The least expensive way for just about any business to get new business is through referrals. Yet many business owners simply wait for referrals to show up while shelling out big marketing dollars on other channels. One opportunity that many businesses have, then, is to become more proactive about getting referrals. The question is how to do that most effectively, and here are four tips for your consideration.

1.     Spread the word.

Make sure all your clients know three things:

  1. You are taking new business.
  2. How to describe what you do.
  3. What type of client you work best with.

It’s not enough to simply say, “We’re looking for more work.” Everyone is so busy that when you make a request that is too generic, it gets lost. Instead, be clear about what you want:

“Hi Ms. Client. I just wanted to let you know we are taking new customers. An ideal customer for us is a retail shop that has been in business in Phoenix for about five years. Do you know anybody like that who needs temporary staffing? We’d appreciate it if you let them know about us.”

You can get the word out through a simple email or a face-to-face conversation. I’ve also seen a line or two added to the signature portion of an email, on invoices, on feedback forms, in surveys, and more.

2.     Make it routine.

At some point in your customer workflow process, create a step that clearly asks for referrals. It might be at the beginning or end of a project or sale, or after 30 days of working with a new client. The key is to make it routine. Here are some examples:

  1. Ask the client for two referrals as part of the business contract. Let them know it’s a standard procedure. A dentist I know asks for three referrals as part of being a client of his. His clients know up front that providing referrals is part of the relationship.
  2. Ask the client to provide a personally-written testimonial letter to send to five other leaders (peers) in the same industry, assuming you do a good job, of course.
  3. Ask for referrals at the end of the engagement. Make this a routine, just like getting out the final invoice.

3.     Provide incentives.

Let’s take a lesson from my auto mechanic, who handed me several referral cards when I offered to post a testimonial for him on a list I am part of. The referral card is a card that the referral source puts their name on and gives to a prospect. The prospect cashes it in and gets a discounted introductory service. The referrer gets a discount on their next visit. It’s common in many industries, and something similar may work in your industry too. Be creative and think about how you might adapt something like this to your company.

4.     Show gratitude.

Be sure to immediately thank your customers and other individuals who refer business to you.

Send your referral sources a nice card or letter with every referral. If they are a significant source of business for you, periodically treat them to a country club lunch, send them a gift certificate, or make a donation in their name to a favorite charity.

When you can boost your referrals, your revenue will go up while your marketing costs stay low. Try these four tips to rev up your referrals in your business.