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Referrals: The Fast and Easy Way to Market Your Business

Referrals: The Fast and Easy Way to Market Your Business

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: August 20, 2013 Updated: August 20, 2013

If you’re like most busy small business owners, you’re always looking for fast and easy ways to market your business and get new customers. One of the fastest and easiest is right under your nose: Your existing, satisfied customers can be a great source of referrals to new business—provided you handle the referral process right.

“Process” is the key word here, because getting referrals haphazardly and contacting them without having a specific plan in mind can be just as bad as not getting them at all. Yes, it will take a little work on the front end to set up a referral process, but it will ultimately pay off in a continuous pipeline of qualified new business. Isn’t that every business owner’s dream?

Here’s a 6-step system for getting and maximizing referrals:

1. Ask for them. You won’t get if you don’t ask, so develop a system where you gather referrals at a set point in the sales process. Typically, you’ll want to do this after the sale is complete and you know the customer is satisfied. For a retailer, this might be at the point of purchase, or you might send a follow-up email asking for a referral. For a B2B company, the natural point would be during a follow-up call to make sure the service or product is working out OK. Build this into your sales process so that asking for referrals becomes as automatic to your employees, clerks and salespeople as, say, putting a receipt in the bag.

2. Get digital. Email and social media make it easier than ever to ask for a referral. You can put requests for referrals on your social media sites, ask for referrals as part of your email outreach, or create a contest for the customer who refers the most people or the referral that generates the most business.

3. Offer a reward. Speaking of contests, we’re all more motivated to do something if there’s a reward involved. When developing rewards for referrals, take into account the value of the referral. If you’re asking a shopper on your ecommerce cosmetics site to share a friend’s information as part of the checkout process, that’s pretty low-value. If, on the other hand, one of your top B2B clients has discussed your product or service with a business colleague, knows that he or she is interested in learning more (and controls a $100,000 budget), and provides you with that person’s name and email—well, that’s pretty high-value. Appropriate rewards could range from a dollar-off discount code, to a free product or service, to a percentage off the next invoice. (Rewards can escalate in value depending on whether the referred client actually makes a purchase.)

4. Keep it simple. People want to help you out, but not if it’s a huge hassle. Make referrals as easy as possible with tools like prepaid referral postcards customers can drop in the mail, referral forms enclosed with your invoice so they can mail it back with their payments, a form they can fill out while paying the bill at your restaurant or a simple form on your website they can fill out with a few keystrokes.

5. Follow up in a timely fashion. Once you get a hot referral, follow up before it has time to cool off. Two weeks should be the maximum time you wait to get in touch. Build the time frame into your referral system, and use tools like CRM software to set reminders of when referrals should be contacted. When you follow up, don’t assume you’ve “got it made.” Introduce yourself by referencing the person who made the referral, then follow up by educating the person about what your company can offer them, rather than doing a hard sell. Consider sending some free information, a sample or a discount on a first purchase.

6. Deliver on your promises. Make sure your interactions with the referred customer are professional and that, if he or she buys from you, you provide outstanding service. Otherwise, you could end up embarrassing the person who provided the referral, and not only will you fail to land the new customer, but you might just lose the old one.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at and visit to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades