A referral program can be a powerful and cost-effective marketing tool. These programs are a type of word-of-mouth advertising in which you encourage employees or existing customers to recommend your business to new hire prospects or customers by handing out referral cards. Compelling referral cards are vital to both communicating your message and making a referral program even more effective.

Referral Cards Are Not Business Cards

Distinguish between a referral card and your standard business card, as these are not the same things. Dr. John Sullivan, an author, corporate speaker and talent-management expert, suggests that to make sure referral cards stand out, you make them slightly larger than a standard 3.5-inch by 2-inch business card. For example, a 3.5-inch by 4-inch referral card printed on 16-point heavyweight card stock is large enough to differentiate a referral card -- and make sure the recipient doesn’t file and forget about it -- without it being too large.

Layout and Design

In addition to varying the size, vary the color and the font style or use textured paper to further distinguish a referral card. Although you can design a card from scratch, templates available in your word processing or desktop publishing software program or on websites such as BusinessCardLand.com or Avery.com might be an easier option. For example, the Avery website has both blank and pre-designed templates as well as tutorial instructions for creating a card design. Include your slogan, contact information, a call to action and a value statement.

Ask for Immediate Action

Just as every sales presentation or advertisement should include a call to action, so should a referral card. As Dr. Sullivan notes, a well-crafted referral card should drive recipients to take immediate or near-immediate action. Effective action phrases can relate to speed or probability, or evoke an emotional response. For example, a new-hire referral card might include a statement such as, ““If you were directly handed this referral card, there is a 75 percent chance that you qualify for a position with our company.” A new customer referral card might promise a gift card or free product offer for visiting your store.

Include a Value Statement

A value statement, also known as a unique referral proposition, emphasizes how important referrals are to your business and may increase referral-based new hires or sales. According to referral marketing and business card expert Diana Ratliff, including a value statement not only increases the chance that customers will remember to recommend your business, but also increases the chance that the customer will recommend you over a competitor. A simple statement such as "Customer referrals are essential to our business; Please recommend us to your friends" is often more effective than a long dissertation.