If I had a dollar for every time a stylist emailed me asking for advice on increasing their referral business, I'd be writing this blog post from my multi-million dollar mansion on Maui. It is one of those challenges that I love to coach on, but it also makes me want to pull my hair out a little bit. It is like the hairstylists greatest mystery with the easiest possible solution on the planet....go ahead and just ask!
Referrals are truly a critical piece of the hairstylist puzzle. If you've been hanging with my Flourish community for a while, you know that I don't feel a business can be built on walk-in traffic. Think about what a walk-in is. It is a person who randomly called you or walked by your salon and is giving you a shot based on your location or your cute website or just on the fact that they walked by and you have time. The odds are that eventually that client, and all other walk-ins, will stumble into a new salon the exact same way. That is not legitimate business.
Referrals come pre-sold on you with the promise from a friend, co-worker or family member that you'll be great and the client will be happy. These are the types of clients who stay with you for 10 years or more and this is how you grow a six-figure business.
When I suggest to stylists that they just go ahead and ask for referrals, these are the most common excuses I get and why each and every one is totally wrong:
1. "I would never ask for a referral. That sounds so desperate." If it sounds desperate it is because you are positioning the request completely wrong. You aren't begging for clients, you are trying to strategically grow your business. There are very few professional careers that don't grow and expand based on their referral business, so it isn't strange when you ask for referrals.
Solution: Asking for referrals is all about the verbiage. I like to say something like "Jessica, you know you are one of my favorite clients. I would love to have a whole clientele filled with people like you. If your friends or family are looking for a new styilst, I would love it if you'd send them my way". Does that sound desperate to you?
2. "My clients know they can send me referrals at anytime." Do they though? Let's think about it. When is the last time you referred somebody to your nail technician or waxer. Sure, if somebody asks you for their information you'll pass it along, but you probably aren't saying "You've got to go see the girl who does my brows. She's amazing". Guess what, you're clients aren't doing that either.
Solution: Create a referral program and actually talk about it. I have found that about 90% of stylists today do have a referral program in place, but only about 10% are actively promoting it. If you aren't mentioning your program to your clients all the time then they won't be thinking about it either. You should have signage, cards to hand out, information on your website. This also creates a talking point. How great would it be if you were able to say "Do you know about my referral program" as you hand them a few cards to hand to their friends. If you aren't giving your clients 3 cards to pass along to friends when they leave your salon, you aren't promoting your referral program.
3. "My clients are afraid that if I get any busier they won't be able to see me or I'll raise my prices". Whoa, that just sounds crazy to me. That is either an excuse or you are really struggling with some booking challenges. Either way, it is highly unlikely that your client is even thinking along those lines, so get over your ego and just promote growth in your business.
Solution: If this is a true and legitimate concern and not an excuse, then your challenge is get more organized with your bookings. If you are turning clients away often enough that they wouldn't send you referrals, it is time to raise your prices and/or you need to improve your time management. If you are fully booked with 3 clients a day, you need to shorten your service timing or stop adding in buffers for "just in case". Time is money and we need to make the most of it. You should also be pre-booking at least 50% of your clients and it would be best if you were pre-booking closer to 70%. This prevents the issue of clients not being able to get in when they call last minute.
4. "My clients are young and they just aren't the type to go around handing out business cards". I get it. Times are changing and communication is less and less about face to face conversations and more about staring at our cell phones as we walk down the street.
Solution: Embrace the power of social media. Encourage your clients to post pictures on Instagram and tag you in them. Have your clients check in on Yelp and Facebook. These little actions can and will lead to their friends walking in your door.
I suggest that today you sit down and write some verbiage that you can tap into so that you can start talking to your clients about referrals. Put some energy into promoting your referral business for the next 60 days and I promise your business will grow.