Three simple tricks to boost your customer referral rate

Before you spend a chunk of money on a new marketing strategy, stop and consider that you have one of the biggest and most effective marketing tools at your disposal right now, for free: your customers. Your clients are more than just your primary source of revenue. If you form lasting professional relationships with your customers, they will also become a great mouthpiece for your business – without you even asking them to.

According to AdAge, 92 percent of consumers trust the opinions of friends and family members more than any other source. That isn’t just anecdotal – it translates into actual benefit. The same report noted that between 20 and 50 percent of purchases happen as a direct result of a word-of-mouth recommendation.

It’s clear then that word-of-mouth advertising is a valuable asset that your organization should harness as much as possible. But if you’ve never tried to drum up grassroots support before, you may not know where to start. Here are some ways to boost your word-of-mouth marketing.

If you know business travelers are your primary demographic, cater to them to drive up their satisfaction and loyalty.

If you know business travelers are your primary demographic, cater to them to drive up their satisfaction and loyalty.

Specialize in a market
It may seem counterintuitive to start your marketing by narrowing down your field of potential customers, especially in a limo service where you could in theory cater to just about everybody. But the best way to encourage people to talk favorably about your business to their family and friends is to stand out, and that will likely mean you need to specialize. Understand who your biggest demographic is – for example, business travelers. Then determine what they need and want, and identify how that is different from what you’re currently doing. It can be something as little as offering complimentary phone chargers in your cars or as involved as establishing a convenient online booking service. Remember that everything you can do to make the experience more efficient will bring you one step further to that coveted recommendation.

Offer incentives
If you really want to take an aggressive approach to generating referrals, it may be prudent to directly incentivize your top customers. Many companies have employee referral programs that reward current staff members for referring candidates to apply, and you can use this same strategy to encourage your clients to put in a good word for you. Offering a discount for clients who refer customers to you will not only generate new business, it will also increase brand loyalty among your current clientele.

Get involved in the community
One of the best ways to get people talking about your business is to make yourself as visible in the community as possible. You already offer spectacular customer service, but going above and beyond to benefit your local area – by contributing to a charity event or hosting a local fundraiser, for example – will give people in your community even more reason to pay attention to you.


 

Great marketing tools to help you grow your small business

Being an expert in your field and offering a high-quality product or service is essential for running a successful small business, but it’s only half the battle. If you can’t spread the word about your business, you won’t succeed no matter how professional you are.

Small-business owners may flinch at the idea of marketing. After all, when you’re competing in such a large market, knowing where to start to try and set your company apart from the others can be overwhelming. Trends and best practices seem to constantly be changing, making it difficult to stay abreast of what works and what doesn’t. The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. There is a whole host of marketing tools designed just for you. You don’t need a degree in advertising or an extensive knowledge of computers, either. Here are some tools that can give your organization a big boost with nothing more than a smartphone and an internet connection.

Social media: the new MVP of your marketing strategy.

Social media: the new MVP of your marketing strategy.

Social media
Let’s start with the basics. If you aren’t using social media by now, you may actually be starting from a disadvantage. The good news is diving into this platform is simple and free. The key to making the most of your social media strategy is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each platform, and use them accordingly. For instance, Facebook and Instagram are great for sharing photos – which can have a much higher impact on your clients – but they’re not the best services for real-time communication. On the flip side, Twitter is great for building a large follower base and maintaining those relationships through direct engagement, but the character limits mean you’re restricted in the amount of content you can post there.

Of course, getting started with social media is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tools to help you dive even deeper into this sector.

Mention
One of the biggest differences between conventional marketing and social media marketing is that advertising is no longer a one-way conversation. It’s just as important to know how people are responding to your messaging as it is to run an extensive ad campaign. But keeping up with notifications across different services is a tough job for anyone to take on.

Mention exists to help you manage that burden. Its website boasts that it scours the Web, searching billions of sources in over 40 languages for whatever your search query is. The service then sends you notifications in real time when you pop up somewhere online, and even gives you the chance to respond to the message directly through the service.

BuzzSumo
Advertising isn’t static anymore. Ours is a world where trends can change at the drop of a hat, and advertising messaging needs to change with them if you want to remain relevant to your consumers. But how do you keep track of all the relevant information and trends surrounding even a single topic, let alone all of the topics that are relevant to your business?

