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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I was wondering if anybody out there had any ideas about how to set up a customer referral program? I'd like to build up my clientele for my service biz and could use some help on getting referrals....Anyone???


Answer from our Guest Expert Donna Hall of The Right Answer, Customer Service Consultants

Dear Jim:

Obtaining new clients used to make me feel as if I was searching for a needle in a haystack. But as soon as I decided to step out there to be seen and heard, the phone was soon ringing off the hook! And it can be the same for you too! Here are some tips I learned over the years building up and serving my clients; see if they can work for you.

Spread the Word Around Town. When you're working with customers or speaking to friends and neighbors, let them know you're looking for new clients. When you're done with a job or simply shooting the breeze with customers and friends, ask them if they know of anyone who could use your services or products. And don't be afraid to hand out those handy dandy biz cards. (carry them with you at all times!) You never know where those little guys end up and it could mean more referrals for you!

Provide Strong Customer Service. If you're good at what you do, are pleasant to work with, and satisfy your customers, they'll most likely refer you to others on their own. Remember, only satisfied customers give referrals. Be sure to implement a customer priority attitude with your business and treat current customers like royalty. If you keep a consistent service record with your customers, your reputation will precede you and you'll get more referrals with less advertising/marketing efforts since word-of-mouth recommendations are free and can spread like wildfire.

Put a Carrot at the End of the Stick. Even if you're doing a super job and are giving your customers the best service in town, it still wouldn't hurt to give them a little motivation for referring customers to you. Consider giving customers future discounts on services or products for every referral they get for you. You could send a quick note to your current customers announcing your new referral program. Just be sure you follow up on your promises and devise a quick way to note who sent who to you and give the discounts accordingly.

Another incentive idea that kills two birds with one stone is to give a speciality advertising gift to anyone who gives you some good leads and referrals. Mugs, pens, and T-shirts with your logo, biz name, and phone number on them not only please and delight the customers, they will wear or use these products out and about town and your name gets out there twice over! What other ways can you entice and motivate your customers for referrals?

Meet and Mingle. Another great way to get referrals is to meet, greet, and shake hands with "Joe Public," just like those gotta-love-'em politicians. Become active in your local chamber of commerce and other local business and charitable organizations. Likewise, join associations and business clubs where you can schmooze with prospective clients. And if you're game, don't turn down opportunities to speak at various functions. Community groups and associations are always looking for experts to address and inform their members on the newest trends, technologies, and must-have services.

When you hear about symposiums, conventions, and trade shows related to your field or biz, sign up and go! These places are a hotbed of opportunities to meet potential customers and network your way to prospective clients.

Cold Calling. Why not try some old fashioned cold calling? Well, I know, this may not sound like fun, but it just may get you some valuable new clients. I know of a very successful ad agency executive, who initially started his business from his Manhattan apartment, and got his BIG break from cold-calling. He landed some major accounts this way and these days, his company is competing with other heavy hitters on Madison Avenue. This small, but successful agency has several major accounts now, both locally and nationally, and a new partner! Forty employees later, he's no longer working out of his apartment. So consider using the phone as a way to refer yourself to new customers.

The main thing to remember when trying to build a customer referral program is to get out there and put your best foot forward. Schmooze, brag, hand out biz cards, pick up the phone -- just get yourself noticed.Once folks know about you, your list of clients will increase.

Good Luck with Your Business!

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