Word of Mouth: Growing Your Business Through Referrals

Everyone knows how important word of mouth referrals are for business, but how can you grow these referrals?

Do you have happy customers? They can be one of the most effective ways to tell others about your business. Online review sites try to capitalize on the value of referrals, but whether it’s a new restaurant, a realtor or a movie release, there’s nothing quite as powerful as a personal recommendation from someone whose opinion you trust.

Entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge Barbara Corcoran had this advice for a real estate agent just starting out: “All the best leads in every business come through referrals, because the customer is already prejudiced toward you and expecting great results because they were recommended by another satisfied customer. So the most successful method of prospecting new leads is getting your last customer to recommend you.”

Over the 35-plus years of my career, I’ve learned that Barbara’s advice hits the nail on the head. While this is good news for many businesses, building a successful referral-based marketing approach requires that you do everything you can to ensure you have happy customers. In other words, if you’re encouraging your customers to tell others about you, you’d better make sure they have good things to say.

Here are four things to consider if you’re trying to build a strong referral-based marketing plan for your business:

  1. Understand your brand. Saying that, I don’t mean what most people associate with their “brand.” Early in my career I had a mentor that drilled into me, “Your brand is not your colors, your logo, or what you say about yourself. Your brand is your values and how you act on those values with both your customers and your employees.”

I believe this is invaluable insight, and critical to making referrals come easily and naturally. For example, if you claim that you put customers first, you demonstrate that when there are problems or when things don’t go exactly as planned. Customers appreciate businesses that happily fix mistakes or take responsibility when things go wrong. That’s not only the way to build repeat customers, it’s the way to encourage customers to say good things about you and refer their friends because they trust that you will take care of them. In other words, you can’t just talk the talk; you need to walk the walk.

  1. Happy employees = happy customers. This is closely related to understanding your brand. How your employees treat your customers is a direct reflection of how you treat your employees. Remember, your brand is a reflection of how you treat your customers and your employees.

When your employees are empowered to do everything in their power to help satisfy customer needs (and know you will back them up), they will make sure your customers leave feeling like they’ve been treated fairly and will be happy to tell their friends about you. While it’s true, some of your employees might not make the same decisions you make in the heat of battle, they need to know you will back them up—or they will avoid going the extra mile for a customer come crunch time.

  1. Nobody is perfect—and you don’t have to be either. Most people understand that mistakes happen in the course of doing business. With the exception of a few hard-to-please customers (who you will likely never make completely happy), most of the people you do business with every day don’t expect perfection. What they do expect is that you will always do your best to make sure your product or service performs as advertised and will fit their needs.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s human nature to want to be helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers to help your business grow by telling their friends about what you’re doing. You may be surprised at how many will comply and tell all of their friends about you. A lot of businesses offer discounts to their customers who refer their friends. One of our realtor friends will often send my wife a thank-you card and a gift certificate to dinner at her favorite restaurant when he sells a house to one of her acquaintances. She doesn’t do it for the gift certificate, but rather because she likes him and is confident he’ll do everything he can to help her friends. The card and night out simply tells her how much he appreciates the referral.

As Barbara says, “All the best leads in every business come from referrals.” Encourage your customers to become your best brand advocates by giving them something good to talk about.

ty kiiselTy Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small business’s biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible. OnDeck can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.



The 5 Best Practices of Ecommerce Inventory Management

Inventory management is a vital, but often overlooked, aspect of running a profitable ecommerce business. It can impact your customer relations, your sales, your fulfillment speed, and most importantly, your bottom line.

Inventory management is a vital, but often overlooked, aspect of running a profitable ecommerce business. It can impact your customer relations, your sales, your fulfillment speed, and most importantly, your bottom line.

The key goal of inventory management is to know how much stock you have, where it is, and where it’s going. Keeping up with this information isn’t the most exciting part of running a business, but inventory management mistakes can lead to unexpected stockouts, shipping errors, oversells, loss of customers, and even your store being suspended from marketplaces.

A strong inventory management strategy will allow you to run lean, scale your business, ship faster, and increase your sales.

What Does Good Inventory Management Look Like?

Implementing a killer inventory management strategy doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. In fact, it’s surprisingly simple. There are five general tips I give every ecommerce business owner I get a chance to talk to.

Use Uniform SKUs and Master SKUs

If you’re selling multichannel, inventory management will be a lot more difficult if you aren’t using uniform SKUs. The stock keeping number you use for a product should be as similar as possible no matter how many channels you’re selling that product on. This helps clear up any confusion as to your overall stock count of the product, which cuts down on overselling and stockouts.

Record Purchase Order Data

Do you know how long on average it takes for your purchase orders to be fulfilled? If not, you need to get your hands on this data. Mistimed purchase orders can lead to stockouts and more expensive purchase orders as you try and correct mistakes. Every moment your stock is listed as unavailable, you’re throwing money down the drain. This information will also help you run a leaner business. If you know exactly how long a purchase order will take compared to your average sales, you can make smaller purchase orders and save more money.

Choose a Great Software Solution

Some businesses choose to do their inventory management manually with Excel spreadsheets. I don’t find this a great strategy for any business that wants to grow. It simply isn’t scalable. It might work at 50 or even 100 orders a month, but what about 10,000 sales and hundreds of SKUs? You’d have to spend all day in front of a computer screen. Giving inventory management software a try has tons of benefits over manual inventory management.

  • No human error
  • Cross-channel inventory syncing
  • Automated order routing
  • Low inventory alerts

Picking a great software solution is a key aspect to taking the cap off your business and allowing it to grow while keeping your inventory management airtight.

