Want more referrals or word-of-mouth business? Start here.

Our topic today is referrals! You can watch the video below (thanks, Youtube – for the super-flattering thumbnail image!) or scroll down for the nicely formatted text version (with doggy pictures!)

In this episode:

  • A case-study story featuring my adorable dog
  • 5 super easy tips for making a service worth talking about
  • 1 advanced strategy

Because it’s my business (and my obsession) – I’m always in market research mode. One of my favourite questions: “How do you get clients? What’s working for you these days?”

The most successful business people I talk to – the ones who have been around for a while – always (and I mean always) respond with one of these 3 answers: repeat clients, word-of-mouth or referrals. (Strangely enough, no one has ever said Twitter.)

There are a number of things you can do to increase those referrals: ask for them, offer money in exchange, create reciprocal joint venture partnerships, blah blah blah. All valid strategies – but not what I’m talking about today.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Want more repeat business, referrals and word-of-mouth? Start with providing a product or service worth talking about. ” quote=”Building referral business starts with your offer: your product, your service, your course or workshop.”]

The very first step…the one that makes those other strategies work…is this one:

Create something worth talking about

Our family. I mean pack.

I’m going to share a personal example from the client’s perspective – starring my dog, Brodie.

Joe and I are “those people” – we don’t “own” Brodie – he’s a member of the family. He comes with us on vacation, he sleeps in our bed, he gets top quality food and medical care.

I give you this information because when it comes to effective marketing and developing referral-worthy services, the first thing you need to do is identify your ideal client. If you’re a veterinarian within reasonable driving distance of our home, we are your ideal clients.

Especially considering the medical issues we’ve had with Brodie.

Our baby is sick

Poor little sad-faced muffin

Shortly after we adopted him, we experienced every pet parent’s nightmare: being woken up by a dog with sudden non-stop vomiting and bloody diarrhea. We rushed him to the emergency animal hospital at 2:00 in the morning.

Ever since that time, he’s had tummy troubles. A loud rumble we could hear across the room. Ignoring his food and eating grass. Bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhea. He seems fine one minute…and near death the next.

We’ve had to rush him to the vet several times – most recently on my birthday.

I was at a workshop all day and when I arrived home, the place was empty. Joe’s car keys were gone and Brodie’s “walkies leash” was on the floor by the back door.

My first thought: please don’t die on my birthday.

I tell you this so that you have some context. As potential clients we were feeling stressed. Constantly vigilant.

And frustrated by our current vets. There were 4 of them in the office – and we seemed to see someone new every time. They had no answers or explanations. They didn’t seem interested in figuring out what was causing the problem.

When Joe came home with Brodie on my birthday, he had another prescription for the same medication we received previously. More of the stuff that didn’t work.

Fortunately, things were about to change.

A dog, a vet and a FedEx driver walk into a bar

Of course she cooed! Look at that face!

Knock, knock, knock at the door.

Joe was out and Brodie went from quietly sleeping to alert by the door. I scooped him up to answer it.

The FedEx driver hands me a package for Joe. Then she coos over Brodie.

“Did your know that there’s a new vet in our neighbourhood?”

She starts raving about them. How they have separate entrances for cats and dogs, how her 2 dogs love going there, how she used to love her previous vet but loves this one even more. She explains exactly how to find the office and gives me their business card. “I’m telling everyone in this neighbourhood because I want their business to succeed.”

This is the dream of every business owner: a customer so impressed by the service that she’s made it her mission to go out and drum up business for them.

She leaves and I look at the card: I’m holding hope in my hand.

We call for an appointment, Joe gives them the backstory over the phone, they arrange to transfer Brodie’s records from the other vet.

On appointment day, our new vet comes into the examining room and introduces herself.

Then she says the magic words: “I read his file.”

This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is: she’s prepared for this appointment.

She had me at “I read your file.”

She sits on the floor to get to know Brodie. She takes 45 minutes to consult with us, to ask questions, to explain things. A few of the amazing things she said:

  • We want to get at the root cause of the problem instead of putting bandaids on it
  • We want to build a relationship with Brodie
  • We want him to enjoy coming here – dogs shouldn’t be afraid of the vet

Then she outlines her plan. We’ll start with this medication and a stool test. If the meds don’t work, we’ll look at trying some dietary changes because it might be a food sensitivity. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll do a blood test.

We leave the office feeling heard and in good hands.

And here I am – raving about this vet – and it’s only been 6 days since we saw her.

Brodie’s tummy has been good since we started the meds and we’re feeling cautiously optimistic.

More importantly, we’re no longer feeling the overhanging stress because even if the meds don’t work, we have someone on the case. An expert with a plan.

THIS is where referrals start.

Here are 5 things you can take away from this story.

5 simple tips for creating a service worth raving about

Before the doorbell rings.

These are all commonsense and easy to do…but it’s surprising how many businesses DON’T do them.

1. Prepare for your sessions or meetings

This seems obvious and logical, but it must not be because clients often ask me: “Did you get a chance to look at what I sent you?”

You mean your HOMEWORK? The information I asked you to send so that I could prepare for our session?

Of course I read it! Multiple times. I also took notes and thought about you during my walk this morning!

Our new vet made an excellent first impression simply by letting us know she read our file.

2. Listen

I took a year-long lay counselling program a few years ago. Before we started seeing our first clients as volunteer counsellors, they reassured us: “Most people will feel better simply from being listened to. This might be the first time that someone has ever fully listened to what they have to say.”

Before we saw our new vet, I can’t count the number of times I said to Joe: “I just want someone who is willing to listen and take the time to really understand what’s going on.”

Especially if your business involves dealing with your clients’ pain (emotional or physical) – simply listening can go a long way. Make the effort to understand the problem, the situation, the context. Ask questions and reflect back what you heard. (Bonus: everything they tell you is gold for your messaging!)

3. Share your thinking

After the doorbell rings. “Is is pizza? It might be pizza! Open the door. Open it now!”

Explain your plan. Explain how you made your diagnosis. Explain how you’ll handle the project: steps and timelines.

This is obvious for consultants and wellness practitioners – but it also applies to freelancers: how are you going to approach the project to meet the needs of your client?

When you explain your plan and thought process, you build credibility and authority by letting people know that you are an expert who knows what they are doing.

4. Educate

Answer questions. Explain what’s happening in plain language. Informed clients are better clients!

This might be the first time they’ve ever worked with someone who does what you do. What’s common knowledge in your industry may be entirely new for them!

Education also adds to credibility.

I have no idea if my vet graduated at the top of her class or the bottom. But when she explains medical stuff in plain language, I trust what she says and assume she’s competent.

5. Take additional time in the beginning

Spa day before and after. (Yes! It really is the same dog!) We’re also ideal clients for the groomer!

This is the land of first impressions, your first chance to build a relationship and develop know, like and trust.

Think longer term: consider the lifetime value of a client vs the fact that your hourly rate for the initial session may be a bit lower.

As long as Joe and I live within reasonable driving distance of our new vet, we hope to bring Brodie to see her for 10 years or more. That’s 45 minutes well-invested.

Advanced strategy: ask for feedback

Check in with your clients. Ask them what they like about your service and what you can do better.

If the response is negative, you’ll head off problems early and get ideas for new services or ways you can improve.

If they have a lot of positive feedback, you can ask for a testimonial.

In either case, you’ll be showing that you care.

And at the heart of it, caring is what brings clients back – and has them singing your praises to others.