10 ways to use word-of-mouth to grow your business

OldStoryImageWhen you run a business and interact with hundreds of customers and numerous suppliers each week, one thing is certain: People are going to talk about you. The key is to make sure that when they do, their comments are positive.

How can you do that? Here are 10 tips.

Start by making sure you’re worthy of good word-of-mouth. Ask your friends and best customers to give you an honest appraisal of your business. Hire someone to secret-shop your company. Check online to see what people are saying about you. Do everything you can to find out how your business is viewed. Then, if you find anything that’s a major concern, address it.

Hire the right people. This relates back to tip No. 1. Nothing hurts people’s opinions of you more than dealing with employees who act like they don’t want to be there. Hire people who take customer service seriously. Make sure they value a job well done even though they don’t own the business.

Ask friends and family to spread the good word. Every one of your acquaintances knows someone you don’t, so take advantage of their connections to promote your business. Remember, momentum starts with small steps.

Take full advantage of social networking. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn help you connect with current customers and introduce yourself to potential ones, says April Schroeder, owner of Marketing Mud, a Gainesville-based company that provides custom solutions to business marketing needs.

“Used properly, social media outlets provide an excellent opportunity to spread the word about your company quicker and to a wider audience than through traditional means,” she says. Just make sure when you reach out to people, you provide information that has value and isn’t simply self-serving.

Offer referral rewards. Offering existing customers a reward for each person they refer gives you a chance to thank them for their business while providing them with an added incentive to promote you to people they know. Your rewards can vary from discount coupons to a free product or service, or even straight cash.

Give away samples. If you’ve ever walked the old city streets of St. Augustine, you’ve seen the value of this tip. Every weekend, a worker stands outside one of the pizza places on St. George’s Street and offers passersby bite-size samples. As he proves over and over again, nothing does more to convince new people of the value of what you do than actually letting them try your product. If you own a business that creates products, give away samples at your door or donate items that people can try at charitable events. And if have a service-oriented business, offer a free consultation.

Create buzz. Doing something interesting or even extraordinary can attract positive comments about your business. For example, to create some word-of-mouth marketing and differentiate itself from other Gainesville restaurants, 101 Downtown offers free limo rides for VIP parties of 10 or more. Of course, you don’t have to do something that ostentatious. Even something like giving customers free gourmet coffee when they stop at your store could get people talking.

Build a mailing list and use it to offer advanced notice of specials. When customers make purchases, ask them to provide their phone numbers or email addresses so you can contact them with advance notice of specials and discounts. If the deals are good enough, your customers are sure to pass them on to their friends and families.

Turn verbal praise into written testimonials. If a customer praises you for something special you’ve done, ask if you can write down the comment and use it in your marketing or on your website. More than likely, the customer will be flattered that you want to use the comment and glad to help promote your business.

Treat your customers well. This is likely the most important step you can take to generate good word-of-mouth comments—and to build your business overall.

“The best way to grow your business through word-of-mouth is to do great work,” Schroeder says. “If you do great work, the message will spread.”

PUTTING A VALUE ON WORD-OF-MOUTH

To get a figure on the value of word-of-mouth marketing, researchers at the University of Connecticut looked at a word-of-mouth referral campaign run by a cell phone company. They found that each word-of-mouth referral generated $245 in additional business initially and led to $1,049 in subsequent business when the customers who signed up based on referrals then referred their own friends and family.

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