As a small business owner, you’ve got a lot on your plate. With so many different hats to wear, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get your best customers to do your marketing for you?

If only it were that easy, right?

The truth is your customers may be more likely to get involved than you think.

Consider what their reaction would be to a brand ambassador program.

This may sound complicated, but in reality, it’s just a simple way to get your biggest fans to contribute in small ways to help your business succeed.

This could involve something small like having customers tell friends about you or talk about your business online. Or could be something more involved like having customers write posts on your blog or participate in upcoming events.

If you’re still thinking an ambassador program sounds like a lot of work, check out  how one small business did it.

And to help you get started, here’s a five-step breakdown of how to start a program for your business.

1. Set up goals

It’s important to start by thinking specifically about how your fans can help you. The beauty of an ambassador program is that you can tailor it to what actually works for you. This will keep the program structured and focused, give you great value, and will actually make your ambassadors happier and more motivated in the long run.

Here are a few examples of goals to consider:

  • Get more online engagement
  • Find new customers
  • Create more marketing content

Once you have a specific goal in mind, think about the types of activities that could help you reach it.

For example, if you’re looking for new customers, having ambassadors attend relevant events to pass out brochures could be helpful. Or if you’re trying to create more marketing content, you can encourage ambassadors to write blog posts or testimonials.

The most important thing to remember is to approach your goals in a way that feels authentic, personal, and a good fit for your brand.

2. Recruit a small group

Start by gauging interest with a few people who are fans of your company.

Consider asking the following questions:

  • Would you be interested in writing a testimonial for us?
  • Would you like to share stuff on social media?
  • What other types of activities would you like to be involved in as an ambassador?

You’ll find that you can easily get a sense of what people would do on your behalf simply by asking. You can send a simple email to some top customers or enthusiastic fans and tell them you’re thinking about launching an ambassador program. Or ask them in person. Often people are so flattered to even be asked that they’re happy to offer an opinion and get involved.

Of course, many businesses are unsure of who their best advocates would be.

A simple way to recruit a small group of ambassadors is to put a form on your website or social media pages. You can also ask people to apply via a survey in your email newsletter.

Include a few questions like:

  • Why do you want to be an ambassador for our business?
  • Why would you make a good ambassador? Which types of marketing activities would you like to participate in?

Then you can select the ambassadors that fit your needs and create an elite and enthusiastic community.

3. Create a community

You’re going to get a lot more engagement and participation if ambassadors can see what their peers are doing, get inspiration from others, and communicate with each other.

Your ambassadors aren’t necessarily doing enormous tasks on your behalf, but the combined effort of people who truly care doing a few things a month can really add up, particularly because these are people who authentically believe in your business.

You can create a sense of community by hosting an event or party for ambassadors to meet each other. You can also use a tool like Upward Labs to suggest activities for ambassadors, communicate with them, and allow them to interact with each other.

4. Recognize and reward

When companies hear the word “reward,” money is often the first thing that comes to mind. This sounds expensive and unsustainable, but the first rule of rewards for ambassador programs is:

You don’t have to reward ambassadors with money!

Oftentimes, the non-monetary rewards go the furthest. You could:

  • Invite your ambassadors to try out a new product first
  • Feature ambassadors on your website or social media
  • Offer some free product
  • Give them swag (that also helps advertise your product) like t-shirts, bags, or hats
  • Invite ambassadors to a special event

5. Measure and optimize

It’s important to see what’s working each month, and optimize according to what’s engaging your ambassadors and giving you results.

This could mean taking a look at what your ambassadors are doing most often. If they love to share on social media, then give them more opportunities to do so.

Or you may want to send out a short survey to ambassadors after a few months to ask which activities they enjoy most and if they have any additional ideas.

If you concentrate on what’s working and also introduce new activities to keep ambassadors engaged, you’ll have a continuously successful program.

Now it’s your turn

Start by thinking about a business or marketing goal you’re trying to achieve.

Next, brainstorm a list of activities that ambassadors could do to help you achieve that goal.

When you’re ready, you can start reaching out to potential ambassadors and get your program off the ground.

Before you know it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t kick this off earlier!

Ali Hyatt leads marketing and product for Upward Labs, which creates software for businesses to build and manage brand ambassador programs to drive customer engagement and increase revenue and reach. Upward Labs is a current resident in Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation Loft.