Everyone is always looking for recommendations. According to Nielsen, 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends about products. With that said, having referral programs can be a cost-effective strategy for you to get more clients into your studio practicing.
When 502 Power Yoga in the greater Louisville area first opened, they started their referral program with a basic “name-drop” paired with a point reward system that operated through their MINDBODY software. As time has passed, they have tried out various referral programs.
“Over the years we’ve done referral cards that gave a friend 20% off our new student package, a fancy subscription-based referral program that worked online through email referrals, and guest passes for members,” said Cat Scott, the owner of 502 Power Yoga.
However, not all of these strategies were successful. When 502 Power Yoga tried to make their referral system “shinier” with a subscription-based service, it caused more issues than it brought in clients.
“It was far more complicated than it needed to be, and it confused our clients and our desk staff and instructors who needed additional training to understand how to manage the program,” said Scott.
She said the subscription-based service had potential if they would have spent the time training the community and staff on how to use it, but she didn’t feel that was where their energy was best spent.
Though there have been challenges with referral programs, Scott said they are important for not only business, but also for the customers.
“Most of our clients hear about us from their friends or family, and in yoga, a lot of times that companionship is needed to make the leap into uncomfortable/new territory of a studio yoga class,” said Scott. “Sometimes it seems like the referral points are unnecessary — our students get so much out of sharing their love for their practice and our studio that having their friend join them is reward enough. But we do still like to offer that nod.”
Denise Cook, the studio manager of YogaWorks Alexandria in Alexandria, Virginia, recently added a referral program at her studio. Every Friday, members of the studio can bring in a guest to practice with them for free. “Studies do show we tend to work out in pairs, work out together, work out with people with like-mindedness. Whether that’s at yoga or Orangetheory or SoulCycle, people tend to want to go with a friend,” said Cook. She hopes this program will promote and encourage community involvement.
In addition to ‘Bring a Friend Friday,’ they also allow monthly members to bring two free guests each month. If the guests they bring have never been to YogaWorks before, then they receive a free 10-day pass to try the studio.
YogaWorks members also receive incentives for referring new guests to the studios. For each qualifying referral, monthly members receive $25 off their monthly payment, class pack holders receive a free class, and annual members receive an additional week courtesy of YogaWorks.
Cook explained she believes the perception of referrals needs to change in the industry. “The most important thing about referrals, especially in this particular business and if you’re referring to yoga, [some say] you’re selling and pushing,” said Cook. “I’ve heard the word a lot, quote on quote, pushing sales onto people, but it’s truly not; it’s an ask.”
She trains her staff to look at referrals the same way you would ask someone to a party: an invitation they can either accept or turn down. This takes away the pressure of making people feel like they have to commit.
Scott agrees with Cook on keeping referrals simple and practical. Both owners gave their top referral dos and don’ts:
Cat Scott’s top dos and don’ts
Do keep the process simple and trackable. We are pretty high-tech, but we found that a simple clipboard at the front desk with the new student’s name and the person who referred them is perfect for our needs.
Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in paid services unless you are confident you will earn enough monthly members to more than cover the expense of the service. Consider the work/hours that will go into providing and managing that service, and how much you would need to earn to cover that expense.
Denise Cook’s top dos and don’ts
Do ask current and long-term members to invite friends — we offer members two guests a month. We can then offer their guest a free week, so low pressure.
Do ask for referrals because most people who are friends have similar interests.
Do respect the no.
Don’t pressure them to make quick decisions. So, we offer the free week to showcase lots of classes, styles and teachers.
Don’t keep asking more than three times to offer referrals.
Don’t keep contacting once the referral has said no.