A referral from people who know and love your business is one of the easiest ways to build trust in your brand – and it’s also an inexpensive way to attract new customers. But sometimes, referrals can be hard-won – there are a plethora of competing businesses, your brand might not be top-of-mind, people are busy – the list goes on. So, how can you harness the power of your customers and amazing service to grow your business? Let’s look at the five pillars of referral marketing:

Start with an unbeatable product or service

Your uniqueness and standout service are key to making a memorable impression that customers want to rave about. Having a high-quality product and offering will sell itself and is the most important place to start – but providing great customer service is the cherry on top. Your clients are likely to remember you going above and beyond and share their stories online or when a friend asks for a recommendation.

Ask for referrals

It’s simple, but we all know if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Some business owners don’t get recommended because they’re too shy or aren’t direct enough. It’s best to be straightforward and proactive. For example, if you’ve connected with someone on LinkedIn, you can see what connections might benefit from your business and ask for an email or in-person introduction. People are more likely to act on a specific request than a vague one because it takes away the guesswork for them.

Ask at the right time

Another important aspect of asking for referrals, is asking at the right time – ideally when your amazing service is still fresh in your customers mind. Perhaps you’ve just catered an event and your guests loved the food or your recent online workshop was a success. You can use these opportunities to thank them for their patronage and encourage them to spread the good word. Here are my favourite referral conversation starters:

  • Encourage clients to take pictures, post it on social media and tag your business.
  • Ask them to write a review online.
  • Inquire about friends or neighbours who might be interested in your product or service.
  • Seeing them in person? Leave a few business or loyalty cards they can pass on.

Consider an incentive

A referral incentive is another great way to encourage recommendations. Incentives work best when both people involved in the referral process benefit. For instance, some gyms might give current members a free month for bringing in new customers, while the new member might get a discounted joining fee. Other incentives you might consider are:

  • A discount off their next purchase.
  • A free gift or upgrade.
  • A special ‘insider’ perk, like free shipping.
  • A first-look at new sales, products and events.

Of course, even with a juicy reward, you still need your current customers to genuinely love the products and services you offer, because a bad referral could reflect poorly on them.

Celebrate referrals

Even if you don’t provide an incentive, be sure to thank the people who recommended you. Repost their praise on your social media and give them a shout out or send them a personal note or thank you card. A simple thanks really does go a long way and will make customers feel more inclined to recommend you again.

Caroline Swarbrick is senior director at Vistaprint.