Get Them Talking

Tired of trying to round up new customers on your own? Go online and start yelping for referrals.

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One good referral is worth dozens of unqualified prospects. So San Francisco spa and yoga studio International Orange is happy to have found a wellspring of qualified leads at Yelp.com, a local internet search site. Yelp lets people search for local businesses in communities across the U.S., sorting results by the number and quality of customer reviews that businesses get. Reviewers, or "yelpers," rate businesses using one to five stars and build reputations of their own—hopefully graduating to the Yelp Elite Squad.

"Yelp has turned out to be a really good match for us," says Amy Darland, 32-year-old co-founder and managing partner of International Orange, which expects $3 million in sales this year. Darland opened the spa in 2002 with Melissa Ferst and Kary Chendo, both 34.

The relationship with Yelp began about two years ago, when Yelp staffers noticed International Orange had both the highest ratings and the most reviews (204 at last count) of any local spa. They suggested the owners buy keyword searches, and Darland estimates that International Orange now spends $500 each month to buy keyword searches on Yelp. "Yelp has been one of our most effective investments in terms of value," says Darland. "I am getting great clients for what I am paying."

International Orange also benefits from its association with Yelp by providing a meeting place for the Yelp Elite Squad, which encourages Yelp reviewers to meet outside cyberspace. The most recent get-together included nearly 200 people and brought more clients into the spa in a couple of hours than it normally handles in an entire day. "There was a line around the block," notes Darland.

Yelp also offers a forum for customer feedback that International Orange takes very seriously. After recently changing its sign-in and overflow policies for yoga classes, it received a flurry of negative feedback on Yelp. The spa adjusted its policies immediately.

"It’s a system of checks and balances, and part of the service [is] to openly invite critique," says Darland. "Taking this online helps us act quickly."

—By Heather Clancy, a freelance journalist and consultant, has been covering the high-tech industry for close to 20 years. Reach her at hccollins@mac.com.

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