Word of mouth referrals 1993
From a business perspective, the best advertising is free. And the best free advertising is word of mouth referrals.
15 years ago there was still some semblance of proper training in the construction industry. But even then we realised that the hardest thing for the public was finding a trustworthy and good tradesman.
The Yellow Pages is a complete lottery. The ads are cookie cutter, and the more companies spend, the more grandiose they can make themselves sound on paper. The classifieds are even more dodgy, as they are cheaper than yellow Pages and open to even more creativity or abuse.
Word of mouth referrals – The Personal Recommendation Card
In order to help our existing customers find reliable tradesmen without a gamble, we started a simple word-of-mouth referral card. We called it Personal Recommendations.
Basically it was a simple A5 size card folded in half. On the front was a space for each participant to stick their own business card. Inside the card we listed 20 trades, from painting and decorating to floor tiling, curtains, upholstery, roofing etc. We started the ball rolling under decorators. We then recommended the best tradesman we knew at the time. That happened to be a carpenter / joiner (now master kitchen fitter) called David Collier.
We asked David to recommend the best tradesman he knew. He proposed his electrician, someone he could totally rely on to deliver the goods. The process was repeated, one tradesman recommending one other first rate tradesman. It didn’t take long before we had 20 names of top businesses in the area, all personally recommended by their peers.
We gave 100 Personal Recommendation Cards to each business on the list to hand out to their customers. In one stroke, potentially 2000 customers had the names of 20 reliable businesses in their area. By the same token, 20 reliable businesses had their name on the fridges and pin boards of 1900 new potential customers. Each business on the list paid us £20 for organising it. Word of mouth referrals on steroids!
Lessons learnt from Personal Recommendations
All those businesses that handed out their referral cards got pride of place in hundreds of homes. They literally stuck their names in the minds of homeowners.
Customers were thrilled with the list.
It was a win-win for us, being paid to market ourselves and fellow trades.
It is fair to say that not everybody was organised enough to sit down for an hour to stick their business card to the Personal Recommendation list. Some failed to remember to take a bunch of cards around with them in their van. You can take a horse to water, but…
I will probably be working on a similar project again, but online. Now the recession is coming fast, I need to find the best people too.
Update April 2020
This idea evolved into the business model for the Traditional Painter network which includes the website and forum. Instead of involving all trades, I focussed on specialist kitchen and furniture painters. The local theme continued, with one craftsman per geographical area. The commitment of the participating craftsmen was far greater than the Recommendation Card. I helped members set up their own websites. Furthermore, I shared my experience on how to use the internet to create word of mouth referrals for themselves and other group members. The rest is history.
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