As any seasoned solopreneur knows, customer referrals are critical to growing your business. Whether it’s finding the right first hire or getting traffic through the door, having a trusted network endorse your business is what inevitably leads to success. It’s time to start paying attention to your network of referrals, if you haven’t been doing so already!
Referrals, sometimes called word-of-mouth marketing, are the most powerful form of brand building out there. Measurement firm Nielsen reports that “92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.”
The power of referrals isn’t limited to friends and family, either. Wouldn’t you rather eat at a restaurant rated 5 stars on Yelp by 435 people than pick one off the street and hope it’s a great meal?
Of course, it might all sound like a great idea -- but the idea of generating customer referrals might leave you with a few questions: As a small business owner and entrepreneur, how can you harness the power of referrals? What’s the best way to activate your loyal customers to speak on your behalf? And, most importantly, how can you be sure your referrals are being seen by the people who matter most: your target customers?
Keep reading, one woman shop: I’ve got a few ideas to get you started in mastering customer referrals.
1. Lead with your personal reputation
People want to buy from businesses and causes they believe in. Millennials especially want to buy from brands and companies they can feel proud to support. Marketing firm Cone LLC discovered that “an astounding 94 percent of consumers would switch brands if one carried a cause and another did not.” That good cause can be as simple as supporting an entrepreneur or strong female business owner they believe in.
Bottom line? Customers (read: millennials) want a personal relationship with the businesses they support. The best way to build that relationship is to lead with your personality. Infuse your brand with your own vision, passion, personality, and vibe. Communicate what you’re about and why you’re excited about what you do! This will help others who relate recommend you like crazy.
Where’s the single best place to start in building your reputation? Start by asking your friends and family to recommend you to others. They know you best and can speak to your personality and strengths. From there, it’s about connecting, not collecting: Follow up and start to build genuine connections with the people your family and friends refer. You can start to grow your referrals from those few initial contacts.
2. Show the good with the bad
Part of building your personal brand is recognizing that you’re not perfect. (Fact: No one is.) Referrals are strongest when they’re honest. That’s why sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor offer the opportunity for companies to respond to a negative review. Research shows that a company that responds to a negative Yelp review will see more positive marketing than sending a direct mail ad to their local area. It is so powerful to take the time to correct a wrong or own up to a mistake.
“Responding to negative reviews shows both the reviewer and potential customers that the business cares about its customers, and is willing to make things right when mistakes are made,” says one expert in the Huffington Post. Moreover, millennials trust companies that are transparent and authentic. They’ll be more likely to refer you and your business if you’re not trying to fool them by looking perfect all the time.
3. Create a referral program
Once you know your own personal brand and have activated your friends and family to recommend your business, it’s time to start a more formal referral program. We suggest reaching out to your most loyal customers. According to the New York Times, “When you are clear about describing the recommendations you want, you make it easier for your referral partners to identify prospective customers for you.” If you’ve taken the time to make meaningful connections with the people you connect with regularly, then this ask should feel natural.
Should your referral program involve incentives? This is tricky: You don’t want it to seem like you’re bribing customers for a good review. One blog suggests forgoing your referral incentive for a customer loyalty reward: “The type of incentive you offer must fit with the kind of business you run. It could be a discount, service credits, an upgrade, a free item, or some other trigger that will entice clients to provide referrals.”
If you’re not comfortable with directly asking for referrals yet, find or build a system that makes it easy and seamless for your customers to leave you feedback. Over time, you can choose to broadcast these reviews or build connections with the clients you know have had a positive experience with your brand.
4. Activate social media
Make it easy for people to refer you! By hosting reviews on your Facebook Page or on a site like BULLIT, you’re really becoming your own reference when you post on social media.
Customers truly trust the referrals and updates they see on social media: “Regularly updated Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts with solid followings and positive fan interactions, are likely to outweigh a less than stellar Yelp page.” Continue to broadcast your personality and your brand’s purpose by updating and responding to your curious customers. Plus, check out these tips to benefit from your profiles with these nine do’s and don’ts for cleaning up your social media.
Build your business with referrals
It’s tough to argue with the power of referrals: Most often, you’re not only building a reputation that precedes you and takes significant weight off your need to market your business -- you’re also getting in front of people who you’ll enjoy working with, because they’ve been referred by people who know you best.
How can you get started today? Head to BULLIT.me to build a free profile where you can start to see referrals work for you right away.