Many small business owners and entrepreneurs know that referrals are the lifeblood of their operations.

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. [pullquote]A trusted referral is the holy grail of advertising.[/pullquote]” - Mark Zuckerberg

In fact, a recent study showed that 85% of small businesses get new customers through word of mouth referrals — which was by far the largest source of new clients (search engines were the next highest at only 59%.)

So how can you be deliberate about getting referrals so that you constantly have a stream of new customers?

Let’s look at a few ways you can get your customers talking.

Write Thank You Notes

Taking the time to put together a handwritten thank you note is something not a lot of people remember to do — so when it arrives in your customer’s mailbox, it’s an unexpected surprise. Anyone can fire off a thank you email, but it takes a little extra effort to write and mail an actual note. Sitting down to do this even once per year can make a big difference.

Offer Referral Bonuses

Rewarding your existing customers for passing your name along makes it more likely for referrals to be sent your way. Whether it’s a credit toward a future purchase from you, or an actual pay-out in the form of a check or gift card, these bonuses that reward your referral sources are a win-win. Just be sure to keep the playing field equal for everyone.

Stay Top of Mind

One way you can miss out on referral opportunities is by simply being forgotten. It’s important to be deliberate about staying in touch with past and present clients—maybe in the form of a regular newsletter, a personal follow up message, or contact through social media. Be deliberate about follow-up and keep the conversation going.

Leverage a Sweet Prize

If you don’t have the means to reward every referral source, you can invest in a single prize (like an iPad, a Starbucks card, or a gift basket of your product.) Then, eligible customers  cab enter in to a random drawing for the prize by referring you to others. This helps you widen your referral pool and gives your contacts a real reason to act—and act NOW.

Ask For Referrals

It seems simple, but asking for referrals via a questionnaire or referral form helps you get stronger responses. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, could you recommend me to someone who needs my services?”

But it’s another to say, “Can you recommend me by talking about X we worked on together to produce Y results?” You’re shaping the referral so it’s stronger and more objectified instead of boring and bland.

Referrals Are Everything

Like Jim Rohn said, “One customer, well taken care of, could me more valuable than $10,000 in advertising.”

Without them, your business could flounder. Be good to your customers and referrals will come flowing in the door—especially if you give them a little extra push through the tactics discussed here.

 What are some ways you've gotten customers talking?