• Buffer
  • how to get referralsReferrals are often the lifeblood of professional services such as accountants, or even doctors.

    Really…I can’t think of any business that wouldn’t want more referrals.

    Studies have shown that people referred by others are not only more likely to convert into customers, but they are also more likely to refer even more business to you. Sounds pretty good, right?

    Many businesses struggle with getting referrals, however. It would seem that with the amount of information freely available this wouldn’t be the case.

    Until you look at the information…

    Most Advice You Get Is Wrong

    …Well, it’s not wrong per se. It’s more like incomplete.

    When you search out “how to get referrals” you’re going to get a lot of advice like:

    All great. Though not very actionable.

    Quite frankly, providing a great product or service is the price of entry. While you’ll get some referrals naturally, it won’t really “create” any referrals for you. And that’s what we’re looking for here, right?

    And “asking” for referrals (as most advice will have you do) can be a bit awkward. Plus it’s a bit self-serving.

    But there’s a better way once you get down to the root of the issue…

    The Underlying Issue with Referrals

    The problem with relying on referrals for most business is…well…you can’t.

     Referring people to a business is generally a passive activity.

    In other words, it’s not something that people normally (or actively) do. And although current customers are often your best source of referrals, this is not something that “providing a great service” will solve.

    For example…

    If you have a great accountant, chances are you’re not going to go raving about them to all your friends. In most cases you won’t talk about your accountant unless someone asks you if you know a good one.

    And then you’ll recommend yours because of their great service.

    But what if no one asks you?

    So the job of any business that wants more referrals walking through the door is turn the activity from a passive one into an active one. One where people are going to talk about your business even when they haven’t been asked about it.

    But how?

    What the Cable Companies Know

    Nothing turns passive into active as well as an incentive.

    If people can benefit from an action, they are certainly more likely to take that action.

    Cable and Dish companies certainly know this. That’s why you often see them running promotions where you get a certain dollar amount for every person you refer to them. On top of that the person you refer will also get some sort of dollar incentive.

    Everyone wins (especially the cable company).

    You don’t have to flat out bribe people with money, however. You can offer savings – for example, 10% off next month’s bill for each referral.

    You can get creative. But incentivize.

    A lot of businesses already do this. Yet they still seem to struggle. And that’s because they are missing this one critical piece…

    Stay “Top of Mind”

    An incentive can only get you so far when people don’t think about it.

     You not only need to provide people with a reason to refer business to you, but you also need to constantly remind them of that reason. 

    This is why people normally recommend you “ask” for referrals. But again, this isn’t the best route to take. Plus asking over and over again is annoying.

    Here’s a better way…

    How to Build Your Referral System

    Instead of straight up asking for referrals, gently remind your customers that referrals are appreciated…and of course that they can benefit from referring new business to you.

    The best way to do it is to “passively” remind them of the idea on a consistent basis in your communications. But to do that you have to have communications first.

    For example, over at ProfitCrunching (one of my other businesses) I offer a done-for-you newsletter service for accountants. Realistically this newsletter can be used by anyone who has a business-minded clientele. But it is marketed specifically to accountants for a reason (and you can see the reason in my free mini-course here).

    The key to sending out a newsletter like this is actually have people open it and read it (something most accounting newsletters fail at miserably). Your gentle reminders will do you no good if no one sees them.

    When you provide value on a consistent basis like this, you are going to stay in the minds of your customers. Plus, you will stand out from your competition and any service they may have been signed up for before. So they are more likely to remember your referral bonus.

    Another Option…

    This option is not an “alternative” to something like the newsletter I mentioned above, but rather an “in addition to” type of thing.

    In fact, I’d label this as mandatory

    You’re building your email list, right?

    Sending out follow-up emails to your list of clients and prospects is a cheap and effective way to stay “top of mind.” And you can actually automate the entire process with tools like Aweber if you want to write out the emails sequence ahead of time.

    When you send emails to clients, remind them that of the benefit of referring others to your business.

    When you send emails to prospects, remind them that they should become your customer in the first place :) .

    The Hidden Value of “Top of Mind”

    It’s pretty clear how constantly reminding your clients of your existence can benefit you in terms of referrals. But referrals (and big referrals) can often come from unexpected places.

    Steve Gordon recently sent out an email describing a very surprising referral source.

    You would expect that most of referrals would come from existing clients (or strategic partners). But Steve does an incredible job with email marketing.

    So much so that he received a referral for a pretty big business deal from someone subscribed to his email list that wasn’t a client.

    This happened because Steve stays “top of mind” with not only his clients, but also his prospects, by utilizing email marketing.

