You've worked hard to make a customer happy. Now how do you get them to send more customers your way?
Every small business owner knows that the best clients and customers often come as a result of a solid referral. And with so many businesses vying for your potential customers' attention, it's difficult to stay top-of-mind. So how do you stay relevant and encourage those referrals? Here are five tested tips on generating more referrals from several small business owners who profited.
1. Share your secrets.
Articles online and in print publications help establish you as an expert in your field, not only attracting clients directly but also making them likely to recommend your article and you. Edward Laurenzo, a tax consultant in West Warwick, Rhode Island, writes for his local newspaper and chamber of commerce newsletter. He selects topics based on questions raised by his clients, such as how to respond to a letter from the IRS.
"We always give away our best information," says Jennifer Bourn, creative director and co-owner of Bourn Creative, a Sacramento-based Web and graphic design firm. "We don’t hide anything or hold anything back, and say we won’t tell you this unless you pay us." Their candidness has created "raving brand evangelists" who share articles far and wide and recommend the company to friends and colleagues, she adds.
2. Ask for online reviews and endorsements.
When a customer expresses excitement for your product or service, don’t be shy about asking them to post their rave review online, says Karin Crawford, owner of God’s Garden Treasures, a florist in Tempe, Arizona. She goes one step further by emailing a thank you note, with a template including links to popular review websites and some wedding review sites for wedding customers.
"I always try to be personable," Crawford says. "I start with an intro, and then say here are some possible links, use your favorite. If they found [the shop] on a particular site such as Bing , I encourage them to review us there." Since Crawford started the simple strategy, she has watched God’s Garden Treasures climb the rank s for area florists on Google and Google Maps.
3. Invite your customers to contribute.
Coffee Shop of Horrors, an Orlando-based specialty coffee retailer, has seen revenues hop by 40% since last September, and the top reason why is increased online engagement, says co-owner Roxana Stan.
In addition to generally ramping up its social media presence, Coffee Shop of Horrors launched a blog about the coffee and tea industries and invited fans and customers to submit their own articles or publication for publication.
"In an age where we're bombarded on all sides with advertising, small businesses need to employ unique and sometimes necessarily inexpensive ways to stay in their customers' minds," Stan says. "Giving our customers a louder voice costs us very little, but it builds a community and culture around our brand."
4. Personalize thank-you gifts.
Many businesses send the same gift card to all their customers or referral sources, but selecting a more personalized present can be a real "relationship-builder," Bourn says. For example, if a Bourn Creative client likes eating healthy food, she might send a reusable shopping bag in a favorite pattern. "Anyone with whom we’ve tried this always refers more business to us," she adds.
During the holidays, Bourn sends all clients a box of mandarin oranges from her family’s orchard, shipped early to arrive around Thanksgiving. Some recipients have posted box photos on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, further increasing Bourn’s exposure.
5. Listen up and start talking.
Finally, don’t throw away the most old-fashioned referral-building tactic of all. Wherever Laurenzo happens to be, he keeps his ears open for people who might need tax help, such as one now-client whom he overheard asking a post office clerk for tax forms. In another example, his bank’s assistant manager mentioned privacy concerns with her brother-in-law who had been preparing the family tax return. "They are coming to me for the first time this year," Laurenzo says.
Keep in mind, though, that when you are ready to sell, the customer may not be ready to buy, he adds. The key is to be polite, not to over-sell or be pushy, and sit back and wait.
"You give them a card, leave your name, and eventually you get a call saying, 'I talked to you a few months ago, I have a problem,'" Laurenzo says. "Can you help me?"
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