All too often when we think of increasing sales, we think about hiring sales people or fussing with our marketing materials. Any small business owner, when asked, will tell you that a significant portion of their business doesn’t simply “walk in” off the street.

They get their business from referrals.

The entire landscape of twitter, facebook, linkedin and even craigslist is a goldmine – if you use them to generate referrals. Broadcasting traditional marketing in these places is spammy and, most likely, ignored.

Other, non-virtual, referral groups exist to help bolster your business growth. Groups like a Chamber of Commerece, or a BNI or LeTip chapter can dramatically increase your referrals.  Even these groups; however, are less useful if you forget the most important step: Planning to grow your referral business.

A business plan will help you outline and define the methods you will use to grow your business. The business plan process should highlight some actions you can take to increase referrals. One of the most overlooked is to incorporate referrals into the business process itself.

Take the pizza business as an example. If each pizza came with a coupon for a free pizza for your friend, you would be inclined to order from them.

If an accountant sent a gift card for coffee to each of your colleagues as an invitation to discuss accounting strategies, he would be build referrals right into the way he does business and increase sales.

A lawyer could request referrals by hosting a quarterly cocktail party for current clients and a guest.

A different strategy could include partnering with similar companies to get referrals from them through co-branding or handoff processes.

Far from simple marketing gimmicks, these types of offerings build the referral into the product and increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.  Don’t forget to make your product or service memorable as well.