How to Ask for Referrals and Get More Clients

Overcome your fear with these simple tips

Two business people talking in restaurant
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While referrals have long been one of the top ways to grow your business, entrepreneurs are relying more and more on their network for resources over more traditional marketing tactics. As a result, developing a referral system in your marketing plan is key to success.

Many of those running their own businesses don't bother with referrals. Maybe they assume their clients will pass along good word of mouth about them. Or perhaps they find asking for referrals uncomfortable. The problem with not proactively asking for referrals is that they're missing out on one of the most effective and affordable ways to get more clients.

More Sales from Referrals

Referral leads cost less to generate and convert to more sales.

If you want to save your marketing dollars and increase your response rate, then you need to develop a referral program. Here's how:

Referral Request Mindset

The first thing you have to do to get in the habit of asking for referrals is to overcome your fear. You can do so in the following ways:

  • Remember that most people like to help other people if there is no negative cost to them.
  • Remind yourself that the worst that can happen is that the client says, "No." That's not too terrible, is it?
  • Avoid the awkward segue by making a referral ask a part of your project routine. With most projects, there's a final meeting with the client, a perfect time to ask for a referral.

Choose Your Referral Request Method

A study from Amplifinity showed the request method that produced the best results was the verbal referral, at a 32% success rate. Other options include using a lead form, email, business cards, sharable link, and social media. Note that while social media may feel easier to do, it's also the least effective, converting at a measly 1%. 

This study shows that a verbal referral is best, but that doesn't mean you can't use the other forms as well. Referral requests can be a part of your email and social media marketing campaigns. With that said, if you see your clients or customers in person or speak with them on the phone, you should ask them for referrals.

Use a Script for Referral Request

Until asking for a referral has become a habit and you are comfortable with it, write yourself a script to follow. Remember, you're not making an Oscar acceptance speech here. When you ask for a referral, be sincere, direct, and brief. For example:

"I'm really glad that you're pleased with my work. I'm always looking to help others with ______ (what you provide) and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do)."

While the direct ask for names is the most effective, you can offer several of your business cards for your client to share with others.

"I'm so glad that you're pleased with my work. I'd really appreciate it if you'd pass my name along to anyone else you know who would be interested in _____________ (what you do). May I leave these extra business cards with you?"

When you've made the ask, pause to see what they say. Some people will offer names, others will say, "Yes, maybe," and not offer any further information. Some will say, "No," but at least you tried.

If they do offer names, take the names down and ask the person if they mind if you contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them. If they don't offer names, ask if you can leave them some additional business cards that they can pass along.

If your clients say no to giving you a referral but they are receiving your emails or following you on social media, this is where your referral campaigns can help. For example, a person might not be comfortable giving you names but would forward an email or share social media with their network.

Tips for Asking for Referrals

When asking for a referral, there are a few best practices that can increase your chances of success.

  • Always ask for referrals face to face. It's not only more respectful of your clients, but also tends to be more successful. People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. It is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are uncommon or very difficult. For instance, a website designer may create a website for a client on the other side of the country.
  • Consider offering an incentive for successful referrals. Monetary rewards, such as a gift card, can be an effective incentive for referrals that lead to sales. Other options include a discount or merchandise. 
  • Never ask for a referral when presenting a bill. You don't want your client to feel like you're asking for too much.
  • The time that you're asking for referrals is also an excellent time to ask a client for a testimonial. This short, written endorsement of your company and your work can be used on yourwebsite and in other marketing materials such as brochures.

Don't expect anyone to write a testimonial for you on the spot; either leave them a printed card or form that they can use or ask them to email it to you.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don't let nerves or fear get in the way of building your business. Referrals will get you more clients, and the more referrals you ask for, the more referrals you'll get. In fact, while most people make only one referral, 34% of people make two to 10 referrals. Imagine, getting two or more new clients simply by asking a happy client or customer? That's the power of referrals.