Top Five Referral Marketing Ideas

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How to Generate Business Referrals

You want more referral marketing ideas. Good call — you’re not alone. According to Hinge Marketing, 71% of business prospects ask for referrals. Beyond the numbers, we’ve all heard the anecdotal evidence. Who fixed the plumbing in the house? Friend of a co-worker. Why’d you buy your car at that dealership? My cousin had a great experience there. Both statistically and anecdotally, the signs point to the obvious: referrals are great for business.

So what can you do to drum up more referral marketing ideas? As a small business owner, it’s something I think about a lot — and I’m sure you do too — so here are my personal top five referral marketing ideas.

#1 Nurture Business Relationships

network-with-referral-sourcesWe’ve all had great customers, and they can be a great source of referrals, but so much of business is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. That means that to crank up those referrals from great customers, it’s necessary to nurture business relationships. How you achieve that, of course, is on a case by case basis. The old-school method of lunches, pro sporting events, and golf still work, but there are other modern methods for the digital age, including social media interaction and email newsletters. The more relationships you nurture, the more referrals you’ll get.

#2 Network With Referral Sources

It’s also possible to get great referrals from people who’ve never actually done business with you. I am a member of my local BNI (Business Networking International) chapter and that has allowed me to get to know many business owners of all shapes and sizes. I give referrals to members and vice versa, and it’s because organizations like BNI create an environment where you can build trust in fellow members. As you get to know them over time, you’ll (hopefully) get to know their strengths, services, and professionalism, so even if you’re not a direct client, you can refer someone to them — and they to you.

#3 Make Your Work Known

Why does Nike make sure their trademark swoosh is featured so prominently on every one of their shoes? Why do sports jerseys have the logos of the manufacturer? It’s the same reason why we’ll add a little “made by” credit to the footer of our client’s websites. It’s just that little acknowledgment of who’s responsible. For us, that little bit of branding is also an instant source of referrals, as the live website acts as a portfolio piece. Whatever your industry, whoever your target audience, make sure there’s a way to get credit for your work and enable a means for potential customers to contact you.

#4 Don’t Be Afraid To Specialize

how-to-get-business-referralsAre you afraid of being known solely for one of your niche services? Don’t be. Specialization can generate massive referrals within a niche community, and that exposure within that community can spill out into repeat business or bigger work. For example, Forward Push has built a niche for working with BNI and Chamber of Commerce members . This isn’t something I came to by design, but because it’s so specialized, the work spoke for itself and gained referrals. Some people would call those pigeonholing, but I believe that to be short-sighted — to me, specialization means becoming the go-to person for a niche. That can parlay into many more things if played right.

#5 Become A Visible Expert

It’s as simple as it sounds — become a well-known expert on your particular subject matter. This can create many different types of referrals. In some cases, referrals from past clients convert easier because of this status. In other cases, the material distributed to create your visibility (case studies, white papers, infographics, webinars, etc.) will create immediate referrals. The idea is actually similar to inbound marketing (another one of my favorite concepts) in that you’re giving people free educational material to build value and trust, and that value and trust eventually turns into a referral.

Go Beyond Referral Marketing Ideas

Once a referral gets in touch with you, what do you do? Here’s the thing that I always remind small business owners: it’s not enough to get the referral, you have to convert them too. So use my referral marketing ideas above, but think ahead to the next step. Need help fine-tuning your messaging and branding to win that conversion? Get in touch and let’s talk — I love brainstorming about marketing.



By Marc Apple

Marc Apple is recognized as a leader in the marketing industry and has 20+ years of experience helping businesses of all sizes improve their digital marketing. He specializes in website design, SEO, social media, and paid search programs. He is a frequent contributor to other marketing websites and speaks regularly about marketing to small business owners and startups. To learn about Marc and to contact him, visit his author bio page.


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