An ongoing mini-series about mistakes that I’ve made in my business, what I learned from them, and how YOU can avoid them.
Mistakes. Most of us try to avoid them, but inevitably, we all make them. Running a small business is no exception, and one thing is certain: Mistakes will be made! And I’ve made a lot of them. So here’s your chance to learn from my small business blunders.
MISTAKE #1: I Didn't Ask for Referrals
Have you ever thought about how much we, as a society, base our purchasing decisions on referrals and feedback from others? From reading Amazon reviews before we make a purchase, to avoiding movies we’ve heard nasty reviews on, to using a real estate agent that came highly recommended from a friend or family member – we value the opinion of others when it comes to purchasing decisions!
Even though a majority of my clients came from a referral, it took me a while to realize how profitable that source of new business could be. I accepted it, but never really proactively went out of my way to ask for it. And I missed out on a lot of new business because of my fear of simply asking.
Increasing your client or customer base by referral is probably one of the easiest and cheapest ways to grow your business. But it must be understood that it’s more than just asking for a referral. To win your customer’s “word of mouth” loyalty, there's a foundation that needs to be built first.
Here we’ll take a look at the four cornerstones of preparing your business to generate new clients, sales, and profits - simply by word of mouth referrals.
1. Provide Excellent Customer Service
This one seems like kind of a no-brainer, but is oftentimes underestimated. You can bet your bottom dollar that you won’t get a positive referral from an unsatisfied customer – In fact, it’ll probably be quite the opposite.
Take a minute to think about a personal unpleasant customer service experience you’ve recently had. Was an inquiry not responded to in a timely manner? Did the person you were interacting with seem short, rude, or distracted? Was the product or service you purchased not up to your expectations?
There are many things that can lead up to having a less than pleasant customer service experience with a company. Most of the time, these types of faux pas can be avoided by being responsive, organized, and aware of your clients’ expectations.
So, what happens if something slips through the cracks? Make it right. Do everything in your power to turn the situation around and make it a positive experience for your customer. Whether or not the mistake was your fault, offer a sincere and meaningful apology for the inconvenience and ask them what you can do to make it right. Believe me, it is worth the cost if you need to offer a discount on the bill, throw in a free product, or offer a free service for future business. If you value that client, do what you can to keep their business.
2. Get Personal with Your Customers
Building personal relationships with your clients will not only establish loyalty, it will help you understand their needs more completely. Adding that sense of value can help make-up for other shortcomings within your business.
For example, I love to do my grocery shopping at Nugget Market. Although there are a few reasons I shop there, one of the main reasons is because of the personal, friendly service I recieve (very consistently, I might add) every time I'm there. The downside for me are the prices - they are a bit higher than at most grocery stores.
Why do I continue to shop there when there's a big chain grocery store down the street that offers lower prices and special club card discounts? Because it's personal. That's why.
Nugget Market enlists highly dedicated staff members who make it a personal goal every day to ensure each customer has a positive and personal experience. They ask with total sincerity how my day is going (and engage in a personal conversation based on my feedback), ask about food that I’m purchasing and if I’ve had it before and if I would recommend it, make recommendations about new things to try, and anytime I tell them I couldn’t find a certain specialty product, they offer to special order it for me. They talk to me like I’m a friend, not just another grocery shopper.
My point is this: When your clients feel like you're personally invested in them, they'll feel invested in you and the services or products you offer. This creates a sense of loyalty between both parties and ultimately will generate more word of mouth referrals for you.
3. Ask for the Referral
So, now we get down to the nitty-gritty. Asking for the referral. There are lots of ways to ask – some easier than others, but the most important thing is to make sure your customers know that you want and appreciate their referrals.
Here are a few examples of how you can ask without making it awkward:
In your main email signature, include a statement such as “A referral is the best compliment we could receive. Please refer us to friends, family, or coworkers who may benefit from the services we provide.”
Include a statement on your business card that says “We Love Referrals!”
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Offer a reward for referrals. You can offer a discount on your existing customer’s next purchase, enter all referring customers into a monthly drawing, or start a creative referral program customized for your company.
Adding, “Don’t forget – we appreciate your referrals!” at the end of your company’s voicemail or on hold message can be a great way to remind customers to refer your business.
If you provide promo items at your place of business or at tradeshows (pens, stress balls, etc.), include “We Love Referrals” as a tag line on these as well. I saw a clever giveaway once that was a custom branded packet of Forget-Me-Not flower seeds with message that read “Don’t Forget to Refer My Services to Your Friends & Family!”
Share it on social media. Include a tag line in your banner or share a post to remind people you love referrals.
Just ask! In person or over the phone, this can be one of the most powerful ways to generate referrals. Don’t be afraid to explain: “I’m working on expanding my business, so if you know anyone who might benefit from the services I provide, please pass my contact information along to them – I would greatly appreciate it!”
4. Be Prepared!
Word of mouth referrals can grow exponentially if executed correctly. So, before you start your referral plan, make sure you’re prepared to take on the extra business. Are your inventory and supplies well-stocked? Are you staffed appropriately? If you do contract work, will you have enough time in your day to take on the extra business? Getting your ducks in a row before asking for referrals can help to ensure profitable and steady growth.
Good luck in all your referral endeavors! Don’t hesitate to contact ThreeFox Marketing if you need help developing your plan, designing or printing new business cards, or planning a seminar to get the word out about your business.
For all of my current customers: Receive 10% off your next graphic design project when you refer a new client!* Contact me today for more details. 916.708.3297 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From one small business to another, happy marketing!
*Referrals must be new clients only. New client must order a minimum of $40.00 in business services or products, and invoice must be paid by new client before 10% discount will be issued to existing referring client. 10% discount good only on graphic design services and cannot be combined with other offers or discounts. Offer good until May 31, 2017.