Don't ask directly for referrals

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Referrals are vital for building business — especially if they're coming from clients you enjoy working with.

However, directly asking a client for a referral isn’t the best way to gain one. It’s more impactful if a client recommends you to a friend or family member of their own accord.

Eighty-five percent of small businesses say word-of-mouth is the No. 1 way they get new business, according to a Small Business Trends and Verizon survey.

However, asking for a referral can be tricky and uncomfortable. To avoid asking directly, you can use these marketing strategies to help you encourage clients to spread the word.

Why should clients refer someone to you?

Generating a referral takes more than offering good service.

Over 75% of investors are satisfied and loyal to their adviser, according to a report called "Anatomy of a Referral" conducted by Advisor Impact, Charles Schwab and Texas Tech University. Over 90% of respondents also said they were somewhat or extremely likely to continue working with their adviser. However, only 29% of respondents said they had referred someone to their adviser in the past year.

The report also revealed when clients felt inclined to refer their adviser: More than half of the respondents referred a friend to their adviser after they asked. Nearly half did so because their friend faced a financial challenge. Only 2% referred someone because their adviser asked.

So, it stands to reason that if you can effectively create more situations that inspire clients to pass your name along to a friend, you'll see a higher success rate — without outright asking.

Part of establishing yourself as a source for financial answers is building a good digital presence. Maintaining an up-to-date website and using digital marketing strategies can help keep you at the top of your clients' minds. Here are four ways to do just that:

1. Invest in your website
Your website serves as a first impression. Nine out of 10 prospective clients will Google your firm's name and check out your website before they arrange an appointment. Outdated, poorly designed or mobile unfriendly sites can kill referrals before you get a chance to meet them.

2. Be open about your referral process
Keep your clients in the loop: Unless they know referrals are something your business relies on, they may not even consider referring someone to you.

One of the best ways I've seen this accomplished is through a blog post. One adviser wrote about how his business runs on referrals, outlining the reasons why he believes many of his current clients refer him to friends and family. Not only does writing a blog like this help maintain a high level of transparency; it also serves as a gentle nudge of encouragement for clients to take action.

Strong blog posts often feature a story or a case study. It’s a good way to help the reader visualize how you can help them with their financial objectives, and is far more effective than just talking generally about financial planning. Even if a case study doesn’t speak to a particular client, it may generate a referral. For example, an adviser wrote about helping college-aged children of clients set up their finances. This caused one of her clients to refer a friend with college-age children.

3. Make resources free and shareable
Blogs and educational content show effectiveness in building trust and encouraging contact. If blogging is too much of a time commitment, use a content library service or create fewer larger pieces of content, such as whitepapers. Use your content to address common questions your clientele may have. Share it through email and on social media, encouraging them to pass it along to their friends and family.

Email isn't solely for educating and communicating with current clients and contacts — it can help you connect with new prospects. Encourage your preexisting contacts to forward emails to their friends or share it on their social media. One way to do this is by adding a line that says something like "if you enjoyed this information or know someone who would, we encourage you to share this message with them."

You can also use email templates and programs that allow you to include social share buttons on all of your messages. Adding social sharing buttons can increase click-through rates by more than 150%, according to digital asset management solutions provider WebDam.

4. Get useful feedback by sending a client survey
Client feedback helps you improve your service, which may inspire clients to recommend you. We suggest advisers collect client feedback at least once a year and an easy way to do so is through a client survey.

Using a free tool like SurveyMonkey, create a survey with both multiple choice and freeform responses so that clients can express their opinions and concerns. Send the survey via email to all of your clients. Compile the data and share the changes you plan to make with your clients. Transparency often increases referrals in the long run because clients feel like they're part of the firm's success.

Incorporating these digital marketing strategies into your business can continuously remind clients of the guidance you provide — and help you stay at the top of their minds, naturally boosting the rate of referrals you receive.

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