Most contractors feel the same way about referrals: They love to get them, but can't figure out how to get more. Giving money for referrals doesn't seem to help that much — and complicated “rewards programs” only seem to create paperwork headaches. So how do you get more?

IT' S IN THE EXPERIENCE First, enhance the customer's experience. Audit your processes and you'll probably find plenty of room for improvement.

Before you show up at the home, use a prepositioning package to let the customer know yours is a reputable company. That way they'll trust you more.

Once you ink the deal, have your production manager make a personal phone call to the homeowner thanking them for their business and letting them know what to expect next. Follow that with a letter that covers the same information.

One of my clients in Chicago implemented these simple steps and saw a fourfold increase in referral business.

GIFT OF GIVING Another way to get more referrals is to give your customers a gift. Not if and when they give you referrals — that's too late. Give them a gift when you ask them for the referrals. This allows you to invoke the law of reciprocity: that if you give something to somebody, they'll feel obligated to give something back. How about some referrals!

For our clients, we send a box of customized M&Ms with the company logo on them, along with a presentation folder that says “Thank You For Your Business” on the front. Inside, the customer finds a letter of thanks, along with a gift card to a popular restaurant, and a form to submit referrals. This is all sent in a standard-size USPS priority-mail box so it has some “wow” value when it arrives.

Yes, this all takes time, effort, and money. But why continue to shell out $200 to $300 for leads when you could be thanking your clients, building goodwill with them, and getting lots of referrals? —Rich Harshaw, author of Monopolize Your Marketplace, is a marketing expert;