I am fortunate to receive generous amounts of referrals from my clients, contacts and friends.
But asking for referrals can be awkward—both for you and your clients or contacts. There’s a lot at stake when attaching your reputation to someone else’s.
That said, there are many things you can do to generate more referrals. Here are some that have worked for me.
1. Do a Great Job for Your Clients
It goes without saying, but you need to deliver your products and services to your clients well.
Your clients will sometimes tell you if they are happy with your services. If they are not telling you, however, it’s time to find out why.
To make sure I am always providing more value than my clients are paying for, I do two things:
- I reach out regularly to ask them what I can do to be of better service; and
- I try to add extra value in unexpected ways as often as possible.
2. Ask your clients to follow you on social media
If your clients are paying you money, they presumably like your business. And presumably, they would be willing to follow you on social media.
Some will do it automatically. But others may need an invitation. Whenever possible, encourage clients and friendly contacts to follow you on your social networks, or connect on LinkedIn.
Having your clients on social media makes it easier to get your content in front of them, and, in turn, it makes it easier for them to share that content with their network.
If you’re creating content, what use is it if they don’t see it on their newsfeeds on a regular basis? Marketing is about impressions and attention. Keep that attention by staying front and centre of where they spend much of their time.
LinkedIn is great for business-to-business relationships. By adding them to LinkedIn, it shows you’re invested in them personally.
You can then share your business-related content on the platform and it won’t be too out-of-context for them to see it on their newsfeed. As a professionals social network, this is its purpose.
Facebook is a bit more personal, so be sure to think twice about who you invite as a Facebook contact. To avoid any awkwardness, invite them by email or in person to follow your company’s Facebook page.
The same applies for Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, etc. Be aware of the context of the platform to first assess if it makes sense for your business or industry, and then decide if it is also suitable for your relationship with that specific client.
3. Create content and share it on social media
You’re going to notice me telling you to create content a lot. But if you are inviting people to follow and like you on social media, you have to give them a reason to keep coming back.
If you’re too busy to create content regularly, or don’t feel comfortable writing for your own blog, have someone else in your company write it or outsource it entirely. But it needs to get done one way or another.
Investing into content marketing has produced tens of thousands in new revenue for my business, so the ROI is not even a question for me.
I’ve created content, shared it on LinkedIn and received referrals and outreach emails the same day. It didn’t happen by sitting and waiting, it happened by building a relationship over time with content.
Once you’ve created the content, it’s as simple as sharing it on your business and personal social media accounts. Nothing fancy, just publish it to your social media platforms in the best way you know how.
By publishing relevant, interesting content to your social media, you will get the benefit of staying “top of mind” to both your clients and also your own personal and professional network.
In the marketing industry, we say that “top of mind is tip of tongue,” meaning that as long as you’re staying recent in the minds of your network, the more likely they are to refer you when they come across someone who needs your services. It may even generate new and repeat business as a byproduct.
4. Develop a weekly email newsletter
Continuing on the idea of staying top of mind, there is no better way to do so than by sending regular email newsletters to your clients.
The best way to do this without annoying clients is to produce interesting content that is relevant to your clients first, then sharing tidbits (or entire articles) in your email newsletters.
I have been focused on building my own email list of clients and prospects by sending out emails every so often with updates from my blog, along with links and resources related to digital strategy.
Regular newsletters can keep the attention of your clients and contacts by providing relevant and insightful content and fostering an engaged email list.
Your pocketbook will thank you when they start referring business your way.
5. Create a remarkable experience
The photographers that my fiancée and I have chosen for our upcoming wedding have created a “picture-perfect” buying experience.
Their attention to detail is remarkable—everything from the service packages they offer, to the paper it’s printed on, is meticulously crafted.
Everything is branded, clean and well-designed, including a logo-embossed, white leather-covered USB stick they couriered to us with our engagement photos on it. They could have simply “Dropboxed” the photos to us, but they would have lost the element of tangible experience that makes them unique.
By creating a remarkable buying experience for your clients, they will remember you and refer you to other people. I need to do more of this myself.
Everyone loves to tell a “wow” story. It makes us feel like insiders, and a bearer of a great secret that the recipient must experience also. The story (like mine above) becomes a currency to pass along to another, instead of a casual reference. The difference is immense.
Did I mention these photographers received over 200 inquiries this year and are booked nearly a year in advance? Not bad for a three-person shop.
Their success comes as no surprise, and they aren’t “just lucky”. I asked them about it and they told me they took a few months off from client work to work on their business (and presumably their buying experience).
I am willing to bet they get tons of referrals. Their work is great too, in case you were wondering.
6. Be generous with your clients
Being generous is one of the most underrated things you can do in your business.
Whether you’re giving “extra work” that is outside of the scope of your agreement, or sending a small gift to your clients as a gesture of appreciation, generosity can go a long way.
You could also send a card on their birthday or during the holiday season. Especially if you write a personalized noted on it and you invest in good quality materials.
Go the extra mile with your clients and they will want to give back to you in any way they know how. It’s human nature. It’s the power of reciprocity.
7. When you do get referrals, follow up with the source
When someone refers a potential client to me, I make a point of following up with that person to say thank you, but also to inform them of the status of the new relationship.
People who refer business your way want to make sure you’re doing a good job for the people they refer to you. After all, it’s their reputation on the line as much, if not more, than yours.
I always make sure to let them know if the deal panned out, and I love telling them about success stories that come as a result of that referral.
Another thing you can do is give your referrer a small gift card if the person who was referred turns into a client. Everyone loves some free coffee and donuts, and they will think of you every time they use that card.
But don’t feel you need to give a monetary commission unless it’s an industry referral. It can be a conflict of interest and it can result in referrals being passed along without the pretense and transference of trust. Trust is key.
8. Become a “Referral-based Business”
The last tip I have is to become known as a “referral-based business,” meaning people know and you tell them indirectly that you rely on referrals.
I’ve seen entire strategies around subtle ways to do this. I’ve seen people put it in their email signatures, on their website and on even on their business cards.
Real Estate coaching company, Buffini and Company, has a slogan that says something like, “Oh, by the way®… we’re never too busy for any of your referrals!” and they advocate saying and putting that message everywhere. Although that approach doesn’t suit me, it works for them and the people they coach. And, maybe, it could work for you, too.
Just like creating content keeps you top of mind, having little phrases like this on your email signature or business card can further help that cause, and can also encourage people to think about who they can refer to you.
The key when seeking referrals is to know when to do it without putting strain or discomfort on your clients or contacts.
If you do ask, I suggest that you always provide an out. Never demand that they refer you to three people, for example. Sometimes they can’t or simply don’t want to.
At the end of the day, if people want to refer you, they will. These pieces of advice are designed to stay top-of-mind and improve your business overall so that it soon becomes a referral-generating machine.