it’s true! The first, most important, yet-often-overlooked step in generating referrals for your small business is simply sticking your neck out and asking customers or industry influencers to give you a testimonial or refer you to their friends and associates. After all (especially for entrepreneurs), if you don’t do it, no one will. Don’t be afraid to step up and ask for the referral, first and foremost. An easy way to do this is to create a referral request form letter to send happy customers who are pleased with your work.

2. Build relationships with other businesses

In the age of social media, it’s easier than ever to build meaningful relationships that generate referrals with other businesses and industry experts online. Create a Twitter profile for your brand and invest some energy in following other small businesses, entrepreneurs or media outlets in industries that complement yours, or that cover topics relevant to your small business. Before you know it, you’ll not only be increasing your online exposure, but also sharing advice, tips, tricks and eventually gaining referrals and endorsements from these sources. But don’t forget the power of good, old-fashioned in-person networking! Nothing can quite replace the effectiveness of building your professional network by attending trade shows, conferences and luncheons—especially when it comes to building a referral network.

3. Offer referral incentives

“Buy one large pizza, get another half off!” Personally, I can rarely pass on that deal. Why not offer your customers the same kind of incentive to make referrals? Try offering a percentage or dollar amount off your product or services for every referral they make, or perhaps even providing a complimentary gift card to a local office supply store or favorite coffee shop. Any easy way to do this is to create referral cards that provide a discount or perk to those making the referral, as well as to those being referred. Then, if that doesn’t work, try the pizza.

4. Record all comments and praise—then ask if you can use them

One of the best ways to generate referrals for small businesses is through positive customer testimonials. The next time a happy customer compliments your work, request their praise in writing and get their approval on using their name and endorsement. These are free sources of advertising that will organically generate quality referrals for your business.

5. Create a questionnaire

Why leave all the heavy lifting up to your customers? In addition to simply writing a direct letter asking a customer or industry insider to provide referrals for your business, try creating a questionnaire they can fill out that asks pointed questions about how they feel about your service or product. Once they answer the questionnaire and send it back, you have ready-made endorsements to share on your business website, newsletter, sales emails and more. And, now you also have a reason to follow up to thank them and request that referral.

6. Use social media

Generate referrals with the click of a button, so to speak! When happy customers engage with you on social media, this is a virtual endorsement that reaches a wider audience of their friends, family and colleagues. When customers or industry influencers share your content on social media, not only are they directly telling their friends about the positive experience they’ve had with your produce or services, but friends of those friends can also see what they’re sharing across social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. This is why social media is such an integral part of small business marketing today: it’s a virtual megaphone for spreading the word about your business, on a grassroots level.

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