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3 Reasons You’re Afraid to Ask for Referrals – and What You Can Do to Get Over It

We all know that personal referrals are one of the best ways to grow our small business; new customers that come by the way of a referral become customers more quickly and stay with us longer than others. Satisfied customers appreciate our company values, we’ve reached them on a level deeper than a product at a price. When those same satisfied customers refer their friends and colleagues to us, chances are that those friends and colleagues also appreciate those values. They become happy, ideal customers and the referral cycle continues. So why aren’t you asking for referrals? Here are the top three reasons small business owners don’t ask for referrals and what you can do to start asking today.

  1. Fear of rejection. I get it, it’s scary to ask someone to recommend you. We fear that our customer will say no, but think about it; if they don’t want to refer you, they just won’t do it – they won’t actually say no to you! If you sense some hesitation on their part, that’s a great opportunity to correct a misunderstanding or dissatisfaction they may have had with you in the past. Your effort to resolve some old issue for them, or just to listen about it, will win them over and they just may become raving fans.
  2. You don’t know how to ask. Take 30 minutes to create several  scripts you and your staff can loosely follow, and that you are comfortable with. When you’re comfortable asking, you will come across more confident and natural, and the request more likely to be received well. Worry less about what the “experts” say about how to do it, and ask in a manner that works for you.
  3. You may have tried to ask following a well-intentioned marketing seminar, but lacked the follow-through. What you need is a system, an easily repeated step-by-step system. The best systems are well-defined and automatic. Consider these:
    1. Have your Google+ review link printed on your invoice. This is fairly passive, but may be a “safe” first step for you.
    2. Follow-up transactions or at regular intervals with an automated email satisfaction and review request (there are some slick systems out there that point happy customers to your review page, while less than happy customers generate an email to you. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more and I can point you to some business partners who can create this for you).
    3. If you’re interested in a more low-tech option, define who will ask for referrals and at exactly what point in the customer interaction. Once you’ve defined the “right” words (see #2), you and your staff all need to know where responsibility lays for asking. Walk through this process in a staff meeting, as a multi-step process may be best.
    4. Best bet: do all three!
    5. You haven’t figured out what the referral reward ought to be. Don’t let this hold you up! Think about the last referral you gave and why you gave it. I doubt it was for the Starbucks coupon; it was more likely because somebody asked or reminded you, or because you wanted to help a friend. Humans give referrals because we like to help.


This is an EXCELLENT example of a referral program - it's easy for your customer, and offers them a tangible, useful reward.

This is an EXCELLENT example of a referral program – it’s easy for your customer, and offers them a tangible, useful reward.

A well-defined referral system drastically increases the number of referrals, as long as you are (reasonably) comfortable with the actual request. Invest 30 minutes to define your system, and be on the lookout for new ideal customers coming through your door!

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.