    In fact, you’re hearing about this story, and about Steve, because I’m on his email list.

    What’s Next…

    1. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

    2. If you’re not building your email list yet, make sure to start now (I personally use Aweber).

    3. If you’re in the accounting or financial services industry, check out my newsletter service.

    4. If you want to know the marketing strategy I used to launch two businesses in 2013, check out my free mini-course.

    5. This post is part of a monthly “World Carnival.” To check out other great posts about referrals check out this Word Carnivals page.

    I think that’s enough homework for now :) .

    Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for FREE updates and get instant access to The Marketing Toolbox: 

    8 Responses to How to Get Referrals (The REAL Way)

    1. Melanie Kissell says:

      Totally cool tips, Eugene!

      We’d all like to believe our happiest and most satisfied customers or clients will go the extra mile to send business our way. But you’ve clearly demonstrated the roadblocks on that route.

      Your thoughts on staying “top of mind” are exemplary and I want to wish you the best with your newsletter for accountants! You’re right … I never recommended my CPA to anyone unless they asked … and he was tops! (I’m using past tense because he has since retired)

    2. Jeevan Jacob John says:

      Great tips, Eugene :D

      I have seen many blogs/sites using referral system aggressively to expand their business. But, I think the model you suggested – passive referral system – is much more better in terms of providing a better experience for our clients (and prospective clients).

      Of course, consistent reminders are also important (We can always use email sidebars to post reminders).

      Thanks for the tips

    3. Marketing Day: August 27, 2013 says:

      […] How to Get Referrals (The REAL Way), http://www.contentstrategyhub.com […]

    4. Tea Silvestre says:

      Reminding people that we exist is a never-ending process. And yes – that’s why email marketing is great (people will at least see your name in their inbox, even if they don’t open and read your newsletter).

      Incentives are tricky tho — everyone is motivated by something different. So it’s probably a good idea to find out what gift (if anything) would make the biggest impact with your current peeps.

      I, personally, love a bit o’ cash for a referral, but cash alone is NOT going to get me to pass on someone’s name and number. First they’ve got to be awesome at what they do. After all, if they screw up, I’ll end up losing a bit of my own credibility.

    5. Carol Lynn says:

      Well you certainly hit on one of the conundrums of referrals… YOU (me/us/any of us) are not remotely on anyone’s top priority list. There is a bit of luck to finding someone who needs what you’ve got and then relying on someone else to send that person your way. I very much love the idea of staying top of mind (and letting people know what you do in the first place – not always obvious!) I would say referrals with incentives can work but cautiously. Cable companies don’t care how many people they have to bribe with a $5 coupon to get some business (they also don’t care how many people they lose because of crummy products or customer service… so there’s that). But I’ve seen some of these go wrong for small biz. The key is in the execution! Someone looking to do an active referral system had better stop here first :)

    6. Michelle Church says:

      I love systems and it is something I can do much better for others than I can for myself. BUT that is a goal I have going on right now is to document more and demonstrating the results they are receiving as the actions are taken which is the same principal of having a system for referrals. I received a nice little check years ago from a referral I sent to someone that was so unexpected, but welcomed. It definitely kept them in the forefront of my mind, but had they incorporated a system of staying in front of me, I could remember their business that for the life of me I don’t know their name today! Great points!

    7. Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Great tips, Eugene, and a good reminder to use that email list. I still tend to do manual follow-ups.

      However, there’s one case where passive marketing works for referrals – when you’re a writer. My bylined work on Crazy Egg, Unbounce and elsewhere has brought people to my door who know the quality of my work and want to hire me. I don’t know if they have also spoken to the editors of those sites, but either way, it works. I agree, though, that you can’t leave it to just passive marketing. You have to take action as well.

    8. Nicole Fende says:

      Oh the non-stop asking for referrals drives me batty! Especially if I’m the client (or target client). I’m NOT your marketing department, even if you are offering to pay me. When I’m on the receiving end of this I unsubscribe, become a past client, and essentially tune out the person. If you are asking more than you are giving you are doing it wrong. /end rant

      Your ideas are the perfect solution. You’re staying top of mind, but not going overboard. They are soft ways to remind people but not annoy them.

      Off to do my homework.

    Leave a reply

    Get FREE Updates and Instant Access to

    The Marketing Toolbox

    *No Spam Ever

    Content Marketing Strategy Guide

    Content Optimization


    Turn Your Content Into a Business-Driving Machine.

    Sign up below to get updates from Content Strategy Hub to learn how to use content to drive more traffic, leads and sales for your business online. And get free instant access to my marketing toolbox.

    Just enter your email and click "Get Instant Access"!