Know the Seasonality of Your Products

If you sell youth football helmets online, you should know that the beginning of the peewee football season is going to be your highest selling time of the year. This allows you to make sure you’ve got extra stock ready to go. It also means you can run leaner during the offseason. Product seasonality is a major aspect of inventory management. Your stock isn’t a rotisserie oven: you can’t set it and forget it. It should adjust throughout the year. Pulling ecommerce reports on a yearly basis will help you know where your spikes are and be prepared for them, or you can use Google Trends to see when people search for the item most.

Keep Backup Stock for Emergencies

If the worst happens and you end up without any stock to fulfill your orders, it’s a good idea to keep some extra product on hand to fulfill the order yourself. This can come in the form of a backup supplier, a dropshipper, or even keeping a few orders’ worth of items in your own home or storage facility. Remember: this should just be used as a worst-case scenario. Fulfilling your own orders is costly and not scalable. But maintaining the ability to do so if necessary is smart business planning.


This may seem like a lot to do, but the benefits are immediately apparent. Like any good habit, it takes some dedication to start, but once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. Start implementing these tips today and you’ll be surprised how much easier and more profitable your business can become.

About the Author

dion beary from ecomdashDion Beary writes about ecommerce for ecomdash, an ecommerce automation software system. He has more pairs of Chuck Taylors than any one person needs.



PayPal vs. Stripe: Which Payment Solution is Best for Your Small Biz?

When you run an online business you may not know which payment solution to go with. We created this guide to help you decide which solution is easiest for your customers to use.

If you run an online business, you need to accept payments. But getting paid via an online portal has all kinds of challenges. You need to make sure your solution is secure, functional, and easy for customers to use.

You can have a web payment solution custom built for your site, but software solutions have already solved the biggests challenges, and you can buy their services for a reasonable price. Two of the most popular are PayPal and Stripe. Websites around the world accept payments from these two companies.

Today, we’re going to explore PayPal and Stripe. We compare the two on a number of factors– fees, security, APIs, and more, to help you discover which payment solution is best for your site.

What do PayPal and Stripe do?

PayPal and Stripe both accept credit card payments online and in mobile apps. Both solutions can be seamlessly integrated with an existing website. The two aren’t new to this game– they process billions of dollars every year, are two of the most trusted solutions for accepting mobile payment.

What’s the Deal with PayPal?

PayPal was founded in 1998 by Luke Nosek, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel and Ken Howery under the name Confinity. In 2000, Confinity merged with X.com, Elon Musk’s online banking company. Soon enough, X.com would focus exclusively on PayPal, which was generating significant interest and respect.

PayPal had its IPO and was bought by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, and became eBay’s default payment solution. Today, PayPal operates all over the world. It has become an independent company again, spinning off from Ebay. PayPal moved $228 Billion dollars in 2014 alone.

What About Stripe?

Stripe is much newer than PayPal, as it was founded in 2010. Founders Patrick Collison and John Collison created Stripe as a turn-key solutions for web developers who wanted to integrate payment processing into their websites. Stripe stands out from the competition because of how easy it is for software programmers to use.

Stripe received funding from Y Combinator in June 2010, and quickly grew. In 2014, Stripe landed a major partnership with Apple Inc. to help power Apple Pay.

Pros to Paypal and Stripe

  • Easy to use for non-coders
  • Extremely secure and the security isn’t on you
  • Customizable to your brand

Cons to PayPal and Stripe

  • Transaction fee charges
  • Not designed for brick-and-mortar locations

Paypal_Stripe Infographic_Shoeboxed

Other Web Payment Solutions to Check Out

PayPal and Stripe are two favoured payment solutions, but there are others that may better fit your needs. Here are a few worth checking out:


Authorize.net is a comprehensive payment solution, allowing you to accept payments online, via mobile, or at a store. Authorize.net is a very high quality payment gateway, and the 24/7 support is unrivalled. Your customers can use any credit card, or even use PayPal.

Fees: 2.9% 30¢ transaction costs, $49 setup fee, plus $25 recurring charge


Square is the best option for brick-and-mortar shops and in person transactions. You can accept every way your customers want to pay– chip cards, NFC payments, and MagStripe cards are all accepted. Square can instantly turn your smartphone or tablet into a cash register.

Fees: 2.75% per swipe or paid Square Invoice, 3.5% + 15¢ per manually entered transaction


Braintree is a simple, robust way to accept payments or enable buying from almost anywhere — in your mobile app or online. On top of the full breadth of PayPal and Venmo customers, Braintree’s integrations give you access to multiple payment methods, simple pricing, security, and customer support.

Fees: Your first $50K in standard card processing volume comes fee-free. This applies to all card and digital wallet transactions not through PayPal or Coinbase. After you reach $50K, it’s 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction, with discounted rates available for businesses who process over $80k per month.


Recurly is a payment solution specifically for subscription-based businesses. It cates to enterprise-level business, so isn’t a great choice for the little guys. Recurly is easy to use, and doesn’t require a massive integration effort.

Fees: 1.25% of revenue + 10¢ per transaction, Core Plan monthly fee is $99, Professional Plan monthly fee is $299.


Dwolla isn’t a typical payment gateway. It specializes in securely connecting with U.S. banks and credit unions to enable safe, fast, bank transfers. This is great if you’re constantly using bank wires.

Fees: No transaction fees for sending and receiving one-time, recurring, or mass payments. If you want to access Dwolla’s advanced features, you’ll need to contact the sales team.

This guest post was written by John Stevens, the CEO of Hostingfacts.com, a web hosting review site that boasts human edited and tested reviews of hosting companies from around the world.  He enjoys building websites, as well as experimenting with design and UX.