Ask most service providers how they get business, and the answer is "referrals" or "word of mouth." Carter Prescott, head of New York-based Carter Communications, which provides high-level writing and speaking services for Fortune 500 clients, doesn't even have a listed phone number. "I've never needed one," she says. "It's better to have people call you on their own, rather than soliciting calls anyway. You get a better client that way."
True, but you still have to work to generate referrals. Even your most loyal customers aren't likely to think about generating business for you -- they've got their own fish to fry. So try these surefire methods to build your word-of-mouth business:
- Offer incentives for referrals that turn into business. They can be in the form of discounts on future business, free estimates or samples, or just plain cash. Even a small offer will catch their attention.
- Create a referral form, and send it to clients or customers with your invoice for services rendered. If you've done a good job, the time to leverage yourself is upon completion of the project.
- Tap your suppliers for leads, by reminding them that when your business grows, theirs does, too. Spark this exchange by giving leads to your suppliers.
- Ask prospects who have turned you down for referrals. This gives them a graceful exit from a potentially unpleasant task. The only secret, as with any request, is to time it appropriately so that you offer people a natural, unforced opening to help you.