Want a free business insight that's at the top of any small business owner's secret playbook?

Referrals are powerful. Period.

Creating a referral engine is a hugely important part of any business plan because relationships and recommendations are what make the world go 'round (and keep new customers coming your way.)

Today, we've collected some ways that you can re-start your referral engine (in case it's gotten a little old and rusty) or get it up and running from scratch.

Build Trust

In both the online and offline world, fostering a strong sense of trust within your niche community is vital to the success of your referral engine. The more people trust you and your expertise, the more they'll recommend you to their friends and peers.

So how does one build trust?

1. Create powerful content. Publish insightful blog content, case studies, and resources that are helpful to your audience and establish your ethos.

2. Always follow through. Any time you come in contact with a potential customer, you have to deliver a quality product. All it takes is one slip-up or one unanswered email for your referral engine to start sputtering.

3. Manage your reputation. Whether it's a Yelp review or some negative feedback making the rounds at the local coffee shop, be sure keep your reputation as sparkling as possible. Always provide great customer service, go above and beyond to help clients, and showcase positive testimonials wherever you can.

Compensate Your Partners

You probably know of a few people who serve as your top referral sources--they're the ones who are always sending new work your way. Reward those people who help grow your business by making them a compensated referral partner.

How should I compensate my partners?

1. Offer a percentage or flat fee per referral. If you know a new client who agrees to work with you guarantees at least $X in revenue, you could offer your referral source anywhere from 1-5% or a flat fee for each new customer--it depends on your costs.

2. Give bill credit. If your referral source is already a customer of yours, offer them a discount on their monthly/annual bill in exchange for their help.

3. Store credit. If you're in the products business, you could offer your partners credit to use at your store for each referral they provide.

Engage Your Audience

The more you can build relationships with your niche audience, the more they will turn to you as a resource in your field. Gary Vaynerchuk says,

'My store, Wine Library, outsells big national chains. How do you think we do it? It started with hustle. I always say that our success wasn't due to my hundreds of online videos about wine that went viral, but to the hours I spent talking to people online afterward, making connections and building relationships.'

Try engaging with your audience by:

1. Leading conversations about relevant topics on social media. Host a Twitter chat or Google Hangout centered around a topic your audience cares about.

2. Getting feedback on different issues. Ask for opinions, suggestions, and comments (good or bad) on a regular basis in the form of polls, emails, or even comment cards.

3. Participating in groups where your customers spend time. Look for online communities and community organizations that you can get involved with to show your investment in the people there.

Collaborate with Influencers

Reach out to the strong voices within your market and see how you can work together to expand your reach. When you team up with the people your potential customers already know and trust, you're tapping in to that established positive association.

Try connecting with influencers by:

1. Hosting a giveaway with a relevant blogger. By getting your product/service in front of a new audience, that already popular information source helps drive referrals your way.

2. Being a guest on a podcast. Find a podcast your audience would care about, and reach out to the host to see if you could share your expertise as a guest.

  1. Creating a panel. If you can pull together a group of voices within your community for a panel discussion, regular blog posts, or a special gathering, you are associating your brand with recognized and trusted leaders within your niche.

Bottom line: Keep the engine well-oiled.

A powerful referral engine undergoes regular maintenance--it's checked for clogs and is well cared for. Anytime it begins to fall into disrepair, your business suffers (and slows down.)

By following these suggestions, you can keep referrals coming in on a regular basis and help your business grow.

What would you add to this list?