16 Things You Can Do Yourself to Create Word-of-Mouth for Your Business

Creating word of mouthYou can create word-of-mouth for your brand. You can do it yourself. In fact, you should do it yourself. Create as much word-of-mouth marketing for your business yourself. Then turn to an agency.

Word-of-mouth is the most effective means to advertise your brand. Too much data exists to recite here shows customer word-of-mouth is more effective, more cost-effective.

How do you do it? How do you inspire your customers to tell others the glory of your story? Do you hire an agency to make a funny cartoon? Or a silly video? Or is forward to a friend links on an email campaign good enough?

Remember this: Word-of-mouth starts with your story. Your brand story.  That’s your  story you give your customers to tell for you, about you, from their experience with you. It’s an unique story. You create a new version with each customer and each experience they have with you.

It’s a collaborative effort. They bring their story (their needs, their desires, the meaning they hope you provide, the solution you need to provide, their expectations, frustrations.) And you bring your story (your employees, their commitment, the resources you provide, your partners, your vendors, your purpose.) The two stories meld, or don’t, each time you two meet. Email, phone, website forum, ad, press release, little league sponsorship, service problem, billing error, lost order, missed shipment…cool innovation, surprises, testimonials.

Where your two stories meet is where word-of-mouth is created. Every time.

You can only control your story. Here’s a list of some, not all, the things you can do to create word-of-mouth for your business. And do it consistently.

Find out what your customers say now. Survey your customers with The Ultimate Question Survey. That’s a 3-question survey.

The first question is this: Would you recommend us to your friends and colleagues? On a scale of 0 – 10, with 10 being very…how likely would be to recommend us to a friend or colleague? Their answers to this and the other 2 questions equal your Net Promoter Score.

Are you generating Net Promoters or Net Detractors? You should find that out before you create a word-of-mouth campaign that will accelerate the spread of your story.

Fred Reichheld wrote The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. Buy it. Read it. Do it.

Do more of what your customers like. That survey will tell you why and when and where they recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Do more  of that which inspires them to tell more.

Stop doing what makes them unhappy. The survey will tell you if and how you make them unhappy.  Stop doing that.

Ask your employees. They write your story every day. They make it a best-seller, or not. All day. Use the same survey for them.

Do the same for them. Do more of what makes them recommend their company to their friends. Stop doing anything else.

Review your P&L reports. Are your sales going up or down?  A word-of-mouth, viral ad, campaign will accelerate the results.

Why? More people will tell your story. And if that story is a story of a company whose customers are abandoning it, then more people  will hear that story. If your sales are going up, find out why. Do more of that.

Review your sales-by-item reports. See above. This is the granular detail, the sentences and punctuation, of the story your customers are telling about you and their experiences with you.

Hire A-Players. Your employees, your number one asset, are your brand-builders. Hire the best. Then you have the asset to create the best. Brad Smart and his Topgrading methods are sure-fire ways to find, keep and grow A-players. And remove C-Players.

Remove C-Players. Your company has changed. Your story has matured.  The A-Players who told your story so eloquently now stumble and mumble.  Or, the C-Player auditioned beautifully. And now you realize they are illiterate.  Motivate, train or coach the C-Player to become an A-player. Or remove them. You owe your A-players the best colleagues.  And only the best colleagues.

Motivate your employees with incentives that matter to them. Ask them what is meaningful. You may be surprised at what and how little it will cost. And how important that incentive is to their life. Then make it possible for them to achieve those incentives.

Connect their meaningful incentives to the goals of their company. Share those goals with your A-Players. Explain why they are important to reach. To do that you must answer these three questions your employees will have:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I care?
  • Why should I believe?

Stay out of their way. Do your employees generate revenue? Do they lower expenses? Do they make each other happy? Do they make customers happy? Stay out of their way while they do that. Stop them when they stop. You have incentivized them. It should be…easy.

Give them the tools and resources they need. That means ask them. That means understand their day, their task, the tools you have provided them. Understand how these tools and resources meet your goals. Or what you need, instead. And then find better tools and resources.

Make employee reviews a celebration. Celebrate their strengths and accomplishments. Find ways and tools and areas where their strengths are on display.