Enter BuzzSumo. This service is a search engine and content aggregate that lets you search for topics, keywords, names or even full websites to see what the most popular posts are. This is useful for when you’re planning your content strategy. You want your marketing content to be relevant to what’s important to your customers at the time. The ability to see which articles are being read the most – and, more importantly, shared the most – is invaluable.

HootSuite
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and more – there are so many social media platforms it can be difficult to keep up with all of them. HootSuite helps streamline that process by letting you gather all your social media feeds in one app. HootSuite functions like a dashboard from which you can monitor all your feeds simultaneously. The app also offers another significant benefit: scheduling.

Running a limousine service, you already know the importance of scheduling and timeliness, so it makes sense that you’ll want to incorporate these values into your marketing strategy too. After all, effective social marketing isn’t just about having the right content, but also about sharing it at the right time. HootSuite lets you schedule tweets and other posts in advance so you never have to miss a beat. Not only is it useful for keeping up with posts in the middle of the night, but it also lets you plan out your strategy weeks in advance.


 

Get the most out of the holiday season with these marketing tips

For small-business owners, the push to boost your marketing efforts and increase your brand awareness is a constant one. During the holiday season, when even the largest companies in the U.S. are beefing up their advertising, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re doing all you can to get your voice heard amid the crowd of competitors.

While the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year, it’s also a great opportunity to incorporate some seasonal flair into your marketing efforts. Holiday-specific promotions across all your advertising channels can help you better connect with your customers, which may result in more business during this busy time. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Give your messaging a seasonal flair
By now you know that your brand depends just as much on your messaging and imagery as it does on your services. While it’s your skilled and professional staff that will keep your clientele coming back, it’s your promotional messaging that will get their attention in the first place.

Take a look at your competitors’ websites and you may notice them getting into the holiday spirit. This isn’t a bad strategy for you, either. Whether it’s changing up your website’s colors to reflect the classic red and green of the holidays or opting for a more subtle wintertime theme channeling snowflakes and fireplaces, a simple graphical overhaul can help you seem more relevant to your potential customers.

“Nothing brings people together like the holiday season.”

Join in conversation
Nothing brings people together like the holiday season. You need only take a brief tour through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest during November and December to see the extent to which seasonal cheer takes over people’s thoughts – and their social media feeds.

What better time to leverage a communication-driven marketing platform like social media than during the time of year when everyone seems to have so much to share? Real-time marketing strategies can be viable year-round, but there’s no shortage of thematic options during the winter holidays. Engage with your customers on Twitter or Facebook to let them know you appreciate their business. Consider sending messages directly to your recent customers indicating your gratitude. Even a general-purpose “Happy Holiday”-themed Facebook post can do lots for your seasonal brand awareness.

Get creative with your promotions
Every business under the sun will be offering a holiday promotion, so make yours stand out from the crowd of competitors. Your customers are likely inundated with generic “10 percent off” sales and similar promotions, so the trick will be making your name stand out.

Look to the holiday season itself for your inspiration. For example, you may wish to consider running a “Home for the Holidays” promotion, feeding off of the marked increase in air travel during the holiday season. It’s a little thing, but creativity in your marketing and promoting efforts can help humanize your small business and make it that much more appealing to clients, especially during the season that’s based on fostering greater human connection.


 

4 networking tips you can start using today

Every business owner knows the importance of networking for success. After all, if you don’t make new contact, you can’t grow your potential client base and then you’re essentially dead in the water.

But not every entrepreneur and executive is a networking whiz. If you’re busy running your own small business, you may not have the time to engage in extensive networking practices or attend local business events. There is also a growing contingent of entrepreneurs who don’t have any formal academic business background, including the networking opportunities such education comes with.

If you and your business fall into this category, there’s no need to despair. It’s true networking is a crucial part of your business’s marketing strategy, but you don’t need an MBA from an Ivy-League school to be an effective networker. Here are a few general networking tips you can start using right now that can help give your organization the competitive edge it needs.

  1. Dress nicely
    This one is so basic it almost doesn’t need to be said. First impressions count for 99.9 percent of your networking success, so make sure you’re giving yourself as much of a leg up as possible by dressing in a professional, clean-cut manner.
  1. Take notes
    There’s no benefit to be gained from going to a networking event, meeting new people and making new business contacts, and then promptly forgetting all of the relevant information by the time you get home. Many networking events take the form of social gatherings, but don’t forget that you’re there first and foremost to do business. You may feel awkward about jotting down notes while you talk to new people, but remember that everyone is there to do the same thing. If you want to make the process even smoother, ensure you have business cards on hand that you can offer to everyone you meet – and be sure to get others’ cards as well. That way you can transcribe all the essential information to your notebook or to a spreadsheet on your computer later.
The first ingredient to successful networking is a clean, professional look.

