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How one small business cultivates a client base from referrals 



In the beauty industry, referrals are everything. People don’t trust just anyone with their hair, makeup, or skin—which is why businesses like Botanica Skin and Brow Studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, rely on referrals to keep their client list growing. “I want other clients that are like my clients who are already coming, and the best way to do that is referrals,” owner Kristin Near said. 

But how exactly do you get referrals? Building a business on word-of-mouth alone takes time, and it pays to be patient. But there are several steps you can take as a business owner to inspire customers to refer your business to their network. Think of it like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs—or in Kristin’s case, planting seeds—that show customers you care about their experience and keep reviews top of mind. 

“Start planting all those little seeds wherever you are,” Kristin said. “If you’re getting a pedicure, or you’re online, or you’re at work, every little thing you do can grow your business. It’s not all gonna be instantaneous or tomorrow. But little by little, all those little efforts that you make and the buzz and the word of mouth and the website and social media—it all works together and eventually it just starts happening.”

Below, Kristin shares some of the seeds she plants to grow the ultimate prize: a new, loyal customer. Follow along to learn how to cultivate long-lasting customer relationships for your business.

1. Training staff to provide outstanding experiences

Staff training is the foundation of Botanica’s growing client list. Without exceptional customer experiences, existing clients would never come back—let alone refer a business to their trusted friends. By curating her staff as carefully as she does her treatments and products, Kristin can ensure every customer receives the level of personal attention she herself provides.

In addition to the 600 hours of schooling and final exams estheticians must complete to become licensed in New Mexico, Botanica has its own set of rigorous standards for employees. “We require an internship regardless of experience—at least three weeks to three months—where I can really see whether it’s gonna work out. And sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s okay,” Kristin said. 

Rather than seek rapid growth by lowering her staffing standards, Kristin chooses to put in the extra time and effort that results in a uniform experience that leads to happy customers every time—and creates an environment where customers feel inspired to pay it forward with a referral or review.

Take this Yelp review from Botanica customer Beth C., who received a glowing recommendation from a friend: “I found Botanica because my friend gave me a gift certificate. She said that Kristin was the best at brows, and she goes to her regularly. Larissa, who I had as my technician, is also a Reiki healer, so I’m pretty sure that’s why I left feeling amazing as well. Her presence was so natural and inviting. And she just knew exactly what she was doing and made me feel super comfortable.”

In Beth’s case, Botanica’s knowledgeable and trustworthy staff made all the difference. She had such a positive experience with her technician that she felt compelled to review Botanica on Yelp and mention Larissa by name. And reviews like Beth’s will keep on giving: Many small businesses use positive reviews to inspire and motivate their team to create even more memorable customer experiences. 

2. Engaging with customers online

As the adage goes, it takes at least eight touchpoints to make a sale. Potential customers will interact with your business many times before finally choosing to book an appointment—and in the digital age, many of these interactions take place online.

“It used to be old school. I was walking through the mall, handing out my card 20 years ago,” Kristin said. “Now you’re posting it on Nextdoor or somebody mentions you on Yelp or Facebook. There’s so many ways that people can refer people… It’s a little bit from everywhere. It’s not always just, ‘I found you on Yelp,’ or ‘My sister comes here.’ It can be two or three of those little connections equals a customer. Because if they hear about you more than once, then they come in.”

Referrals can start as small, word-of-mouth exchanges and snowball into larger conversations. Each touchpoint primes Botanica’s customers—for example, Beth’s friend buying her a gift card and making a recommendation ultimately paved the way for Beth to review the business. As the business owner, Kristin does her best to engage with customers online so that when they make it to Botanica, they already have a positive association with the business. 


Two or three of those little connections equals a customer. Because if they hear about you more than once, then they come in.

Kristin Near, owner of Botanica Skin and Brow Studio

Another important step Botanica takes to facilitate online conversations is responding to reviews. After a service is complete, taking time to thank and listen to customers who leave reviews can remind them of what they liked about your business and even inspire them to refer others. 

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that this person took time out of their day,” Kristin said. “People can say all day long, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write you a review. I promise.’ But for somebody to actually do it, we’ll acknowledge that because it took their time and their effort, and it means a lot.” 

3. Prioritizing relationships over sales 

When you want a customer to refer your business, building relationships is more important than making a sale. At Botanica, people will often come in with preconceived notions about products or services that they saw online. But instead of selling them on something that might harm their skin, Botanica focuses on client education and tailored support—even if it means directing a client toward a business that can better meet their needs. 

“We definitely focus on the person,” Kristin said. “We don’t just jump right into products and selling because it’s just like any relationship. It takes a little time. You can read people and learn or ask: “Why are you here? What can I help you with?” Some folks will say: “I want a product, I read about this product, I wanna take home a system.” And so we’ll get right to it. But then there are others where it’s more about the experience and building trust.”

Many estheticians offer lotions, serums, and other beauty products for sale. But the hard sell some customers have come to expect from other studios just isn’t Kristin’s style, and she believes that her soft-sell strategy pays off in the end.

“When you’re selling someone too much, it can be a turn off, even if they were into it at the time,” she said. “We want people to really be interested in maintaining their results at home. That’s what we’re doing. We want them to keep coming in, and we want things to be progressively looking better.”

As someone who’s often overwhelmed by the price and complexity of skin care, Beth appreciated this sales approach. “[Botanica] kept it very simple, straightforward, and everything felt very natural,” she said. “I didn’t feel forced to buy any products after. They just showed me what I could potentially buy if I wanted to. And I went ahead and bought a new lotion to try on my face.”

Interviews by Emily Washcovickphotos of Botanica Skin and Brow Studio on Yelp


These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Kristin and Beth, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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