Celebrate failure. Ok, not like Yippee we crashed the server today! But, acknowledge it, allow it, recognize it. And learn from it. That’s a key step to creating a culture of innovation, of constantly generating new ideas.  Cultures that allow for failure are cultures that allow engagement. Engagement can add 3-5% to your operating results. Is that worth it?

Use social media yourself. The operative word is yourself. Oh sure, it’s awkward. You stumble. You make mistakes. That shows you are a real, authentic, human being. We humans connect with our colleagues: real, authentic human beings. And,  the social media community is supportive and forgiving where the efforts are genuine, offered by real authentic human beings.

There is no message more unique and genuine than the voice of a CEO in their own blog, in their own writing. Write your own blog. (For goodness sakes, write your own blog. Otherwise skip it. )

Or use Twitter. Join the millions of people who’ve looked like fools at least once in their life. It’s a party.    And join them as they connect with millions of customers, prospects, partners, vendors, ideas, innovators solutions.

Know your community. What do they need? What solutions are they looking for? Find and deliver. Be a part of their lives. Jeffrey Summers, CEO and founder of Restaurant Coaching Solutions LLC, shared that in a conversation we had recently.

These things, and more, form your story. Finish this list first. Then look at the story you’ve written. And if you consistently pursue and execute them, your story can be consistent. Consistent stories build consistent word-of-mouth.

Then see if you need outside help to accelerate the spread of your story through the mouths and communities of your customers. And employees.

There’s more. But this is a good start.  After all, this is a blog. This is a conversation. What do you do to create word-of-mouth for your business?

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About the author: Zane Safrit’s passion is small business and the operations excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. He previously served as CEO of a small business. Zane’s blog can be found at Zane Safrit.


Zane Safrit Zane Safrit's My passion is small business and the operations' excellence required to deliver a product that creates word-of-mouth, customer referrals and instills pride in those whose passion created it. Zane's blog is Zane Safrit.

34 Reactions
  1. Zane,

    Ah, now I understand what you meant by “Friday Failure” in your email! 😉 “Celebrate failure.” Is this in the same spirit like Thomas Edison and the many failures / steps forward in order to come up with the perfect light bulb?

    I will show this post to a new client who is interested in using my services as a social media specialist. I will train them to write themselves on the forthcoming blog, twitter page, etc. in the long run. First we have to do an analysis according to the Groundswell book test and see how their customers likely will interact. Do you have a successful case of a company involved in the “slow food” / “artisan” field? They have great knowledge and experience of “superfood” like sea-buckthorn and aronia berries, and healthy & good tasting bottled water with an extra boost of energy.

  2. Zane,

    As usual, right on the money. Your company is your employees (as far as most customers are concerned) so hiring the A players, losing the C players, and incentivizing/motivating your employees are key elements to having a company that customers talk about to their friends.

  3. Hey Zane
    This reminds me of all the great pointers you gave about WOM last year. This post is terrific, too.

    I’m not against the Net Promoter Score, but there are a lot of people who are. You’ve probably heard the arguments, some quite valid, of it is too simplistic, however, at the core of small business I think it works. If your friends, customers, allies won’t refer you, what have you got at the end of the day? Not much. Like you say, figure out what they like and do more of that. Simple to think or say, harder to do, but its what’s required for success.

  4. Great stuff. All of my business has been through word-of-mouth. I’m glad to have these ideas on how to add to it.

  5. Interestingly, DubLinetwork.com is following almost all these rules by the book. It’s no wonder that its becoming so successful in the States. The biggest incentive for affiliates is mostly that old carrot – passive residual income, enabling a lax and lazy lifestyle that we all aspire to.

    Well, I do anyway 🙂

  6. Great List Zane. I particularly loved

    “Do more of what your customers like.” & “Stop doing what makes them unhappy.”

    It seems like common sense and yet my experiences as a consumer would suggest that it is often overlooked.

  7. These are good tips Zane. I think listening to both your customers and your employees is key. Really listen, though. Hear what they need, want, expect, etc. Build upon those things and show that their needs are your concern and you take them seriously.

