A NEW STYLIST who is focused on building her book can be good about asking her guests to refer their friends and family members. But as her business grows and her book starts to fill, she becomes more complacent, and she quits asking for that new business.

No matter how sophisticated marketing programs get there’s never going to be a better way of attracting new clients than using your existing guests to attract them for you. It remains the oldest, yet most effective, way of generating new business. And, the best way to do that is to not take your existing guests for granted. Make each of their visits exciting and memorable, and they will talk about you everywhere they go, from a night out with their girlfriends to the local PTA meeting. In essence they become ambassadors for your brand.

Of course, you can sweeten the deal every once in a while by giving away something to the guests who are recommending you, as well as to the friends who being referred. We do recommend though that you never offer a discounted service to new customers—that just sets up a mentality that it’s all about the money, and it can build up resentment within your current customers. Today, many salons use group couponing to generate traffic because it seems so easy—but these programs often don’t generate incremental traffic. They either cannibalize the salon’s business by discounting services the guests already are buying, or they attract one-time bargain hunters who never intend to patronize the salon again.

It’s much better to find a way to incentivize your loyal customers and even gift them and their friends with products or an experience in your salon or spa. If done correctly, the new clients will come in four times over the next year—making it worth your investment—and your loyal guests will become even more excited about your brand.

For example, at Salon Visage in Knoxville, Tennessee, about twice a year we give associates a stack of VIP cards and ask them to give them out to their guests, asking guests to help us by sharing the cards with three friends who have never been to the salon before. The cards offer the referred friend a salon experience.

While many salons do this, here’s what makes our program unique: After the guest accepts the card, she checks out and, there, the front desk staff presents her with a card of her own, inviting her to have a service in our salon or spa she’s never experienced before. We tell the guest it is our way of showing our appreciation in advance for handing out the cards and for being a valued client.

George Alderete, one of the salon’s senior colorists, is a great example of how well the program works. A 30-year veteran of the beauty business, Alderete was an accomplished colorist, but when he moved from Los Angeles he found himself needing to build a clientele from the ground up. When we started the VIP program, Alderete had been with the salon about a year, and was seeing four-five guests per day. In about six months, his client count grew by around 50 percent.

It is by far the best way I’ve seen to grow your business,” says Alderete “I wish I’d had something like this when I was starting out I had all the tools—experience, enthusiasm and a great salon—I just needed clients to experience what I had to offer and this program did that.”

Alderete suggested to his clients they give the cards as a gift to someone special in their life. “One client was so excited to give one to her sister because she had been having a rough time and thought this would be a great pick me up.”

Out of all first-time guests who came to Salon Visage because of its VIP card, 60 percent returned for repeat services—well above the industry average for new client retention. In addition, about half of those clients, as well as the clients who only came once, bought other services or products during their visit.

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