The first ingredient to successful networking is a clean, professional look.

  1. Remember that networking isn’t sales
    You may be tempted to “sell yourself” to people you meet at networking events but, perhaps counterintuitively, this isn’t doing you any favors. As Payscale reminded, networking is more an art than a science, and requires people skills and a keen eye for social cues. If you try too hard to ham-fist your sales pitch in at every opportunity, you’ll likely develop a reputation – and not the kind that you want.
  1. Talk about things other than work
    Sure, you’re all there to meet new potential business contacts and make important connections, but networking is as much a social activity as a professional one. The key to making valuable new contacts isn’t giving your elevator pitch to everyone in the room, it’s finding common ground on which you can connect with the other attendees. In many instances, this means that conversations can – and should – move away from the “strictly business” category. Do you share a common interest with the person you’re talking to? How about rooting for the same sports team? Did you go to the same college or grow up in nearby hometowns? All of these are valid points of discussion and can add essential personality to your interactions. Keep in mind that everyone in the room will be talking about business in a similar way, so what will make you stand out to others isn’t your business proposition, but rather the ways in which you connected – or didn’t – with other attendees on a personal level.


 

3 reasons your business should be on Twitter

With the stunning rate at which technology develops these days, it can be hard to keep up with the newest trends, products and platforms. One aspect of the Internet you’ve likely heard of is social media. Sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have been around for years, but are only just now being explored by businesses.

One of the most popular social platforms is Twitter. This service dedicates itself to “microblogging,” restricting users to posts of 140 characters or fewer. This may not sound like a very useful tool for your business, but you’d be surprised at how effective a solid social media strategy including Twitter can be. Here are three reasons you should seriously consider moving your business to Twitter.

Twitter

Twitter has grown from a social space to an invaluable tool for businesses.

 

It’s not about selling, it’s about conversing
Traditional advertising wisdom says that your products and services should be front and center in your communication with potential customers. But business and marketing has changed, and if you adhere to these older conventions you’ll fall behind quickly.

In the age of social media, companies are more concerned about establishing a brand personality than with simply hawking products. Your clients know what services you offer, but what’s really important to consumers these days is what your business is like. Twitter is a great tool for establishing a brand identity outside of just “buy our products,” as it allows you to converse with your customers in real time. In fact, your interactions don’t even have to relate directly to your business. Discussing current events or even pop culture can be a way to get people interested in you not as a company selling a product, but as an entity they can relate to.

U.S. News & World Report suggested the “80/20” rule to govern this: around 80 percent of your Twitter content should relate to issues your audience is interested in, with only 20 percent of your content dedicated to promotions or direct sales tactics.

Feedback is key
You may be surprised to hear that some of the most influential moments in a customer’s interaction with a company occur when there’s a problem. Regardless of your efforts, you’re going to have unsatisfied clients at some point. The trick is to improve communication channels so your clients feel like they have the ability to address their concerns with you.

This is one of the biggest benefits of the instant nature of Twitter. Users can send tweets directly to your account that you can then respond to. This gives a whole new immediacy to the idea of the suggestion box, as you may even receive a tweet from an upset customer while he or she is still in one of your cars! It may seem overwhelming, but it’s a blessing in disguise. This immediate feedback gives you a chance to demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction by replying to these concerns in a timely and professional way. Believe it or not, this type of quick resolution may leave customers with even more of a positive impression than before the problem arose.

You need to connect
Every business needs clients, which means you need to be visible. Fortunately, the days of pounding the pavement are all but over. Now, you can use Twitter to connect with not just prospective clients, but other companies and professionals in your industry who are influencers and thought leaders.

These connections are crucial – not only can they directly increase your client base, but connecting with other businesses via the Web and social media is quickly becoming the new method of networking for organizations. In other words, if you don’t dive into Twitter and start communicating, you’re closing the door on your own success.


 

The importance of closing the deal

While it’s important to have business strategies for creating new leads and courting new clients, it won’t make an impact on your bottom line until you close the deal. When you’ve identified a potential client and piqued interest in your services, what you do next is critical.

First, CBS News recommended looking at closing a deal as a series of points rather than one ultimate decision. Instead of pushing for that final yes, come up with a series of goals, such as determining who the decision-maker is and getting an opportunity to make a pitch. Focusing only on closing the deal can make you seem too aggressive.