  8. This is one of the most powerful and pithy primers for any business owner – in good times or bad.

  9. Hi, Zane:

    Thanks for the clearest description of word-of-mouth I have seen. Kare Anderson turned me on to your blog. My focus is story. As a kids’ book author, ex stand-up comedienne, memoir author and consultant to many corporations and individuals, it looks to me like story IS the foundation of any business – as it is of every life. Knowing what ours is – letting it be flexible – knowing our businesses are always telling stories about us whether we know it or not is the simple stuff most skim over in their understandable urgency to make their products sell. Your clarity has won me over.

  10. Loved your article.

    I have thrived on Word Of Mouth Marketing all my life.

    Glad to not be the only one tooting my horn 😉

    Mr. RipCard.

    http://www.RipCard.com The business Card that Actually Gets you more business.

  11. Great post, I agree. I think a great addition that might help others would be learning how to outsource. It’s really helped my business. I found a free outsourcing mini coarse and I learned a lot from it. It’s amazing what you can do when you can hire someone for $4 per hour to help you run your business.outsourcing

  12. Well written Zane! I think the hardest of all is to convince big companies that employees are there number one assets. Big business is all about the bottom line.

    2cre8 LLC

  13. I have found that if you have an A company you’ll attract A employees and A customers.
    To have an A company you have to be an A person.
    All companies are constrained by the leader.
    It’s why they don’t grow beyond their capabilites.
    Imagine having a company that grows at the pace of A employees and A customers.
    Therefore, leaders are the biggest limits to growth, not C or D employees, but the system that manages them.


  14. Zane,
    My first taste of your blog and it is all good!
    When companies use word-of-mouth by listening with their EARS first, great success with relationships can occur. We help direct sellers, small biz owners and mlm’ers raise their awareness of Personal Effectiveness by using a 3 part system comprised of Skill Radio, P.E.P. Profile Assesment and a business simulator disguised as a game. We have had great success in allowing people to practice their skills in a safe environment before they go “public” with their business. And game play is a great ice breaker.

    We strive to open conversations with, “What is your challenge?” and “How can I help you today?” It is amazing how people react and relax when they realize you don’t want anything from them except to hear their story.
    I think the economic climate is causing people to inter-depend more on each other and lift each other up.
    May the profits be with you!


    this link will take you to RI Technologies’ Skill Radio for http://www.budurl.com/freeskills

  15. Chaitanya Sagar

    Zane, one question on Hire A players. It’s not easy at all to hire A players. (Our business is not a big brand, can’t offer many benefits, can’t pay huge salaries).

    One of the aspects that helped me was to bring ‘raw intelligence’ though they may not have experience. 🙂

    Do you have any suggestions on how small businesses can hire A players?

  16. Chaitanya,

    Speaking as an employee rather then an employer I can say that for me at least intangible benefits can be far more valuable then the typical benefits you mentioned. Benefits such as the opportunity to learn new things, to be part of a team you can trust and depend on and most importantly to work for a company you believe in.

    I also think that these types of benefits have the ability to turn B employees into A employees IE if you have a B employee who comes to work because they truly love their job they will be more valuable then an A employee who’s just there because of the health benefits.

    Its easier said then done, but it can be done.

  17. Zane,

    Great post. “Word of Mouth” is crucial and should be to small businesses especially. Anyone can start generating business via mouth!

  18. Great content. Much of it is common sense… but many business act without the slightest shred of common sense.

  19. Excellent tips. Thanks for sharing them. I believe it’s really important to apply your tips for proper social media marketing as well. If you’re trying to spread a video online with YouTube and AdWido, you need to make sure your video isn’t boring, making your audience unhappy, or trying to give people something they don’t like or want.

  20. Although your title was not exactly accurate, the lessons you repeat here are great. All Small Businesses Could Benefit from a read.

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Virtual VIP/Answer Guy Central Computer Care, Business Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

  21. I agree but I’d like to make what I think is an important distinction between telling your brand story and sharing stories that communicate shared brand-customer values. Take Mint.com’s Facebook page for an example. Mint.com is not finding new and interesting ways to tell the story about their brand’s *products* or *services*. What they are doing is finding interesting ways to tell the story of their brand (and their customers’) values. One of those values, in the case of mint.com is saving money. So for example, they might post a beautifully designed infographic on computer cables and why it doesn’t make sense to purchase pricey cables. Mint.com sells personal finance software, not computer cables but this story relates to their brand in terms of fundamental brand value, not superficial product features. Does this distinction make sense, I hope?

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