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What your friends are really doing instead of referring business to you

Are your friends referring business to you?
Photo courtesy Stuart Miles/

I walked into a bar the other day. And I walked out with a terrific lesson about referral marketing.

The girl ringing up my tab had gorgeous hair so I asked her where she got it done. Her reply was simply: “My friend, Leslie.” Then she turned and went back to ringing up my tab.

“Oh, is she a professional or does she just do it for fun?” I asked.

“No she works in a salon, called …” and she said the salon’s obscure name.

I asked her where it was at, wondering if maybe she just didn’t want me to have the same style. She told me its approximate location and I reiterated that her hair was beautiful and thanked her.

The experience is a perfect lesson about the importance of marketing referrals and relying on your friends to refer customers to you.

If you want referrals ask your mom, your friends aren’t doing it

Salespeople—and honey, we’re all salespeople—know that the best way to build business is through referrals. Referrals are great because the person referred usually trusts the person who referred them and the person who referred them is often also friend of yours. Right?

Yes, sometimes it works that way. It especially works that way if you have a solid, recognizable brand. When you are a startup getting friends and family to refer you is a little more difficult. Not because they don’t want to but often we aren’t teaching our friends right.

Sometimes friends don’t know enough about what you do in order to know when to refer people to you. Other times you simply aren’t top of mind for them. For some, it simply doesn’t cross their mind that you make a living doing what you are doing and that by sending someone your way they are helping you out.

My mom doesn’t understand what I do, but she has no problem sending people my way—constantly. I’ll get an email from one of her friends asking about my financial planning services and I have to tell them I work in marketing and copywriting. She may not know what I do but she avidly sends me referrals. My friends, on the other hand, I have to remind them.

Teach your friends to market you

It sounds super sleazy and salesman-y but teaching your friends to market you isn’t all that abusive to your relationship. After all your friends want to help. It’s a three-step process:

  1. Ask them to refer you
  2. Tell them in one sentence what you do
  3. Remind them about what you do and how they can help

If you haven’t already, next time you see your friend, acquaintance or relative casually say at the right moment:

“Hey, I don’t know if I mentioned it but I’m trying to expand my client base (grow my business, make more money, whatever), if you know of anyone who needs my services send them my way. It would really help.”

You should have a one-line description of what you do. Something super simple that doesn’t use jargon.

I can say that I am a “Communications strategist that optimizes brand visibility” or I can say “I help businesses get publicity online and in the media.” Of course that doesn’t describe all my services but it helps those closest to me understand enough to either ask specific questions or to understand when someone else might need online or media exposure.

And finally, don’t be afraid to remind your friends that you value their referrals. Sometimes I’ll call people and warn them at the start of the call that I’m working on making business calls and just wanted to remind them of what I do and how they can help me by spreading the word.

The girl in the bar the other day was a sweetheart but I have a feeling if her friend heard the way the conversation went she’d smack that girl upside the head. Don’t be tempted to smack your friends. Let them know how they can help you grow your business and remind them often.

Get over it. That potential client won’t call. Move on, but do this next time.

Tweet Caution! Heavy, but incredibly useful reading ahead. How would you feel to know that the business card you so hopefully designed, the one you handed to that “potential client” you met at last night’s mixer, is now sitting on the floorboard of his car, awaiting its final destination at the bottom of a gasContinue Reading

About Shelly Cone

Hi! I'm Shelly Cone, the founder of Beach Betty Creative. I'm an award-winning journalist, creative copywriter and fantastic storyteller. A dedicated Star Wars fan girl, I'm also a beach bum, I drink wine like water and play guitar enthusiastically but somewhat pathetically. I'm a creative insomniac with a short attention span and a habit of peppering my sentences with obscure Star Wars references. I spend my time wrangling rebellious words, playing barefoot in my favorite vineyards and slipping through the exhilarating waves of the Pacific Ocean. I help business owners design the lives they wanna live -- just like me. Find out how to design your very own California lifestyle, wherever you live. Want to know more? Check out