How To Turn Your Customers Into Advertising


Here is the truth: For small businesses with limited marketing budgets (or no marketing budgets, if I am being real), referrals are essential for growth. You might be up against big chains with big budgets, and you are definitely competing for the time and dollars of people who don’t have a lot of time and dollars. I am here to say that if you have living breathing advocates for your business, none of that matters.  

If you give people a reason to talk about you, you can spend less money on marketing. It is honestly that simple.


This is why I believe with my whole heart that the marketing tactic with the highest possible ROI (return on investment) is Word Of Mouth marketing.


People trust their friends and family more than any celebrity endorsement or high price commercial. If your best friend says, “don’t go to that restaurant, they are so rude there”, guess where you are not suggesting on your next girls night? If your Mom says her best friend’s daughter took her to a fabulous spa, guess where you will be going on Mother’s Day? If your fitness accountability buddy falls in love with a trainer who teaches spin at 6am on Wednesdays, you will probably be getting up extra early next hump day.


As a business owner, you don’t have to pay any dollars for this type of advertising, but you can enjoy the benefits of referrals as a way of attracting new customers. People talking about how amazing you are to their friends, family, and their followers on social media is a powerful thing.


Now let me be clear: just because it doesn’t cost a lot of money the way a billboard ad would, word of mouth marketing still requires investment.


Word of mouth cannot be directly bought. There is no budget that can pay for people to say nice things about your business. It must happen organically. Even if you could pay people to say nice things about you, it wouldn’t mean as much, because you paid them.


So how the hell are you supposed to get people to say nice things about you?


You put sincerity back in to your business, if it isn’t there already. And by that, I mean find ways to personally thank your clients/customers.


Case Study: The Tobacco Company Restaurant, Richmond, VA


The Tobacco Company Restaurant has been in business longer than I have been alive, but is still one of the most referred restaurants in Richmond, VA. While working with them, we instituted a program called the “Couple of the Month”. Once per month, we chose a random couple and surprised them by putting a note in their check that said, “Dinner is on Us! Thank you for choosing to spend your evening with us.”


Here is why it works:


The staff loves it. Even the most exhausted of Managers (if you have ever worked in a restaurant, you know every Manager is exhausted) love the fact that they get to pick someone and completely make their day.


These random couples go out into the world and talk to their friends and family about this amazing unexpected thing that happened to them at The Tobacco Company Restaurant. Customers would tell their servers that they knew someone who was a lucky couple. It gave people a reason to talk about the restaurant other than, “the steak was good.”


This program cost less than $100 per month if you consider food cost, and a tip for the server, which the restaurant paid. All these good feelings, and the bonus of people saying awesome things about the business. I would consider that a success.


But let’s say you don’t have $100 a month to pay for something like this. You can still find a way to genuinely thank and impress your customers. How about a thank you card? I know that seems small, but an honest to goodness, sincere thank you card from the owner of a business to a customer is incredibly rare and incredibly awesome. Pick a few customers and write (literally write, not type) them a real from the heart thank you. You will be amazed to see what happens.


And if that doesn’t get you excited, check out these ideas to exceed your customer's expectations.