How do you encourage word-of-mouth referrals?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

1. Thank You Gifts

Whether it’s cute tote bags, a mug, or cards printed with DIY facial recipes you can make with ingredients found in your kitchen (which is what I do!), give something away. It keeps you top of mind your contacts, and they will be more likely to keep you in mind and recommend you to others.
Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean

2. Identify Your Ambassadors

We capitalize on the fact that our contributing writers are all aspiring journalists who are eager to get the word out about their work on our site. We encourage and equip them to share their work by giving them social media tools, and throwing internal contests for sending referral traffic. Identify the individuals with a natural stake in telling others about your business and help them do it!
Annie Wang, Her Campus Media

3. Do Awesome Things

We’re big time believers that producing, sharing, and creating the best stuff creates the best organic word-of-mouth referrals. People share awesome things, so make your things awesome!
Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

4. Set the Expectation

In our proposals, we include a section that sets the right expectations for referrals to start. In this segment, we state that referrals are a clear part of our business model; to keep marketing expenses down and maintain affordable services, we kindly request the client introduce us to two referrals during or after our engagement. Of course, being remarkable at whatever you do is essential, too!
Josh Allan Dykstra, Strengths Doctors

5. Offer Incentives

Give your customers incentives to refer people to your site. Anytime someone purchases/registers and puts in their name/referral code, give them a reward. People will be more likely to tell their friends about something if they get a reward in return.
Josh Weiss, Bluegala

6. Ask for Them!

A lot of companies miss out on word-of-mouth referrals because they’re afraid to ask their customers to recommend their services. Don’t be. If you provide an excellent product or service and you have customers who are happy with your work, ask them to refer you on LinkedIn or write a product review on Google+ Local or other customer review sites.
Lauren Fairbanks, Stunt & Gimmick’s

7. Build the Trust

Building long-term relationships is the only way to generate a lasting influx of word-of-mouth referrals. A referral is an endorsement, and the outcome of that endorsement reflects upon the referrer. If your clients and partners don’t trust you, they will never recommend your services. Building trust with partners and clients will do more than any incentive program could ever do.
Arjun Arora, ReTargeter

8. Stay in Touch

Your clients recommend you to their friends when you’re at the top of their mind. If they’ve spoken to you recently or seen something with your name on it, they’re more likely to make the connection. But if they haven’t thought about you in a while, they may not even consider handing your contact information out. You have to stay in touch to avoid that problem.
Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

9. Don’t Be Afraid

When a client has a positive experience with your brand, make sure to ask them to tell their friends and family. It’s as simple as that. Just explain that you’d appreciate them spreading the good word. A happy client will be more than willing to tell people about their experience, especially if they remember that you specifically asked them to do it.
Nick Friedman, College Hunks Hauling Junk

10. Let the Work Speak

Go the extra mile for your clients. This way, they see quality in your products and see passion you have for your work. From this, you will naturally receive referrals.
Bobby Emamian, Prolific Interactive

11. Are They Satisfied?

Measure customer satisfaction to make sure you are producing fanatic followers who are then more likely to preach your product for you. We use the Net Promoter Score (On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend X to a friend?) to measure the satisfaction of everyone we support, and look to companies like Apple for a benchmark NPS score. Top companies score above 7; match or better that and referrals will come.
John Harthorne, MassChallenge

12. Feature Your Customers

We make sure to feature our customers as best we can. After all, they are our life and soul. Since we sell clothing to entrepreneurs, we have our customers send us photos of themselves in their shirts, and then we feature them as “model entrepreneurs” with an interview about their business on our website. It’s a fun and engaging way of promoting our customers and showing off our products. They in turn share the news with their networks.
Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees