A referral is worth a thousand words—and thousands of dollars, too. So it pays to have a strategic referral plan to help keep your dog walking schedule—and your bank account—full.
If you don’t like marketing, that’s all the more reason to cultivate client referrals: Encouraging and rewarding referrals is one of the easiest, least stressful ways to market your business, and it’s a great ego and confidence booster, too. No marketing budget to speak of? Client referrals cost little, and you spend money only when you’re making it.
There’s another advantage, too. If you like your clients, there’s a good chance you’ll also like their friends. As any successful business owner knows, enjoying who you work for is one key to longevity.
If we’ve convinced you, here are some easy tips for putting your client referral plan into action.
Creating Your Referral Plan
Just ask. If you’re like most dog pros, asking for referrals can feel uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be. There are lots of simple, unobtrusive ways to let clients know you have open spots. You can include a small message at the bottom on your monthly invoices or in your daily or weekly written communications, telling clients why you’re asking them in particular. For example, “I’ve got a couple spots open in my walking schedule. If you know any clients and dogs as wonderful as you and Fido, I’d be grateful for referrals. Thank you, and thank you for trusting Fido to my care!” A note like this softens the discomfort of asking for referrals by focusing on the client rather than just your request. You can also include similar messaging in your email newsletter, holiday cards, and any other written communications.
Use positive reinforcement. Human clients enjoy treats just as much as canine clients, and positive reinforcement increases behavior no matter what the species. So don’t miss an opportunity to reward referral behavior. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. For example, a hand-written note with a gift card to a local coffee shop is a great, simple way to say thank you.
Keep your costs and admin time down. The cost of such gifts is generally lower than discounting your services or offering free walks, and they carry a larger emotional impact for the client. It does require more work on your part, though, so it’s best to organize ahead. Start by pre-purchasing thank you cards (branded ones lend a nice touch!) and ten gift cards. Set a goal to use all ten within a year.
Celebrate Return On Investment. You’ll spend a small amount on gift cards and a bit of energy finding simple ways to request referrals. Chances are, these efforts will generate at least one new regular client during the course of the year, potentially adding thousands of dollars of revenue. Not a bad return on investment!
Maintaining Your Referral Plan
Keep it timely. As soon as you’ve received a referral, jot the name of the client and the source of the referral on your follow-up list for this week to be sure you get a note and a treat out right away.
Keep it relative. For those clients who send referrals frequently, be sure to change up your reinforcement so your thank-you efforts don’t begin to feel forced and stale. Change up the gift card source and, for clients who refer often, up the ante with a larger gift like a dinner certificate, massage voucher, or basket full of dog treats and toys. Work to match the gift to the client, remembering that positive reinforcement only works if the recipient finds it rewarding.
Return all calls. It only takes one person telling their friend that she never heard back from you to dry that well up. Be sure to follow through on every referral sent your way, even if it’s only to offer an alternate referral of your own.
Share results by staying in contact. Place each new client and the client who referred her on your calendar again for a month down the road. Leave a note or send an email to let the referring client know how much you’re enjoying the dog and client she sent your way. It’s a nice touch and may help encourage her to send another friend or colleague your way. Chances are the compliment will be passed on to the new client, too.
Client referral marketing makes building and sustaining your business easier by cutting down on the time needed to search out new clients. So set aside some time now to set up your referral plan, then enjoy the benefits of a growing business over the coming year.