When it comes to remodeling your home, a neighbor's good word has more influence than a roomful of Madison Avenue copywriters and K Street lobbyists combined. This is especially true in rural areas and vacation destinations, when out-of-town homeowners don't know where to turn for remodeling help and rely on the word-of-mouth network for recommendations.

For these out-of-town clients, Gary Stebnitz (Big50 1998) of Kustom Kitchen Designs in rural-yet-vacationy Delavan, Wis., mines the referral gold mine. His pickax, if you will, is some language in his sales contract — a simple paragraph that lets the company use the client's name, project, and testimonial in marketing and advertising.

Here's how it reads:

It is acknowledged that the Seller or its subcontractors may install a yard sign to facilitate delivery of materials as well as to advertise. The Seller reserves the right to photograph its work and to use those photographs for promotional purposes in brochures and in other advertising media. The Seller shall not advertise Purchaser name unless prior approval has been obtained from the Purchaser. We shall add Purchaser name to our current past client list to be provided to potential clients upon request as references.

Stebnitz sees two advantages to being up-front about the company's intentions. From the legal perspective, Kustom Kitchen Designs gets clear permission to market through clients during and after the job. He underscores the importance of having salespeople carefully review the language with clients. “Because we are using their names, I think it's important that we get their approval,” he says. Objections are rare.

From the marketing perspective, being able to point to past clients “lends credence to our company when we sell a job,” says Stebnitz. Prospects sometimes even call clients to dig deeper into their remodeling experience with the company. “It all comes together in making our close ratio better.”