Every savvy business owner wants to make it rain new clients, right? So how do you do that with limited time and resources? Well, first of all, let’s identify your most effective referral resource: existing customers. Why not let them do the work of spreading the word about your company for you? I’m a big fan of not reinventing the wheel. So what follows are 7 customer referral program ideas that I’ve seen work, and work well. Heck, some of them have even earned my business as their client. Here’s some examples you can use yourself.

  1. Gift Cards

    A tried and true method for winning new customers, gift cards offer instant gratification to those spreading the word for you. The biggies:

    • Starbucks
    • Gasoline
    • Movie Tickets
    • iTunes
    • Restaurants

  2. Free Or Discounted Product

  3. This might not work for every business (ie: insurance agencies, mortgage brokers). But if you sell a product that allows you to give away free samples or at least offer at a discounted rate, this type of referral incentive draws new clients in like a moth to light. Consider these two examples:

    • 2 months of free rent for referring a new apartment tenant.
    • 50% off a spa treatment for referring a new client
    • An electric flossing system for referring new patients to a dentist. (Yes, it’s a real product, and my wife won it from our dentist for referring several new patients!)

  4. Free Consultation For The Referred Client

  5. Let’s say you’re an insurance agent or a financial advisor who can’t give away or discount the product you sell. In this case, you can offer a free consultation to the prospective client who is referred to you. My own financial advisor has adopted this idea. Here’s why this method is a win-win-win situation.

    • Your existing client feels like they’ve done something good to help you out. And if the consultative meeting goes well, your existing client also feels good they were able to help their friend.
    • The referred prospective client gets free professional advise or at least an analysis of their financial situation.
    • You gain a potential new client.

  6. All Expenses Paid Vacation

  7. Before you scoff, there ARE companies that do this. Our agency’s customer management software company offers a free trip to Hawaii every year for any customer who refers a new client to them. Now this is obviously an expensive product that’s being sold, so they can get away with spending a few thousand on a trip. The catch here is that the new client must remain a client for at least a few months so the software company gets their money’s worth. Hey, if your product is expensive enough, this could be an option for you. There’s not many people who wouldn’t try to bring you a new client for a trip like that!

  8. Money

  9. There’s just no substitue for good old fashioned cash is there? The benefit to the referrer is that they can spend it however they’d like. In lieu of actual greenbacks, I would recommend something like a pre-paid Visa Gift Card. Just be aware that there will often be a “convenience fee” deducted from the gift card hoder’s balance when they make their first purchase. That tidbit of info might be worth disclosing in some fine print on your customer referral program letter or other literature.

  10. Non-Monetary Items

  11. It’s not all about the money, people! And you don’t always have to focus on giving away your own product or services. Try these non-monetary items on for size:

    • Bottle of wine
    • Gym membership
    • Gift basket (fruit, cookies, chocolate…Man, I’m gettin’ hungry!)
    • Concert tickets

  12. Public Recognition

  13. Everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame…or at least some recognition for helping out. That’s right, turns out we’re not a completely money-hungry, thing-desiring human race. Sometimes, we just want to be loved (collective “awwwww”). Take Kickstarter for example. Most of the projects I’ve ever contributed to on their site have a base level contribution of just $1 or more that earns you recognition on the project owner’s website or your credits in the movie they’re creating or whatever it is they’re trying to fund. And…LOTS of people throw $1 at the project just to see their name in lights. Here are a few platforms for thanking “the little people”:

    • Your website
    • Your company’s Facebook page
    • Twitter
    • Your monthly(ish) newsletter

    Now you should have some good ideas to help you build your new “customer creation machine”. It’s time to choose one (or more) and put it into action. If you’ve got other customer referral programs you think work well, I’d love to hear about them.