In a series of prior blog posts, I wrote about the multiple benefits of cultivating business referrals. While there are many ways to structure a company referral program, I’ve found that the most successful programs follow a few simple rules.

Four Steps to Creating a Winning Referral Program

1. Keep it simple. It’s tempting to try to cover all your legal bases when setting up a referral program, but the result is often something that is unintelligible to anyone without a law degree. A good referral program is easy to understand and demonstrates clear value to the person making the referral.

2. Make it meaningful. I know a small business owner who created a referral program benefiting not only the person making the referral, but also the community. His program is simple. Refer business to him, and he sends you a Starbucks gift card and makes a donation in your name to the local food bank. He then enters your name into a monthly drawing for a $50 certificate to a local restaurant. Finally, he makes you eligible for an annual drawing with fun prizes—one year it was a pair of fully outfitted kayaks, which he delivered in person.

3. Have fun with it. In the example above, the business owner filmed himself delivering the kayaks, Ed McMahon style, to the unsuspecting winner’s office (needless to say, the winner was pleasantly surprised). He uploaded the video to his company’s website, shared it in his client newsletter, and posted it across social media. The year after, he surprised another winner with a trip for two to Hawaii. It’s hard to tell who gets more excited about the program—the prize winners, or the prize giver!

4. Promote it. Don’t assume that people remember that you have a referral program. Keep it top of mind by promoting it regularly—on your website’s homepage, in your email signature line, through company newsletters and via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc.). Make sure that employees understand the program and share it with their contacts.

A Referral Program Success Story (Video)

In the following video that I made for Grange Insurance Association and its network of independent agents, I talk about these rules and more. Bottom line: Don’t settle for a stale and boring referral program. Make it fun for everyone involved, and you’ll be amazed at the results for your own business.

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