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!

Small Business Ownership: What Message Are You Sending?

What are your actions as a business telling your customers?  Are you sending the message you want?  As a business owner, it is easy to push through tasks without giving them much thought.  With a never-ending to-do list, and constant crises to deal with, it is hard to find time for the mundane chores that come with business ownership.  However, rushing through tasks and making small mistakes can have big implications.  Let’s take a look at some business signage I’ve seen recently:

New Beginings
(look at this closely)

The business name is “New Beginnings”. Too bad the owner doesn’t know how to spell their own name. What does that tell you about their attention to detail?

Fur Boughs for Sale

This is one of my all-time favorite signs, as I imagine a Far Side© cartoon with an animal walking around with FIR boughs wrapped around their shoulders, as a FUR would be.

Okay, I’m going to get on my soap box for a moment. Please, please, please run spell and grammar check on everything. For important documents, ask an independent party to review for readability and understandability (I’m reviewing a client’s documents this afternoon to see if a layperson understands them).

Here’s my favorite tip,

Oreo’s Slam Dunk; Grab Customers Attention with Savvy Marketing

oreoWhen the Superdome’s lights went out during the Superbowl, audiences had 34 minutes with nothing particular to pay attention to. Oreo’s social media team jumped on the opportunity and sent this tweet: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Approximately 24 hours later, they’ve had over 15,000 retweets and almost 21,000 Facebook likes. That’s savvy marketing.

Chances are, there are moments when your customers have empty space in front of them, a “dark moment”; a checkout counter in a retail environment, a few minutes of waiting for a service business. These are prime spots to grab your customer’s attention, but too often they get cluttered with manufacturer’s marketing material rather than your own, reminders about your policies, or local charity events. Instead, consider what you most want your customers and clients to know about, to focus on, and that’s what they should be looking at in their “Oreo moment”. Just like in print copy, remember to use plenty of “empty” space to allow your customers to focus.

Increasing your Marketing ROI for Small Businesses

Over the past several weeks, a client and I have been looking at where his clients have come from and how best to find more. It’s a valuable exercise at any time, but especially now as he is faced with making contract renewals and determining where to spend his 2013 marketing budget; afterall everyone want a high marketing ROI (Return on Investment).  It has been an extremely valuable experience and I want to share, step by step, what we did so you can put it into practice:

1.     Look at every new customer from the past two years and determined what brought them to your business.  Yes, it will be a lot of work and time, but honestly, is checking e-mail or Facebook more important?

  1. Find the details. For example, once my client identified business came from referrals, we looked at what the relationship was between the person referred and the person who did the referring. My client learned that his customers were most likely to refer co-workers, not family members as he had thought.ROI-picture1
  2. Also research the precipitating cause of the prospects’ calls; consider individual life events (move, job change, family status change), a new or increased need for your service or product, poor care from another provider or loss of another provider. All of these are important in determining how to find more clients with the least amount of effort and resource

2.     Outline your 2012 marketing dollars spent in detail.

3.     Calculated the cost of each new client. For example, if you spent 2012 marketing dollars on radio advertising, divide the cost of radio ads by the number of clients who came to you as a direct result. This is your direct radio marketing cost per client.  Some marketing may not directly yield customers but will instead reinforce your brand image. That’s okay, and you may determine that the resources spent are still worth it. If you can not directly tie new customers with marketing dollars spent, check in to see that your ego isn’t tied up in where you “should” be marketing your business.

4.     Using what the corporate world calls “zero based budgeting”, and create a 2013 marketing budget. Starting at zero, build a marketing budget, justifying every dollar spent with two years worth of new customer source information.

5.     Finally, identify 2013 milestones, points at which you can review your spending and make changes if necessary.  Pre-defining these milestone points are critical to insure that too much time doesn’t pass without review or results.  Equally important, the milestones insure that you don’t pull the plug prematurely, killing a campaign too early.

Marketing dollars can be tough to justify with data, so all too often we just keep on doing what we have been doing, latch on to the latest trend, or follow our colleagues when they have success. Be smarter this year and start with your own customers; just like my client, you will spend less, be more successful with finding prospects and increase your marketing return on investment (ROI).  That’s excellence with ease.

Create Black Friday Magic; Small Business Marketing

black-fridayBlack Friday; Small Business Saturday; Cyber Monday; and the latest – Giving Tuesday. Some business owners are feeling a bit frantic, wondering, “How do I capture some of this business?” Rather than sitting on the sidelines wringing your hands, you can end the year strong with some brain power applied.

Ask a devoted shopper why they leave a warm bed in the wee hours of the morning and chances are they say something like “It’s fun being out there with other crazy shoppers!” or “There are some great deals if you get there early!” The magic of these marketing events for customers are the sense of belonging created; being part of a special group, a scarcity mentality and the fear of missing an opportunity. Rather than trying to fit into one of these marketing days, focus on the human needs they address and your business can capture some year-end traffic.

  1. Sense of belonging. Everyone likes belonging to a club and feeling included. If you’re a B2C business, consider a holiday open house with refreshments for “special guests” (everyone!) and their friends.
  2. Scarcity. For the same reason parents want to be the first at Target to get that limited edition toy. Customers will flock to your business if they believe there is a limited supply. Advertise special offers for the “first fifty” (this one can backfire – choose wisely) or a discounted, yet valuable, service available for a limited time.
  3. Opportunity. Part of Black Friday’s magic is the sense that the greatest deals of the year happen on this day, and if you miss it, you’ll have to wait another year. For B2B businesses, consider assembling a package of services or products that are available only during your year-end.

Finally, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now Giving Tuesday exist only because someone said they exist. You can do the same – announce your special day or event and, with proper planning, create your own small business marketing magic.

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.