During this process, Entrepreneur magazine reported that it is important to negotiate from a place of strength, rather than a place of greed or need. Be confident in your product. When managers are too desperate to make a sale, they can slash the price too early, giving the potential client the upper hand. It’s much harder to raise prices later on, so don’t be afraid to ask for a fair deal.

Getting face time with a company's decision-maker is a good step toward landing a sale.

Getting face time with a company’s decision-maker is a good step toward landing a sale.

It may seem gimmicky, but the Houston Chronicle reported that it doesn’t hurt to throw in something for free. An offer as small as 10 percent off their first ride or a free product may be just enough to sweeten the deal for potential clients who are hesitating before signing. Just make sure that you make it clear that the offer is only good if they sign that same day.

And don’t forget the finishing touches: a confident smile and firm handshake. If you seem at ease, your potential clients will be as well.


 

How to increase customer referrals

Even with the increased use of the internet in advertising, there’s still something to be said for promoting your limo company by word-of-mouth. Few things sell people on a business as effectively as a recommendation from someone that they trust. To expand your client base, increase the number of referrals you receive from your current customers.

Be specific
Entrepreneur magazine reported that a best practice when asking for a referral is to try to narrow your focus. Instead of asking, “Do you know anyone who would like to hear more about our services?” ask, “Do you have any colleagues who you think would be interested in using a limo service?” When you ask more generally, your customers will likely be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people that they know and no one person will stand out. Narrowing the field will force your customers to think of specific people that they know, increasing the likelihood that a particular name or two will come to mind.

It’s also important to be specific about how you would like referrals. Do you have a form for customers to fill out? Is there an option on your website? Ensuring that your customers know how you want the referral will increase the odds that they’ll actually follow through.

When a customer compliments your business, it can be the perfect time to ask for a referral.

When a customer compliments your business, it can be the perfect time to ask for a referral.

Be generous
Providing incentives for referrals can be an extremely effective strategy. Forbes magazine reported that that two words are key: serious value. Offer your customers something that they actually want and will use, whether it’s a gift card to a popular local restaurant or a discount on their next ride. Don’t be afraid to try offering different incentives to see which your customers respond to best.

For the best results, create a time limit to whatever benefit you’re offering. If you offer a $50 rebate for referrals during a particular week, your customers will be less likely to forget than if it’s an open-ended possibility.

Be thankful
If you want referrals, it’s important to to thank customers who recommend your business to others. Whether it’s a gift or a hand-written note, be sure that they know how much you appreciate their confidence in your limo service. It may be tempting to just send out an automated email, but taking that extra step with a hand-written thank you will create a much better impression, further fostering that relationship.

When you receive a new client, make sure to ask how they heard about your business. If they were referred by another customer, take the time to properly thank that client. They will likely be impressed that you put in the effort to recognize them and be more likely to continue sending referrals your way in the future. Your customers are the strongest testimony to the services you provide, so be sure that they know they are valued.


 

Four ways to use social media to grow your business

Social media isn’t just a good way to reconnect with old friends. It’s also an extremely powerful tool for business growth. Effective social media use can help you connect with current and potential clients and improve the visibility of your business.

1. Choose popular platforms
An important step for using social media to grow your business is to identify the platforms your audience is using, The Huffington Post reported. To increase your visibility to potential clients, you need to create a presence wherever they spend their time. Don’t hesitate to ask clients what kind of social media they use and whether they would find it helpful to connect with your business through that platform. You also might want to consider advertising on those platforms to make sure your online marketing is reaching your target audience.

2. Connect with your audience
Social media is a great way to connect with both current and potential clients. Engage your target audience by posting content that asks questions. Forbes magazine reported that users more likely to engage with a post when it poses a question. Social media creates the opportunity to connect with your audience apart from the time when they’re using your services.

social media engagement

Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind. Use social media to engage with your audience from their computers.

3. Create valuable content
An effective way to build trust in your company is to provide content that is valuable to your followers. For example, as a limo company, you might want to create a post with tips for business travel to engage potential clients in that audience. Look at what your competition is doing to engage possible customers and make sure that you’re doing it better. According to Forbes magazine, having the best content will help bring in more customers and money to your business.

4. Ask for feedback
If you aren’t asking for feedback via social media channels you aren’t using the technology efficiently. Posts are a great place to ask clients what they think of your services and see if they have any suggestions for how you can improve as a business. You can also create surveys that can be completed online and promote the link to the questionnaire on a post encouraging customers to share their thoughts with you.


