How To Develop A Referral-Based Business

Any of you who have had a look around my site may have noticed that I am fortunate enough to have a lot of work on at the moment. I currently work with a number of awesome clients who are keeping me busy, and almost all of these projects have originated from recommendations from previous satisfied customers. It is a process that has taken a lot of time to achieve and it certainly hasn’t always been this way, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to get and sustain a viable referral-based business…

Provide great customer service… always

The best way to keep your customers is to provide them with exceptional customer service. When they interact with your business for the first time make a point of making them feel special, and show that you appreciate them. You only get one chance to make a first impression – use it well. Do you have a plan or system in your business for providing awesome customer service every single time a customer interacts with you? It could be the most important system you ever create in your business. If it works and they keep coming back, then keep repeating the process for truly fantastic service. Good reputations spread, but not as quick as bad reputations. Strong referrals come from good reputations.

I do have standard (“canned”) responses to help speed up emails but I always personalize them and address any specific questions the potential client has asked.

Give customers a reason to keep coming back

How often do your customers have a reason to come back and use you again? Is it as long as once or twice a year? Or once or twice a week or even a day? The more they have the chance to use you the quicker your reputation will grow. If your sales are only once or twice a year then keeping in touch with customers via Birthday cards, Christmas cards, regular blogs or newsletters subscriptions keeps you in the forefront of their mind. If they can use your products or services more regularly then give them an incentive to come back through a voucher off their next purchase or a free gift as a loyal customer. Whatever you think will build that all important reputation.

Get testimonials

After a while of your customers receiving great service from you the best possible thing you can do is to ask them to describe how they’ve been treated whilst dealing with your company. Customers love to tell other customers about the great decision they made using your company, a testimonial gives them the chance to say that in writing. It is an awesome reputation builder and will give new potential customers the confidence to use you as well.

I love my testimonials page, it’s my favorite page on my website. You should read it, it makes me proud!


Once you have created a great reputation for providing customers with awesome service and they are regulars in your business the final part of gaining referrals is to ASK for them. Many business owners can find this a tough thing to do but it is an opportunity for your customers to validate that they made a great choice in choosing your business by recommending you to other people. You can wait and wait expecting the referrals to come without asking and it may happen but it will be much quicker if you start by asking them.

Offer an incentive

How about giving them a reason to refer you to their friends by offering them an incentive to do so? It becomes a win:win:win scenario, you win as you get more business, they win as they get a gift for recommending and the new client wins because they get to experience what a great business you have and they can receive awesome customer service too.

Keep it up

Once you establish a referral-based cycle like the one described above, the way to keep it is to continue to do what you say you will do, really, really well. Remember that reputations can be trashed much quicker than they can be built, so keep sharp, stay focused and asking for referrals will lead to the holy grail of a referral based business and remove the need for expensive, untried marketing.

How do you generate leads for your business?

Going The Extra Mile – How To Give Your Readers Outstanding Customer Service

I love it when I see or receive an example of awesome customer service, just as much as I really dislike being on the receiving end of bad customer service. Today, I was lucky enough to come across a great example of someone willing to go the extra mile just to make their customer happy.

A shopping trip to the mall was going as expected, when I came across a guy offering free shoe shine trials. I had a bit of free time so I thought I’d give it a go. Now, I’m normally very skeptical about free trials and I’m always looking for the catch, but this guy shined my shoes brilliantly, made great conversation during the time I was in the chair, and to cap it off he gave me a $10 voucher for his shoe and sneaker store in the mall to use whenever I next needed a new pair of shoes.
Shopping mall
Within fifteen minutes he had secured a new customer, and boosted his business, while I came out of it feeling great about our transaction. Bringing together a great service, a great personality and a great offer, he demonstrated just how simple it is to attract new custom, no matter what trade you are operating in.

That got me thinking about how we can offer great service to our customers online. Here are some top tips.

Under promise and over deliver

This is a classic way of ensuring clients comes back to you again and again. Clients are always really impressed when they get a better than expected response. If you put a time limit on when you will respond back to them, can you regularly beat that by 50%?

Ask questions and listen to the answers

Often the most difficult, but certainly the most beneficial, question you can ask your customers is ‘How can we improve our product/service to you?’ The fear is all the negative things that they might say… and I mean MIGHT say. In reality, customers love to feel that their opinion is valued. If you get feedback good or bad, listen and act on it, they will make going the extra mile easy for you because they’ll tell you how!

Thank your clients for their business

The most grateful act you can do is to personally thank your clients for the business they have placed with you. Whether that is through a web order, a postal order or a face-to-face order, the best thing you can do is to sincerely say ‘Thank You’. A card, an email, a letter all give a personal touch that leave your customers feeling like they are valued and – guess what… they’ll come back to you again and again.

Reward your customers for their loyalty

Loyal customers are the most precious thing in the world. I read somewhere once that it is six times more expensive to get new customers than it is to keep your existing clients. If you give great service and great value for money, then your clients will keep coming back. Another great strategy for ensuring they keep coming back is to reward their loyalty. A voucher each quarter, money off next time they shop with you, a free gift when they purchase in a certain period of time are all great ideas. What would be suitable for your business?

Going the extra mile with your customers means you will create a customer base that will stay with you and not go elsewhere. Valuing your customers is an essential step to maintaining and developing your business.

The Art of Terrible Customer Service

Last week I experienced the worst customer service I think I have ever had. It was worse as I received it from a source I trusted and didn’t expect it from. I’m not the perfect client and never claim to be. I have high standards of myself and expect the same of other people and companies.

I won’t name the company as it would be unfair to them and they of course have their side of the story, but essentially it boils down to this:

Blaming your customer for your mistakes is not the solution

Question Mark
A number of remarkable statements were given to me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been as angry or bemused:

– I was told the developer used was not suited to the particular task. However I hired the company, not the developer, for that task.

– I was told I was not spending enough money with them. However they never responded to three quote requests.

– I was told other clients didn’t “blink” when spending large amounts. I’m sorry but you can’t have a blank check/cheque and just get back to me when you’re done. I’ll happily “blink” all day long.

– I was told that breaking working parts of software was “an inherent risk in software development” and therefore I should have to pay for it to be fixed. Even if they broke it. Incidentally if you wanted, you could make a great business model around breaking things and charging to fix them apparently.

So, as if you needed reminding, here are some things I never do:

  • Belittle a customer because they don’t have a huge budget. I only have a one hour minimum.
  • Wait a few weeks before responding to an email. I try to respond within 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays of course.
  • Hide from making a mistake and avoid rectifying it unless paid for. If any occur, I will fix a new problem that appears because of my work, for no charge. After all, I caused it.
  • Charge you for work completed when you’re not satisfied. I will do everything I can to make it right.

Of course I’m not perfect. I try to be, but I’m not. Maybe this other company will stay in business longer and be more successful than me. But doing the right thing is more important than that to me.

If you want a quick, brilliant, read, then How Doing Less Work for More Money Saved Client Work… by Josh Blankenship is great. Sample quotes:

When clients were frustrating to work with despite my best efforts on my best days, hey, I picked them, right? I chose to enter into a business relationship with that client. In short, I was never a victim of anyone other than myself. And my clients paid for it.


I Over-Communicate Over-Communication

Every client is different, but in general I want clients to want me to stop bothering them. I’d much rather be the annoying one than the one they can’t get in touch with for a week.

So it’s time to dust-off, get back up and find another PHP developer. If you know any great ones, please let me know below or via my contact form.