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How two businesses use referrals for growth

Small business owners expect referrals to be their top source of growth over the coming 12 months. We asked two small businesses that have built strong referral programs how they’ve done it.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of insights from research and small business interviewees:

  • The top anticipated source of growth for small businesses over the next 12 months is referrals.*
  • Building your brand with niche groups and communities can help encourage word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Relationships with referral partners in related industries can benefit both businesses and customers or clients.

From online marketing to social media to word-of-mouth, there’s a universe of choices when it comes to finding, attracting and winning new clients. 

So, it might not be surprising that many small business owners and leaders cite referrals as the primary source for expected revenue growth over the next 12 months, with 37 per cent expecting to attract new customers from referrals by existing customers, and 22 per cent anticipating new clients or customers from referrals by other businesses.* 

We asked two small business owners to share their approaches to gaining referrals.  

Nicole Rous, Shy Tiger and Mont Albert Vet

Nicole Rous is a vet in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and the owner of Mont Albert Veterinary Surgery and Shy Tiger, a natural animal health small business providing plant-based health support for dogs. 

Nicole has developed a strong interest in natural alternative treatments for pets, and complementing conventional medicine. She and her businesses have become well-known in a community that’s formed around raw and fresh food feeding for pets, and she has found great success with customer referrals.  

“Facebook groups are obviously really common these days,” says Nicole. “There’s a fresh-feeding Facebook group that has more than 70,000 members. Thanks to big groups like that, a lot of our clients are word-of-mouth referrals from people who are recommending us to people based on our service, our expertise and our knowledge.” 

Nicole explains that very strong communities that form around an idea that they are passionate about will have each other’s backs – members will only recommend a business they would go to themselves. That passion also makes referrals natural. 

“People go to these groups to get advice from people who are interested in the same thing that they are,” notes Nicole. “There’s a natural inclination to help [new members] by sending them in the right direction to get the same assistance they had. 

“So that kind of group has been really valuable to us. Generally, the clients who come from them are really dedicated, because someone who is going to go out of their way to seek someone out is going to already be half sold on our products and business.” 

Sigrid Chambers, Exolt EMS Studio

Sigrid Chambers is the owner of Exolt EMS, located in Neutral Bay and Drummoyne, Sydney. Exolt specialises in the use of electric muscle simulation (EMS) training to provide whole-body, high-intensity workouts that, Sigrid explains, provide results faster than traditional training methods.  

When she opened Exolt in 2020, Sigrid established a referral network of local allied health providers to solve a challenge: awareness of her solution.  

“What we do is quite unique and it isn’t well known in Australia,” says Sigrid. “When we first started it was difficult to get clients in because people don’t know about EMS.” 

She and her team reached out to physiotherapists, chiropractors, nutritionists and people working in wellness, and found them receptive – it didn’t hurt that they also understood the terminology already. 

“Now we’ve solidified a network of around 10 referral partners,” she says. “We’ve formalised a system – the businesses we collaborate with can send their clients to us for a free session. Likewise, our clients can go to them and have the same thing if they need their expertise.  

“Just in 2022 alone we’ve had 46 clients come to us through our referral network. For a business that operates on a membership basis, that’s a big chunk of business.” 

*YouGov SME Sentiment Tracker November 2022 

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