You can exponentially increase the number of referrals you get, dramatically increasing your client base, by doing one simple thing – asking for referrals.

For a variety of reasons which may be hard to explain, many small business people don’t bother with referrals. Maybe they just assume their clients will pass along good words about them. Maybe they find asking for referrals uncomfortable. They hope to get referrals, of course, but they don’t overtly do anything about it. So when a job is done, they just walk away, leaving half their dinner on the plate. But remember, assuming has no place when running a business. You must communicate your need – what you want.

Don’t let your own shyness or fear get in the way of building your business. Referrals will get you more clients. And the more referrals you ask for, the more referrals you’ll get – just because the customer knows that you want some. It’s a small effort for a great reward.

Here are 5 sure ways to get referrals.

Make sure your clients are happy…and then ask for referrals.Before asking clients for referrals, ask why they value your work. Every time you get positive feedback, you have an opportunity to ask for a referral. And once you know that you are in their good books, ask to be referred. Some of your happy customers may think you’re too busy to add more clients to your business. So if you haven’t paid someone enough attention, change that. Otherwise, explain how you’ll allocate resources to take on new clients.Once you see a client is satisfied, ask for a referral sincerely and respectfully. Do it face-to-face so you can read your client’s body language and sense of how comfortable they are with you.

Pave the way for the introduction/referral. Make it easy for your current client to send referrals. Clarify what you’re looking for. Tell current clients that you can extend the same excellent experience they had to the people they know. Ask that you be introduced – whether through a coffee date or a mere email or verbal (even through a 3-way phone call) to someone whom you can also help.

Remember to thank clients for sending you business.Showing your appreciation to the people who help grow your business is an often-overlooked gesture. Be one of the “different” ones who actually know how to show gratitude.If you make a thank-you phone call to the client who helped pave the way for the referral, do it right after you meet with the referred person – while everything is still fresh. A thank-you lunch or gift card for supporting your business can also be a good gesture. This will encourage this person to constantly say a good word about you to their own friends.

Join a networking group. Trade associations and professional organizations are good places to generate referrals. Don’t forget community service or religious groups, the chambers of commerce and charitable organizations. There are also groups specifically set up for referrals, and you may find that these groups can be a treasure trove for potential clients.

Offer incentives.One of the best and surest ways to be sent referrals is by incentivising the actual act of giving you referrals. Give discount coupons to customers for every introduction they give, or for ever friend they bring with them the next time they visit. This type of approach may cost you a bit, but it’s certainly peanuts compared to the benefits you can reap. Think of the bigger picture.