Frankly, I don’t get asked the question in the title to this post near enough!

Most small business owners, if they think referrals at all, think of the world as their target. “Know anybody that needs what we do?” – That’s the referral marketing strategy of choice.

Well, here’s the answer to the referral question you should be asking.

Target the clients that have already demonstrated a willingness to refer you. I know that sound simplistic, but nobody does it. Most small business owners get the majority of their business by way of referral from a handful of clients. Go to those clients, invite their participation your marketing plans, find out what would really motivate them to become referral machines, create tools that will make it even easier for them to refer you, teach them how to refer you, and stay top of mind with them so they always think of you when a referral opportunity wanders by. And, really, really demonstrate your appreciation.

Don’t worry too much about trying to get everyone on board the referral train, focus on those who already get it. Lavish them with your marketing attention for a while and you will find that even more of your clients will want to join the referral team.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • So true. I love to find people who enjoy my stories – I’m an author – who will talk about them and bring sales. I’m starting an incentive program where they get a first look at stories that will be coming out.

    I’ve been reading a new book that I find very helpful. It’s by Drew Miles and is called Zero to Success. He’s very good about helping the newbie get all the proverbial ducks in a row. I’m learning how to protect assets adn leverage referrals. Great book! if you’re interested.

    Waht I like about your post on referrals is the whole idea of leveraging the best sources of new business rather than putting effort into cajoling those who aren’t interested. Such a great point. Thanks so much.


  • John Jantsch

    Thanks Cat – I’ll check that book out.

  • I recently started letting my colleagues and clients know that I am offering a $100 referral fee for new web design clients they send my way. Boy did that perk their ears up. They are sending me all kinds of business now.

    Interestingly enough, one person I sent a thank you card with a nice check for the referral and he seemed a bit offended. He said he donated the money I sent him to charity. He asked that I please not send him checks again. He said I refer you because you do good work not because I get paid to do it.

    Have you ever heard of someone having a reaction like that before?

  • John Jantsch


    Yes, I have encountered that reaction and I understand it too. Many people want to refer people because they know they can help them by doing so. Somehow getting paid muddles the motivation.

    I love partnering with non-profits anyway so I always advise my clients to consider that option in a referral program

  • John,

    I appreciate the post on referrals. I’d wager that many of us underperform in this area. I know I have.

    I’ve tried a bit harder the last nine months or so and it’s made a difference.

    There are many different ways to ask for referrals. Some can be a “soft” ask. For example, I revamped my e-newsletter a while back, which included creating a new boilerplate section at the bottom entitled, “3 Easy Ways to Put Me to Work for You and Others.”

    Number one was “hire,” number two “refer” and number three “forward,” as in forward the e-newsletter. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve gotten more referrals.

    Plus, I ask directly more often now, whether verbally or in writing.

    I look forward to exploring more ways to rev up referrals and appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

  • Being in the mortgage business referrals are a FAVORITE topic. Many of us have been “caught” in the belief that everyone is a potential referror. Some people are wired to refer some are not. Great point John…focus on those who DO refer and shower them with love!

  • Great advice John. And Neil (above).

    This is the same thing that I preach all the time. Empower your biggest fans to spread the word about you, and they will. And don’t be shy to ask them to.

    I’ve never been too shy about asking for referrals; I was, after all, bold enough to build it right into the name of my company.

    Neil, I like that newsletter idea, and the idea of making a donation on a referrers behalf is beaut also.


  • It’s really true what you said.
    We ask everyone of our clients for referrals. Everyone gets a vcard and very often a flyer including real estate tips and offers. Visualization is very important.
    Ask directly for referals in an honest way. Tell the customer that a big part of your business depends on customers that come from referrals.
    If the customer likes you and you are honest to him, he will give you referrals.

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