How to Use Word of Mouth to Grow Your Business

Here are a couple of WOM strategies I’ve found that work well for small businesses.

When you are starting a business, word-of-mouth (WOM) referrals are the most effective way to grow. Having a couple hundred brand evangelists who can’t live without your product or service, and will spread the word, is incredibly important.

A great offering is clearly the number one thing you can have to spur WOM growth. Number two (and possibly just as important as the first) is incredible customer service. But beyond the obvious, what can you do? Here are a couple of WOM strategies I’ve found that work well.


  1. Bake WOM referrals into expectations.

    Many small businesses make the mistake of asking for referrals after the product or service has been delivered. You can take that route, but setting expectations upfront can be helpful as well. Send a quick note telling new customers that you intend to provide an incredible level of customer service and support, and that in return, you and your business really rely on word of mouth referrals.

  2. Offer time-bound referral bonuses.

    Customers will often file your referral offer in the back of their minds. That doesn’t really work, as people get busy and forget. It’s often more effective to offer a time-bound bonus — say, a two week window — with a specific discount or incentive. That way, customers can take a couple minutes to think through who could use your service and make introductions right away.

  3. Make the referral process clear.

    Simply asking for referrals leaves too much up to your customers’ imagination. Have a specific process in place. For example, have them fill out a referral form on your website.

  4. Do something unexpected, post-sale.

    Even if your relationship with a customer has hit a snag, the last impression you leave them with is often the longest lasting. For example, consider a restaurant that gives you a free box of chocolates at the end of the meal, providing something unexpected and unpaid for after your time together. For a service business, this could include a free additional 30 minute consultation on a related issue; for a product-based business, this cab be an inexpensive accessory you find that many customers need.

  5. Be incredibly thankful.

    This seems obvious, but so many businesses forget about it. Unless your price point is very low, having someone on your team place a call, send a handwritten note (or a gift) for a referral is almost always worth it. Yes, a handwritten note — when was the last time you got one of those? It’s easy to send an auto-generated email — the incredibly thankful part is taking that extra step.

  6. Automate all reminders and referral processes.

    This seems counterintuitive, but it’s important. Personalized, tailored thank you’s, emails and reminders take time. While dealing with everyday crises, onboarding new customers and dealing with a thousand other things, it can be easy to lose track of referral processes. Make sure that your CRM or calendar generates reminders to get everything you need out at the right time.

This article has been edited and condensed.

John Rood is founder and president of Next Step Test Preparation. Next Step provides one-on-one tutoring for graduate-level entrance exams nationwide. Connect with @johnrood on Twitter.


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