[IMGCAP(1)]Referrals and word of mouth remain the strongest marketing tool for tax preparers and other professionals, and as the 2013 tax season looms, here are some valuable tips for preparers to use referrals in their practice:

Set a target: Set a clear goal with a time line. For example, a 10 percent increase in referral business over the next 10 weeks.

• Time it right: Give clients time to appreciate your tax prep experience and service. Ask for the referral immediately only if your client is delighted with your service. Give clients extra service and follow-up support before asking for referrals.

• Target your top tier: Find the top 20 percent of clients who are most happy with your tax prep and ask them for referrals. Also make sure their network is the type of client you want, and inform your referring clients of the type of customers you can help.

 Create rewards programs: Provide special rewards to your referring clients regularly. If a client provides you with five other clients, for instance, offer them a discount.

• Send thank-yous: Create a basic thank-you letter to send for each referral you receive.

• Use marketing collateral: Keep postcards and business cards on your desk, and give them out with a referral offer to all satisfied clients.

• Build your clientele: The more clients you have, the bigger the potential for referrals.

Create packages: Bundle services into a combination that is unique and that serves clients better than the average tax prep in your area.

• Have a program: Activate clients into finding potential referrals. Give them simple tools, such as a few sentences to use in a few referral situations. And be patient: Think trickle, rather than one tidal wave of a referral campaign. Keep it cheap to run and fast to do each time.

• Appreciate new clients: Every new client can bring more referrals.