It may surprise you but the bulk of my clients found me by way of referral.
It feels amazing to be recommended, especially when you know you can help the person and really knock a project out of the park.
However, if you’re anything like me, you know that there is a level of uncertainty you can’t control when it comes to profiting just based on word-of-mouth recs alone.
Or can you?
I’ve experimented over the years and done some digging and I’ve found that with a little practice and a couple of strategies, you can start speaking about your business to the people around you in a way that will get more of them recommending your services.
This is my take on how to get more referrals into your business.
The Psychology Behind Referrals
We all want to feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves. We are conditioned to want to fit in, and to be good people within our communities and social circles. We want to be accepted and to feel proud of who we are.
These innate social drivers have an impact on the decisions we make and who we put our names to when we make recommendations to others. This also has an impact on whether we accept recommendations from others and act on them.
The more often people see others recommending you, the more familiar you become. Enjoy an added benefit if people can see how many other people have already worked with you and had great results. This is called social proof and it makes people feel more comfortable knowing they are going with the grain or general consensus about a product or service.
You can be sure that recommended people are coming to you for services purely based on trust in the person who referred them, just as you can be certain that no one will refer anyone to you unless they feel good about doing so.
If those referrals are coming from people within their intimate social groups like friends or co-workers, the power of social proof is even more evident because we want to do the “right” thing.
We all want to be included in a group, especially if that group is close to us. More importantly, we want to feel confident that we will be seen in a positive light – super smart, resourceful, well-connected- and that our friends will respect us and be glad we offered our recommendation.
The Thing About Referrals
There are some benefits to being able to infuse your business with good quality referrals:
Referrals automatically position you in the client’s mind as an expert.
The main reason is that by being referred by someone they love and value which infuses the entire relationship with a level of trust and respect that you simply can’t achieve on your own at the onset of acquiring a new project or sale.
Actually, customers entering your business through a referral tend to spend more overall and are more likely to become long(er) term – if not lifetime – customers.
There is no real expiration on someone’s referral powers
As long as all of the conditions permit, you can get referrals from people you haven’t spoken to in years like I recently did! As I said, it does rely on certain conditions being met, which I’ll get into in a sec.
You don’t have to cold call/cold email strangers for work
At least for me, it takes some weight off my shoulders not having to call people and sell myself to strangers only to feel sleazy, sales-y, and gross afterward.
The people who are referring you have at least had some experience of you. That alone makes it easier to get genuine, authentic clients who value your work and respect your process.
So, referrals are some of the strongest and high-quality clients you can get but actually getting people to recommend you requires you to understand one thing:
3 Strategies for Increasing Referrals
1. Shift Your Focus
One mistake I have made is assuming that my network is limited to the people I interact with on a regular basis. Yes, they’re in my circle and my network. The downside to that is a lot of the people in their circle is also in my circle as well.
The network of people that are usually untapped is our acquaintances: Tammy, the postal lady or the guy at Dunkin’ Donuts who hooks up my coffee just right in the morning.
It seems counter-intuitive, considering we’ve just spent a considerable amount of time discussing how great referrals are based on familiar history and respect.
However, those people who are outside your immediate circle have a whole network all on their own, comprised of people you have never met!
The coffee guy is one of those people. The people who hang out with your potential clients are also part of that group.
- People who show up to the meetups and conferences
- Vendors your potential clients use for other services
- Even the clients of your client who are just outside your client’s network can be viable
For example: If your focus is digital marketing for nonprofits, then you may want to consider tracking down the companies, speakers, and vendors who help other aspects of their organization and becoming part of their network too.
If they are given the tools to do so, they can be making referrals on your behalf and expanding your reach. Shift your focus to making it easy for people on the outskirts of your personal network to recommend you by going to where your potential clients hang out.
2. Make sure You’re Actually Referable
How many people can you count who you feel know exactly what you do?
As someone who spent many years chugging along in a pre-social media online world, I knew that there were people I considered to be friends and family who still do not understand what I’ve been doing on the computer all this time!
Imagine having to communicate that to someone who’s only ever seen you at the gym?
In order to become referable, not only do they need to know what you do, they need to know who you’re doing it for and the benefits of working with you.
- Who do you serve?
- What problem do you solve for them?
- What kind of results do you get?
It may surprise you who you get referrals from when that understanding is there. For your current customers, timing and execution matters from a different angle.
3. Know WHEN and HOW to ask
Companies who run referral programs can experience up to a 30% increase in customer conversion. The best part is that these new customers are valued connections of your loyal customers which elevates your whole clientele over time.
This requires knowing your overall client process well.
Understanding when your clients/customers are happiest with their interactions with you and your brand allows you to build requests for referrals into that process. This strategy works as long as you are willing to ask.
This strategy also gets easier when you know you’ve done really well to help them and provided them with a kickass experience. Because of this, I happen to like including it in my offboarding process.
Closing out a project when your client is most delighted about the outcome is probably the best time.
The second best time is when they have had a chance to experience the benefits of your service or when you are reinforcing your original interaction with more value, like:
- After a complimentary training session
- During/after a post-launch follow-up.
- After celebrating the first big wins your client gets from all your hard work together
Strategically including requests for referrals amongst these moments can increase your chances of being recommended.
If you are selling tangible products, you can include a little postcard in your product packaging that offers an incentive for referring a friend. That aligns with the point of delight where someone just received an item that they have been waiting for and excited to see it!
For service-based businesses, this can look like a free a la carte service, discount on recurring monthly investments/maintenance or even a partnership with a third-party company (the kind you know your clients value) that provides them with an additional service.
We actually see requests like these more often than we realize. Knowing I may get a benefit while also letting a friend know about a great product makes it that much easier to pass it on.
The key is that those moments of excitement, surprise, and surpassed expectations is what makes you the most referable. People are more likely to complain or praise a company or product when their experiences challenge their expectations, whether it’s better or worse.
Another part is helping your current clients recognize when referral opportunities present themselves in their interactions with others. One of the easiest ways I’ve found is to empower them to ‘solve’ a problem for someone else who had the same pain they did.
To start, send a mini-survey session to your client/customer and get their feedback. You can do this using Survey Monkey easily, but I’ve gone ahead and created a form using Google Forms to get you started:
You can copy and paste the questions into a Word document or just use it as a reference to create your own form. Add, remove and tweak the questions to fit you and your business. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes for the client to complete.
- Make sure to include a question that gets them to identify what problem you solved, from their perspective.
- Most importantly, make sure to include a checkbox that asks, “Would you refer [me/my service/Company Name] to a friend?”.
If you are working one-to-one you can give them a brief call to go over their submission. Then, literally, ask them if they can refer you to the next person they come across who has a problem similar to what they just explained you solved for them.
Why This Works
Without going any deeper into the psychology of why people share things, this quick process works because:
- Social Impact: It helps to make them look and feel cool/helpful/knowledgeable by being able to offer useful information at the right time.
- Authentic Self: We really like being the kind of people who do what they say they are going to do.
- Reinforced Rational: The survey allows them to verbalize the value you have provided them while emotionally and logically satisfying their original decision of using your service/buying your product, which they reinforce when they recommend you!
There isn’t any shortcut or creative positioning of ads or buttons that can get people talking about you in a genuine way that converts. You have to enrich your client’s/customer’s life in a unique and valuable way to have a memorable impact.
In order to truly use these strategies, you need to have an understanding of your business, regularly work on differentiating yourself and position yourself as an authority for the service you provide.
My hope is that you take away some things from this post, incorporate them into your business and start reinforcing your client relationships with strategies that grow your reach.
What methods/systems have worked for you to get referrals? How do you plan to implement these into your business?