As a solo artist, you’re on your own to run most, if not all, of the various aspects of your business. This includes everything from bookkeeping to sweeping up, and everything in between.

Whether you are the owner of a single chair salon, an independent contractor in a booth rental facility or flying solo in a salon or spa suite, coming up with successful ways in which to grow your business can be costly and time consuming. Two things for which you likely don’t have an abundance.

 One way to ensure better financial stability is to be sure that your schedule is filled with a good balance of clients. Although it’s great to have an occasional break on a busy day, large or regular gaps in your schedule can, however, cost you dearly. So, the question is how do you fill those open appointments or replace any clients who have moved on? With more new clients, of course! And the best way to gain new clients? Referrals!

 The beauty with referrals is that they come with a recommendation from an existing client. This word-of-mouth advertising may be the slowest means in which to grow your business, but it’s hands-down the most effective way. With today’s generation, peer-recommend products and services hold a lot of credibility. Having a client step up and vouch for you and your skills to their friends, family, coworkers, etc., is therefore simply worth its weight in gold. It would make sense for you to not only embrace this method of promotion, but to actively pursue it.

 To set up a referral program that makes sense for you and your clients, first think through the benefits for you both. What would be of value to existing clients in order to incentivize them to make referrals and what are you willing to bring to the table to make it all happen? Just be sure to fully appreciate that one side of this equation likely won’t happen without the other.

 One suggestion is to offer a free add-on service or a discount on an existing service to the client who successfully refers others. As examples, consider offering a simple conditioning or glossing treatment, a discount on full highlights or a free haircut to go with their regular color service. Nothing that would break the bank for you but services that your client would appreciate.

Maybe your client has always wanted to do full highlights or a smoothing treatment but simply does not have the financial means to splurge on themselves. In such a case, consider offering them a great deal on the service in exchange for a certain number of successful, meaning paying, referrals. That way they get what they really want out of it all and you’ve gained several new clients. Just remember to wait for the referrals to complete their first booking before allowing your current client to cash in on the reward. It rarely works the other way around.

 Another idea is to keep the recommendations coming in by permitting clients to accumulate “points” as any of their referrals spend more at the salon over time. They can cash those points in on services with you down the line. To set something like this up, you first need to identify the value for a point, and then clearly specify what services are (or are not) available for redemption.  

 Regardless of what type of referral program you want to offer, the trick is to be able to successfully track them. With your busy schedule, which hopefully will be getting even busier with all of the referrals, the last thing you want to do is to rely on your memory or notes posted in or on your appointment book. Luckily there are some salon and spa management software options, some specifically for solo artists, that offer a client referrals feature. In addition to tracking and redeeming referrals, some software will even help you promote the program.

Once you have figured out a system for your referrals, test it out a few times to see how it works and then make adjustments accordingly. Avoid the impulse to just jump right in and offer the program to everybody right off the bat. Instead, start small and test with a few clients to make sure it’s feasible and does not overextend you. Once you are comfortable with everything, go ahead and open the floodgates. After officially launching the full scale program, promote it by using marketing tools such as targeted eblasts, newsletters, and posts on social media. Your clients can share or forward the information to whomever they wish from there.

For those who prefer to go old school, there are other ways of getting the word out. You can hand out specially designed business cards or promotional post cards so clients can add their name and hand the card off to their referral. Also consider designing a branded counter or station display to help get the word out. Still, the most effective way to promote your referral program may be by personally offering it to your most loyal clients, that way they feel special by you asking.

Jim Bower is the founder of Floydware, LLC and Rosy Salon Software. He is a former salon and spa owner with over 30 years of experience in the industry.