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Advocate VI

How do you reward referrals of new clients?

Just about all of my business is by referral, which is great for me -- but what makes it worthwhile for the people doing the referring? I find that most of my clients are just happy to have someone (ME) that they CAN refer, when people ask if they know a good web designer. But even so, it's nice to say "thank you."

For many years, when a new site launches, I send a thank-you note and $25 gift card to the person who made the referral. They don't even know it's coming, so the first time it's a complete surprise. Then of course if they send me more business, they know they will get another gift card eventually.

I keep a stockpile of gift cards in my office, mostly for things that would be appreciated by anyone (Starbucks, Amazon, iTunes, local restaurants). And of course I always have thank-you notes/stationery handy. So it's no big effort to send one, when it's time.

So my question is this -- what do the rest of you do (if anything) when someone sends business your way? Do you think referrers expect a thank-you or other compensation?

Super User 2020 Super User 2020
Super User 2020

This is going to sound like a crazy concept but what we tend to do is have the referred client reward the referrer. We try to go above and beyond for our clients and that hopefully creates brand ambassadors like the one that the new client was referred by. When a client says "Thank you soo much! I love my new website, I'm so glad that I found you." we go with "Thank Jan for referring you to us, she's great. You should take her out to dinner and that is plenty thanks for us." and that typically does the trick.


Our Reward the Referrer program also does not require any additional money or effort on our part. We never want to be expected or feel obliged to issue out rewards.

...turns out that my two cents is worth less or more depending on the current exchange rate.

roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head

Well, I have a feeling that the referred clients already thank the referrers -- whether it's with dinner, or coffee, or a thank-you card, or something else. And I don't advertise or promise a referral bonus, I just do it because I want to.

But even if someone else is doing the thanking, I feel responsible for saying thank-you in some way myself. After all, the person making the referral was under no obligation of any kind to send work my way, and they did hand me a source of income on a silver platter. And frankly, it's easier to take work that is sent to me, rather than go out and look for it. When work is referred, I don't even have to go out of my way to sell myself, because the referring client has already told their friend about me -- and I'm probably not going to have to engage in any kind of competitive bidding.

While I'm not exactly sending something of great value, I generally get good feedback along the lines of "Wow, you actually took the time to hand-write a note and find a stamp, and go out to buy a gift card."

It could very well be that the mere instance of resurrecting the lost art of handwritten thank-you notes is the most important part, and the gift card is completely secondary!

Super User 2020 Super User 2020
Super User 2020

We really aim to train our clients like Pavlov's dog (for the lack of a better term). I feel that if they refer and we "give a treat" and they refer and we "give them another treat" pretty soon when they refer they will wonder where their treat is. Because we tend to do a lot of business with a wide variety of clients we will often have a surplus of things around here that were free for us or low cost. I can't tell you how many times I left a bakery we do business with, a package in hand headed to a real estate office we do business with. No real cost to us but we have patronized an establishment that uses us and introduced them to each other.

We gift everything from bras to golf clubs because of our customer partnerships. We have an office that is a virtual store of items we photographed, received as samples, were gifted... and those are the rewards we tend to give but as more of a "If you use us we treat you right" sporadic kind of gift not as a reward. We don't want our client's to salivate when they hear a bell.

We only take referrals by the way. Meet and greets along with pleased clients are literally the only advertising we do.

...turns out that my two cents is worth less or more depending on the current exchange rate.

roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head

That's fantastic, you get a lot of gifts that you can re-gift! I think my clients know me too well, they usually give me things I have no intention of giving away. And I have never received bras OR golf clubs... More typically food, or gift cards to local places where they know I shop, or something from their own store that I would really use! Although many of my clients are medical (especially orthopedic) ... and while I will never turn down a free pizza from my favorite local gourmet pizzaria, I'm not in the market for any sort of joint replacement, even if it's free.

And yes, referrals are the only way to go. I routinely turn down work if it does not come from someone I know. 

I saw that you run a company with 10 people, where I am running a solo shop. So you have more bandwidth overall to take projects than I do, but I am very happy with the fact that referrals are all I need to keep me busy at the level I want to be, and I never have to do any marketing. A luxury, for sure. If you are getting enough referrals to keep 10 people busy, that is quite an impressive feat!

Whatever you are doing, you should probably be writing a book for the majority who can't bring in that much work.

Super User 2020 Super User 2020
Super User 2020

What keeps the lights on (and my payroll met) at my place is web maintenance. I could not employ a consistent group of people if we were only getting money from design and domains. We provide our clients with web maintenance at a discounted hourly rate on a monthly plan and handle their website needs. The amount of hours we charge for dictate the amount of bodies we need to fulfill that contract. It is our goal to work at a bit of a deficit so that we always have more maintenance hours as working more hours is easy but less revenue is not an option.

I started as a one man show as well but when I started to get a maintenance demand for more hours per week than I was willing to work I started adding bodies. The secret (if there is one) is that it doesn't take a brain surgeon or a web guru to manage a WordPress website, perform small changes, provide the client with a personal touch...

The goal for my team isn't to keep them busy only to keep them paid well. Our year end is October 31 for new projects and we tend to get back into the groove mid January working on new stuff. I think the worst thing you can do to a designer is overload them or steal their caffeine? I have already started to interview new designers from a college we work closely with. The "10 people" includes me and I'm happy to say that I am the worse employee.

Write a book? It is everything I can handle to read and write in the forums. Turning down work is a great habit to have, please keep that up!

...turns out that my two cents is worth less or more depending on the current exchange rate.

roy darling *my posts seem a lot shorter in my head