Referrals are a vital part of your local business, whether you’re offering a service or a product. The lead that comes in through referrals generally needs what you have to offer, enters your business cycle with a lot of trust baked in already, and reflects a similar customer profile of the person who referred him.
That’s great, because as you get better and more customers, that means you’ll be getting even better and even more customers — if you know how to take advantage of referrals.
Here’s a primer on what you can do, step-by-step, to get more referrals for your business.
Deliver the kind of service or product that gets people talking
At first glance, that headline might look like some mumbo-jumbo inspirational stuff that makes you momentarily feel good, but then a second later fades away and leaves you thinking, “Okay, sure. But HOW??!!”
Fret not. You’re about to get a step-buy-step guide in how to be instantly more referable.
Deliver great work
Whether you’re walking dogs and giving their owners the peace of mind knowing that Fido is getting his exercise and getting top care, or you’re a baker and creating sugary gifts to make a child’s birthday party his best one yet, or you’re a masseuse and you’re giving stressed out people a much needed break from the daily grind, you have got to be delivering the best work in your niche.
The problem with that is that we, as people, generally find ourselves fault-less, and often assume we are in fact delivering the best work that we can. This may or not be true. And if you haven’t been consciously improving yourself at what you do, odds are you aren’t delivering the best work in your niche. Here’s how to find out:
Ask yourself: “When was the last time I consciously tried to improve what I do?”
This could be picking up a book with the latest Photoshop techniques in them and using them on a project. It could be attending a seminar from a respected industry expert and applying what you learned. It could be even having a lunch with a mentor and laying out what you’re doing right now, and asking where you can improve. Or it could even be asking for specific feedback from your customers about their experience, listening to that feedback, and then implementing it in a strategic way.
If you’ve done something along those lines in the last two weeks, then congrats, you are ahead of the curve. Chances are you’re delivering above-average work.
If you can’t remember the last time that you did one of those activities in your business, then I’ve got bad news. You’re coasting. You’re on autopilot and that’s a dangerous place to be. The best thing for you to do — TODAY — is find some resource (a book, a friend, a magazine, an online course, an instructional video) and improve what you do.
But here’s another question to determine where your work fits in the market.
Ask yourself: “Who is the number one person in my niche, in my market?”
If you answer, “Me,” (and that’s definitely true based on real figures and metrics) then that is awesome, very good. You very likely already consistently improve yourself to provide top-quality work.
If the answer is, “I’m not sure,” then that indicates a problem. If you’re a hair stylist or salon owner, and you’re not sure who the number one person is in your niche, and you know it’s not you, then you’re missing out, and you’re trying to operate your business with zero external reference points.
For example, if you run a gym, it’s probably at xyz size, with xyz members, providing xyz services and options. That’s great. But you also need to know who in your industry or niche is doing far better than you. Then, DO NOT try to change to BECOME that person or business (Pepsi can never be Coca-Cola and has been wise not to try) — instead LEARN from that person or business and implement strategies they are using in your own business, your way.
What underlying philosophies power what they do?
What frameworks or systems do they rely on?
How do they approach every stage of their business and interactions with their customers?
This article by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, digs into this concept from a slightly different angle. He’s talking about coaching, and how strange it is that the best tennis players in the world have coaches, while attorneys, doctors, and business people do not.
The same is true here. If you’re not doing the best work in your niche, then you’ve got to find some resource to help you make adjustments and improve. It could be a book, a seminar, a mentor, a coach, or the careful observation of a highly successful example from your niche.
But the first step to referral business is to do great work.
IMMEDIATELY ACTIONABLE TACTIC: Do 1 thing to improve your business today — schedule a session with a mentor, order a book, sign up for a seminar.
Beyond the simple fact of delivering great work, there is a host of activities and behaviors that may be even more important than the work itself. This group of behaviors is called, in scientific terms, “everything else.” It’s also in a sense customer service, but should go beyond that.
If you can nail this, you are guaranteed to get a referral if you ask for it (and know that “asking” can take many forms — from actually asking, to a more complex referral system you have in place).
It’s the how to your what. How you communicate. How you lead the interaction with your customer. How you deliver. How you end each engagement.
For example, you could make the world’s greatest pizza, but if it’s consistently late, if you’re rude and unreliable, if you leave it up to your customer to know where to sit in the restaurant, etc, etc., then you will fail.
The way you set expectations, the way you deliver your product or service is critical, and it’s a part of your marketing.
I’ve written here about rocking customer service, but there are other areas where this applies as well. For example, I was in a U-Haul recently. There was no signage as to where U-Haul customers should park, so I drove around the block once before I figured it out — we were to park with the inventory around the back. When I got inside, the lady working behind the counter never made eye contact with me and just asked if I had my contract. So I walked back to the car to get my contract. When I brought it back, she didn’t say anything at all, just took it and started pecking at the keyboard.
At the end of the transaction I had one more step. After I transferred everything out of the U-Haul, I had to head back inside and finish up. I walked in and got to the counter and the same thing happened — “Do you have your contract?”
I walked back again, and brought it back and was so frustrated by the fact of having to run around chasing a piece of paper, it ruined the entire experience. The fix could be a simple sign—”Don’t forget your contract”—on the way to the counter. I could tell it was a common occurrence because of her jaded attitude towards the problem. But instead of having a sign which would solve the problem entirely, this manager decided the fix for her was a really poor attitude towards her stupid customers who didn’t know they needed their contract.
Here’s a reverse example. IKEA. You get free bags to tote around. You get plenty of signs and tips. You even get a computer station in the warehouse section to look up a chair if you forgot the numbers from the showroom.
Here’s a quick way to assess where you are:
- Does your business communicate positive, desirable values with every interaction?
- How attuned to your customers common fears, frustrations, goals, and desires are you?
- Are your communications proactive, helpful, and friendly?
IMMEDIATELY ACTIONABLE TACTIC: Assess your ability or your business’s ability to set highly positive expectations. If it’s not great, pick 1 area to improve and focus on that area for 2 weeks.
More to come, so stay tuned
Okay, now you’ve figured out how to 1) do great work and 2) provide outstanding customer service that sets positive expectations. This week you’ll be getting part two of our three-part series on building referrals. Part 2 covers how to bake a referral generation system right into your business cycle, so you never have to think about it again.