For many small-business owners, the idea of asking a customer, “Will you endorse my business?” or “Will you serve as a referral?” is as nerve-wracking as asking, "Will you marry me?"
If referrals are the No. 1 source for new business, why are so many small-business owners scared to ask customers to spread the word?
If a direct ask puts a pit in your stomach, you need to understand a few things. First, satisfied customers are usually happy, even flattered, to be asked to help. Second, referrals can take on lots of forms, from the good things people say about you to their friends, to the online endorsements found on email and social media.
Timing Is (Almost) Everything
The key to getting referrals is knowing how, when and where to ask. For example, when a customer proactively tells you how pleased he or she is, that's the perfect time to say, “If you know anybody who may benefit from my business, feel free to pass along my name.”
Depending on the flow of the conversation, you may also ask for a testimonial. You can start the dialogue by saying, “I’d love to find out more about your experience. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” Customer stories make for great newsletter content and quotes on your website, which help rev your referral engine.
The process is similar when it comes to the online world: Just ask anytime someone responds positively to you. What you need to keep in mind is that the “ask” needs to reflect the context of the interaction. For example, if someone is raving about your latest newsletter, ask him to refer his friends to subscribe.
How to Ask Without Asking
Still not convinced you can muster up the courage to ask for referrals on a steady basis? That's okay—there are ways to get referrals without asking.
Email. Add this line to your signature: “Know anybody who needs help with X? Send them here,” with the “here” being a link to your website.
Newsletters. Include the following at the bottom of your newsletter: “Thanks for reading. Feel free to pass this along to your friends.” You can even offer an incentive, such as, “Refer three friends and I’ll send you a [insert incentive, such as a coupon or free report] as a thank you.”
Review sites. To bolster online reviews for your business, include copy on your website and, if applicable, hang a sign by the register that says, “Like us? Tell others,” and include the icons or links to your online profiles on Facebook, Google+, Yelp and other review sites relevant to your industry.
Social sharing bars. Add social sharing bars to your newsletter, website or blog to allow subscribers, fans and followers to easily forward and share your content through email and on social networks. Be sure to include a clear call to action such as, “If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends and colleagues.”
Events. When you host a workshop, event or webinar, ask registrants to forward the information to friends who may also benefit from attending, and consider offering discounts for small groups. When the session is over, ask participants for feedback—positive feedback makes for great testimonials.
Say Thank You
For many people, the thought of asking for a referral is more daunting than the task itself. But if you take the right approach with satisfied customers, they’ll be inspired to go out of their way to help you grow your business. And as each new referral comes your way, remember to personally thank the customer who recommended your business.
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