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How to Ask for Referrals for Your Education Program

Nic Lyons

March 10, 2023

Imagine students eagerly enrolling in your program without any significant marketing efforts on your part. It is possible, if you do one thing: learn how to ask for referrals.

Referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations are some of the most powerful marketing tools you have. In fact, 81% of people say they trust the advice of friends and family over the word of a business. By encouraging students to talk about your classes to their networks, you can build a steady stream of high-quality leads who may become loyal students. 

When your students recommend a class to their friends and family, it’s not only an affirmation of your program. It’s also a way to increase engagement and build a sense of community among peers. We’ll share some tips on how to ask for referrals, as well as how to use them as part of your overall marketing strategy.

What Are Referrals? 

A referral is an endorsement or suggestion about a product or experience. If you’ve ever asked a friend where you should get your car inspected or where to go for a haircut, you’ve seen referrals in action. They work because they come from people we trust. 

Referrals can be informal, such as a friend casually mentioning a great class they took or their positive experience at a new dentist. They can also be formal, through organized programs that incentivize current students to refer their friends and family. 

Why Are Referrals a Good Marketing Tool? 

Referrals are persuasive for a few key reasons. First, when someone receives a recommendation from a family member or a friend, that referral feels more credible and reliable than any marketing message. We tend to be skeptical of ads and sales campaigns, but when we hear an endorsement from someone we know, we’re more trusting. 

A referral from family or friends feels more credible and reliable than any marketing message.

Second, when someone gives a referral, they’re essentially putting their own reputation on the line. The person they’re talking to knows they genuinely believe in the quality of the product or experience they’re recommending. 

Lastly, referrals build community and belonging. When a new student enrolls in a class based on a recommendation from someone they know, they’re more likely to feel confident and comfortable from the outset. They might even share connections with other students in the class, which helps build your community. 

How to Ask for Referrals 

Asking for referrals can feel awkward and self-promotional. It can help to reframe this in your mind. You’re not using your existing students to sell your classes, you’re encouraging them to share their experience with others who might enjoy it.

Here are some ways to ask for referrals: 

1. Include a “send to a friend” prompt in promotional emails

This prompts recipients to consider other people who may be interested in your classes. Here are some suggestions for wording: 

Know someone who might love this class? Forward them this email!

Refer a friend or Share with friends. 

Refer a friend and get 10% off your next registration! 

This last suggestion attaches a reward to a successful referral. This kind of incentive makes it more likely that people will forward the email. Use an eye-catching graphic for this section of the email so that people don’t skim over it. 

2. Partner with a business

If your program has a close relationship with a local business, such as an art supply store where your students can buy the items they need for your classes, ask them if they’d be willing to form a referral partnership. 

You’ll agree to mention their business as a place to buy art supplies, and that business will recommend your program to any customer who seems like a good fit for your classes. You could also ask the business if they’d consider putting a promotional flyer in customers’ bags, or posting course marketing materials at their checkout. 

3. Get listed by an association or professional organization

If you provide continuing education classes for medical support staff, consider partnering with a professional society made up of those staffers. Almost every industry has an array of professional associations, organizations, and societies that support people in those fields. See if you can get your courses on their recommendation list or have your program listed as an approved partner. 

4. Set up a formal referral program

Incentivize your current and past students to refer others by offering rewards such as promo codes, early registration to popular classes, or gift cards. Rewarding a referral with a high-value item will help your students keep the idea top of mind. 

If you do implement a formal referral program, make sure to track its metrics to see what’s working and where you can make adjustments. You may find that there are times of the year when people are more likely to make referrals, or that running short promotional events prompts more referrals. Find what works best for your community and your program. 

5. Host bring-a-friend events

There’s no better referral than one that gives a prospective student a real-time glimpse into your program. Encourage your students to bring along a friend to a class so they can experience your program first-hand. You might offer a couples class, parent-and-child class, or multigenerational class. Highlight group registration options and mention any deals for signing up more than one person.

6. Encourage digital referrals 

Make sure your program has a Google Business and Yelp profile, and ask your students to share their experiences there. You can ask instructors to mention those profiles during class or send request-for-feedback emails after the class is over.

On your website, make it easy for people to share your program’s information by providing easy-to-use referral tools. For example, you can include a share button on your online class catalog so people can easily pass on the information to others.

Referrals Really Work

The best thing about referrals is that they often build on each other. A person might refer your program to two friends. One of those takes the class, loves it, and tells everyone in their book club about it. Three members of that book club check it out for themselves and also spread the word. That one referral has turned into half-a-dozen new students for your program. 

Referrals are a powerful way to grow your program without spending a cent on formal marketing.

In short, a single referral can cause a cascading effect, drawing more and more people into your network. That’s a powerful way to grow your program without spending a cent on formal marketing. 

Make sure students can easily find and register for the courses their friends are talking about. CourseStorm’s registration software makes registration easy and offers tools for promo codes, email marketing, and course catalogs. Start your free trial today or contact us to learn more. 

It Pays to Make a Referral

CourseStorm customers say, “It’s so easy to use!” “Feels like a dream!” and “Our enrollment went up when we switched to CourseStorm.” If you know an organization that would benefit from our impossibly simple class registration software, refer them to us! Both you and the organization you refer will earn $250 when they launch their new CourseStorm site. Find out more and make a referral here.

Nic Lyons

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.

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