 

Demystifying the basics of search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization – or SEO – is often described differently depending on who you ask, and is usually associated with several less-than-flattering words (black box, witchcraft, and voodoo all come to mind).

Simply put, SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to rank more highly in unpaid searches on search engines such as Google and Bing. How do search engines determine the rankings? In theory, it’s quite simple – they use mathematical algorithms to determine the relevancy of your website to any given set of search keywords. While “it’s just math”, in practice these algorithms are not made publicly available, which results in quite a bit of “guesstimating” as to what will ultimately help your page ranking, and in turn results in frustration from website builders and business owners. With that said, however, the basics of SEO are quite well-known, and should be practiced by anyone with a customer-facing website.

1) Content is king

Populate your website with content that is relevant to your target audience and will be appreciated by your customers and prospects alike, resulting in long website visit times and strong website traffic. Keep your keyword use limited to the normal flow of content (many SEO experts will recommend keyword densities in the 3-5% range), and focus on natural content that keeps your human website visitors engaged.

2) Mind your meta tags

Specifically, title tags (the text that appears as a link to your website in search results) and meta descriptions (the text that describes your website below your web address in search results). Beyond ensuring you have them, keep both title tags and meta descriptions concise, relevant, and compelling.

3) Optimize your site performance and user experience

Search engines, like humans, like fast, clean websites that work properly. Make navigation easy and logical, avoid slow-loading pages and dead links, and ensure the site is pleasing to the eye.

4) Use free analytics and webmaster tools

For most, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics has enough functionality to help inform SEO decisions. What keywords are you receiving impressions for? Where do you rank? What’s your click-through rate? It’s all there, and it’s all free.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the goal of search engine algorithms is to maximize relevancy to consumers. If humans like your website and your business, search engine algorithms likely will as well.


 

A few paid search tips we’ve picked up along the way…

You’re reading this blog, which means you’re probably in the limo industry, and most likely you excel at all things ground transportation. But digital marketing – one of the most popular advertising channels in the limo industry – is a completely different landscape, and one that poses a bit of a hurdle for many small businesses due to its complex nature. Since we learned paid search (one type of advertising under the broad “search engine marketing” or “SEM” umbrella) on the fly, we wanted to share with you our thoughts on a few of the not-so-obvious questions we had.

1) Why should I pay to advertise on my own brand name?

We agree, it doesn’t make sense at first…but the benefits of doing so vastly outweigh the costs. It’s cheap, it’s easy to rank highly, and it signals legitimacy in the marketplace in the minds of your customers. And, perhaps most importantly, your competitors will likely bid on your name in an attempt to steal your customers, so it’s imperative that you outrank them. There’s a reason nearly every large brand you can think of advertises on their own brand keyword.

2) Negative keyword? Say what?

Negative keywords are those keywords for which you specify that you do not want to show your ad. A good way to see what negative keywords you should be using is to look at the search data itself (available in your search engine’s advertising dashboard) to see what types of search queries are drawing clicks. If, for example, your bid on the broad phrase “car service” is bringing in clicks from people searching for “car service mechanics”, you need to add the word “mechanic” as a negative keyword.

3) $10 per click? $100 per click? $1,000 per click? Where’s the manual on how much I should bid per click?

Generally speaking, what matters is conversions – that is, the number of times a user completes a specific action on your website (for example, booking a ride). It’s a bit misleading that you bid on a “pay per click” basis; the number most people measure is “cost per conversion”, or your total spend divided by the number of conversions the campaign produces. Ensure you’re using the free analytics tools the search engines provide to track conversions and measure and enhance your marketing effectiveness. If you know what you want to pay per conversion (which is, of course, a function of the financial value of the conversion and the long-term financial value of the customer), it’s easy to back into the math on what you should pay per click to keep your business humming.

4) One ad is all I need, right?

Always, always run two ads against each other on a rotating basis in each ad group that you have. Once you feel that you have enough data to say one is better, write text for a new ad and run the test again. Always be testing!

5) Is it worth advertising on mobile?

Mobile accounts for roughly 25% of total paid search spend (according to search marketing agency Covario) and the cost per click tends to be significantly less on mobile than on desktop. Need we say more?

Paid search marketing is a great way to attract new customers, and can be an exciting new avenue for your business. We hope these tips were helpful!