Are you wondering how to start a business off on the right foot?

Entrepreneurs who figure out a way to profitably market their businesses succeed. One important thing to keep in mind is word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth is basically when a satisfied customer gives a recommendation of your business to others.

Word of mouth marketing is a very effective marketing tool. Better yet, as a small business owner, you can create a good word of mouth reputation on a small budget.

How to get referrals?

Do you know how to get referrals from your existing customers? Believe it or not, 80% of it all comes down to gaining the courage to ask your customers for referrals. Luckily, you don’t have to go door-to-door to ask for referrals. Instead, all you have to do is send out a simple letter.

Getting customers to take action on these referral letters is easy if you know the trick. And the first thing that it starts with is contacting your customers monthly. Who wants to do something for a person when they don’t even send a “hello” letter to their customers? But, then, if you want to get your customers to like you and respond to your requests, you have to make them love you.

One way to do this is by “WOWing” them with your customer service. Ship out products fast. Offer delivery confirmation to ensure your buyers that the product is on the way. Start a monthly newsletter that reveals tips and tricks that your customers will find useful. All of these things are small ideas that will help you to get the ball rolling.

I once saw a referral letter by this awesome copywriter named John Carlton. He wrote a letter for one of his clients to try and reactivate the client’s customers into doing business with them. It had been a long time before the client sent anything to his customers, but John Carlton wasn’t fazed by that at all. Surprisingly, the letter that Carlton wrote was strikingly funny. If I were one of the client’s customers and received that letter, I would have given the client another chance to redeem himself more than likely.

One great way to get a referral from a customer is to entice them with a gift. People love surprising gifts, and this one small gesture on your behalf is all that it takes to get people to start talking about you. The majority of the people who will send referrals to you will respond only if there is some sort of incentive for them. However, it doesn’t matter because a referral is a referral, and it’s a great way to get people to start talking about you and your company.

The next time you need a referral, give these techniques a try. You never know when one might work for you, plus… the idea of a “free” customer should blow your socks off. You’re getting the chance to lower your cost of doing business with a free customer, and you should be thrilled about that.

Getting referrals doesn’t have to be hard. Just go out there and make it work for you.

Here are some very cost-effective techniques for how to start a business by generating word of mouth marketing:

Offer top-quality products and services.

People have to like what they’ve bought from you before they will sing your praises. Make sure that your products and services live up to or exceed the expectations set by your advertising, sales pitches, and the industry standards.

Focus on customer service.

Every business wants you to believe that they have great customer service, but only a very small percentage that actually does. The Golden Rule applies here: treat others how you would like to be treated. There are some simple techniques that you can employ to ensure that you are providing excellent customer service. Smile at customers and make eye contact. Be polite. Listen to them and answer their questions. When possible, have a real person answering the phone. Return phone calls promptly. If you are a service provider, complete projects on time and on budget. Keep your customers informed about changes and delays.

Be friendly.

Smile and say “Hello” to customers when they come into your store. If you know a customer’s name, use it. Engage in small talk. These small things help put customers at ease and make them more willing to buy from you and to speak well of you.

Stick to the facts.

If a customer has a question about your product or service, try to avoid using jargon or slang when answering them. Also, don’t talk down to customers who may not understand what you are saying to them, especially if you deal in something technical or complex. Use factual, simple explanations and pass along any product descriptions you have available.

Stay in touch.

Use email to regularly communicate with your customers. If you offer them useful information or discounts, they will be more willing to tell other people. Also, it will remind your customers who you are and will promote repeat business.

Be visible.

Take steps to become more visible to your market. For example, join networking or industry groups frequented by your customers. Attend meetings and events for those groups and talk to people while there.

Socialize.

Activate Social Media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, and LinkedIn. Focus on channels that are most likely to reach your target audience. Post and share content regularly. You can also consider adding paid ads or promoted posts.

Get involved.

Become involved in your local community. Sponsor events or youth sports teams or volunteer your time at charitable organizations. Associating your name with these events will help build a positive reputation for you and your business.

Make your name and contact information easy to find.

Take advantage of your website, business cards, and even your company vehicles to clearly display the name of your business and your contact information. Customers need to know who you are and how to get in touch with you.

Refer business to other non-competing businesses.

If you refer your customers to other non-competing businesses, those businesses will be more likely to refer business to you.

Ask for testimonials.

Asking for testimonials can help with word-of-mouth marketing. Testimonials are an important step in the process of closing a sale. Whenever selling your products and services, it’s important to include as many testimonials as possible. This is something that I learned a long time ago – so the more testimonials you have, the better.

You see, testimonials give you credibility in the eyes of your prospects. People want to deal with established business owners, and by showing your prospects other people who have used your products and services with great success, they will more than likely go and try out your product or service also.

I used to never use testimonials in the products that I was selling. I can remember I was selling this $400 course, and the course came with 90 testimonials from people who purchased this item. Well, instead of listing all of the testimonials on the page, I only lasted about 10 out of the full 90. This was a big mistake.

You see, your goal should be to overwhelm your prospects and customers with testimonials so that they can come to the obvious conclusion that you are the person that they should be dealing with. The more testimonials you have, the better. I would list all 90 of the testimonials on the same package that I was selling a long time ago.

So how will you go about gathering new testimonials for your business? Well, you have a few options. Here’s one of them:

Ask for testimonials

This is the simplest form of getting testimonials from your customers. Those who find your product worthwhile will be glad to give you a testimonial. If your content is good and makes a difference in people’s lives, then requesting a testimonial about a customer’s success should be seamless. Here’s another way that you can go about getting a testimonial:

Customers want to give testimonials

There will be a subset of your customer list that automatically gives referrals to you. This is due to the outstanding nature of the product or service you just gave them. Some people will be so thrilled that they will send you an email or a personal letter thanking you for the product. Customers like this are rare, but you can certainly generate testimonials like this by offering a
great product. Here’s the last way to get testimonials:

Offer a free gift

This may be the fastest way to get customers to respond. Send your customers a letter saying that you would like to get a testimonial from them. Tell them that in return for their testimonial, you will send them a free gift. This gift should be something that your customers can definitely use in their lives. With the free gift technique, you’ll get a ton of customers sending you testimonials, so be sure to implement this technique in your business today.

Use these tips to inspire more testimonials for your products and services. The sooner you begin, the sooner you can start seeing more testimonials coming in like clockwork.

In summary, when you are strategizing how to start a business don’t forget the power of the people. Building a good reputation through word of mouth marketing can be a powerful tool to grow your business for little to no money.

photo credit: Mary Ann Clarke Scott, photo credit J Scott

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.