shutterstock_141838129Even start-up tech companies that are seemingly rooted in the digital realm place value on the importance of word of mouth marketing. However, it’s important to remember that a business that offers a personal service should be naturally aligned towards a referral plan. If you think of a wedding photographer, virtually all of their business will come from referrals. Now think of a home swapping service for vacations, the company is completely different, but it still offers a personal service. All companies of this ilk should have a strong focus on referrals, but there is virtually no company that shouldn’t consider them at some level.

Referral schemes are often misunderstood, pushed to the side, or simply neglected and allowed to underperform. Below you will find a few handy tips that will help you to ensure that your referral scheme doesn’t suffer the same fate.

1.      Create a Time Window

Setting a deadline can encourage activity in your referral plan. Many people intend to refer your service, but they simply forget or they have more pressing concerns. A time limit on the scheme lends an urgency to the offer. This will encourage the customer to immediately start thinking about who would also be a suitable customer for your service.

2.      Define the Process

Establish a clear and easy process that is visible to your customers. It’s a good idea to create a form that sits on your website, if that suits your business, or simply tell your customers about the scheme. It’s also important to install a system that will work going forward, although it’s equally important to review the system and reinvent it if necessary.

Airbnb are a huge business, but it can be useful for start-ups to assess the methods of larger businesses. They have posted a fascinating blog post on how they reinvented their failing referral scheme. Their main goal was to make the scheme more visible and accessible to their clients, so that’s something to aim for from the offset.

3.      Track Referrals

Tracking referrals shouldn’t be too complicated, but once your business grows it may become an issue. This ties in directly with the previous point (Define the Process). Recording the number of referrals is important, but equally important is ‘how’ the customer has opted for the word of mouth marketing – this is particularly important if you have multiple ways to access the deal. This will allow you to evaluate the current performance of your deal.

4.      Promote the Deal During Service Delivery

This is more suited to businesses who offer a service over a period of time, rather than a retailer who simply sells a product. It might seem strange to seek a referral before you have delivered, and with some businesses that may be true. However, if you assert the importance of the referral scheme to your business before delivery, then there’s a strong chance that you might convince the client to refer. Obviously you must have partially delivered or have already exhibited some of your competence at this stage.

5.      Automate the Process

If you have the time to compose individual messages to your client then that’s fantastic. However, you may simply forget when juggling all the other aspects of your business. An email reminder system is a great idea, but it may also be that your business requires a fully automated service. It’s better to send an automatically generated message, than to simply forget. There are various software packages out there that make the job easier, such as Get Ambassador. Although it’s important to evaluate if this is necessary for your business.

So follow these steps and be careful not to neglect your referral scheme, many businesses have fallen into that trap and regret it at a later date.

This article was written by John Philips from, an experienced marketer and developer. resells SSL certificates from the likes of Comodo, GeoTrust, and VeriSign.