One of the best ways to grow a business is to get referrals, which is when one of your clients tells someone s/he knows about you and that person hires you based on that recommendation. But asking for referrals can be awkward, so how do you get clients and customers to refer business to you? Here are five ways:

1. Set the stage to get referrals.

family tree

Did you know that if you get referrals from your clients, your business will grow like a family tree? Before you know it, you’ll have a thriving tree…er…business.

Years ago I listened to a program called 93 Extraordinary Referral Systems by Jay Abraham. That’s where I learned how to set the stage to get referrals. When you first work with a client, you let them know upfront that you build your business on referrals from your clients. You simply say something like this:

“Dave, I’m so glad to be working with you and I’m looking forward to helping you [insert whatever you do here]. I want you to know that I grow my business mostly through referrals from my clients. So, when I delight you with my work, I hope you’ll refer me to others you know who need services like mine. Fair enough?”

When you say something like this, you’re doing two things: you’re setting up the expectation for your client that you’re about to do amazing things for them (which you will, see #2) and you’re also setting up the relationship in such a way that you want them to share you with others.

John Jantsch, in his blog post, “Begin With A Referral In Mind,” says that this is a critical mindset to creating a successful, growing business. In fact, it leads right into my next point:

2. Do amazing things.

Let’s get super real here: you can’t expect (or even ask for) referrals if you’re not doing great work and delighting your clients and customers. So you should go beyond doing your best work and deliver everything that you do with extraordinary service. But as John Jantsch said in his blog post, having set up the relationship in such a way that you know you’re asking for a referral from your client, you’ll already be predisposed to do your absolute best work because you know you want this person to send business your way. And the absolute best way to get referrals is to do amazing things for your clients and customers.

When you’re working with your clients, monitor their level of satisfaction. Always be on the lookout for things that you can do that go that extra step beyond what anyone else in your industry or that you know would do. Over-deliver. And always, always, always, always bear in mind my favorite lesson from Larry Winget: “Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.”

3. Ask for referrals.

Asking for referrals can be really difficult…unless you have a good way to ask. Bob Burg, in his blog post, “‘Bridging’ into Asking For Referrals”,” suggests what he calls a “bridge phrase,” which goes something like this:

“Anne, I’m in the process of expanding my referral business, and I find it’s helpful to partner with my clients and friends such as you. Could we take a few quick minutes to run past the names of some people I might also be able to help?”

This is a great way to get into the conversation and I think Bob does a great job of creating the conversation beautifully. What makes this even more powerful is that, since you’ve set up your relationship from the outset to cultivate referrals (see #1), you can really ask any time and not create an uncomfortable situation.

That said, be careful of asking too much. You want your client and customers to remember to send business your way, but you don’t want to create an atmosphere in which you look desperate or in which you make anyone feel uncomfortable. So yes, ask for referrals, but be careful of how often you do it.

4. Reward your clients and customers for sending referrals your way.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t like being thanked when they do something nice? I don’t. That’s why I thank my clients whenever I get referrals from them. It’s not a big deal and it doesn’t cost much, but I send my clients a nice thank you card and a little gift every time I get a new client that’s based on a referral. It lets my clients know that I appreciate them and that I value our relationship. This isn’t just a smart thing to do, it’s actually a lot of fun.

5. Do amazing things.

Once you get new client that’s based on a referral, you want to…guess what? Do amazing things for the new client. This is a cycle that never gets old and, if repeated, will generate business for years to come.