Money For Nothing? Customer Referral Programs Are Suddenly Everywhere

Should Your Startup Pay Existing Customers To Bring In New Customers? It depends.

Joe Procopio

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image by drobotdean on freepik

It used to be that every once in a while, I’d get an email from one of the vendors I use — a credit card, a SaaS app, a subscription service — letting me know that, for a limited time, I could score some quick cash for referring a new customer.

I never once dug into my personal contacts, or copied the choppy sample text they thoughtfully pasted in for me to use, or even gave the idea another thought.

But lately, I’m getting all kinds of referral offers from almost every third-party service I use. In fact, I’m now making a not-insignificant sum from Medium from their new reader referral program. I haven’t even had time to look into the program yet, let alone send an email or put a link somewhere. Money just showed up.

That’s pretty awesome.

It seems like overnight, every company on the planet suddenly realized that the best place to find new customers is through their existing customers.

Or maybe they just all decided that they should start paying for those referrals.

When does a customer referral program make sense?

I’ve been toying with the idea of referral programs for Teaching Startup — my affordable-advice-for-entrepreneurs project — for a while. I have a partner program already in place for startup support organizations to give discounts to their own members, and that’s been working okay, not great.

I haven’t yet embarked on anything where my customer entrepreneurs get paid to refer their peers. It seems like it might be time. The plan is drawn up and it’d be pretty easy to implement, especially since I’ve already got the structure in place. So it’s not technology or process holding me back.

At Spiffy, the mobile, on-demand vehicle maintenance startup where I’m Chief Product Officer, we’ve had a customer referral program in place since before I got there (when Spiffy started, I was busy helping build another startup, which I eventually exited). The Spiffy referral program works great, but it’s a different…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com