How to Ask for Referrals: 6 Creative Tactics Your Clients Will Love

How to Ask for Referrals: 6 Creative Tactics Your Clients Will Love

You’ve heard it before: referrals are “warmer” than a typical lead. They’re the fastest way to grow your new business. Referrals are more receptive to buy and need a shorter sales cycle. We know, we know. Getting clients to refer you is gold.

But how do we encourage referrals in a way that feels natural and non-spammy?

First and foremost: “Do work that warrants being talked about,” says Jessica Manuszak, founder of copywriting studio Verve & Vigour. If you don’t, “Asking someone to refer you to their friends is sort of like asking someone to like you. If it doesn’t happen naturally, things can get sleazy and uncomfortable in a hurry.”

Manuszak says that nearly 100 percent of her clientele comes through referrals, “No joke.”

Once you’ve established that you are, in fact, doing good work, it’s time to pull from our creative list of ideas that will encourage happy clients to pass along your name.

Before we jump into that list, know that the first step to getting referrals is to ask. In writing this article, it dawned on me, the Queen of Self Promotion, that while I always ask clients for a testimonial, I never ask for a reference.

But those references are more important for growth than testimonials on your website. So go through your client roster, write an email and ask them to refer you. If you want that email to actually result in a referral, read on!

1. Tell them exactly how

To avoid making a previous client feel like a glorified salesperson, give specific instructions on how to refer you.

For example, I once worked with a coach who I knew my friends would love. When I mentioned this to her, she wrote up the “pitch” for me. She didn’t stop there: she included a gorgeous one-sheeter that explained her services and a few social media templates and a discount code for my friends. All I had to do was forward her email to the right people. I hadn’t thought to share on social media, but since she provided pre-written tweets I figured, why not? She got five new clients from my one email.

To do this, write an email to your client as if she’s a potential client. Explain the benefits of your services, how to hire you and any discounts if applicable. This way, all she has to do is forward your email. If you have any supporting documents like a sales page, coupon or portfolio, attach it. Include easy ways to share on social media if you’re comfortable.

2. Time your request

It’s often thought that the best time to ask for a referral is right after your work is complete. But: 

[bctt tweet=”Any time the client gives you compliments is a great time to ask for a referral.”]

Just got good feedback halfway through a client project? Now’s the time to respond, “That’s so nice, thank you! If you know anyone else who needs an ebook written, send ’em my way. I’d love to work with another client just like you.”

I’ve also heard that clients are thinking most about your work at the beginning of a project. Just last week I suggested a friend get in touch with my chosen branding agency, even though I’d only had one meeting with them so far. My excitement about finally starting this project was infectious, and a few days later my friend hired them too.

3. Incentivize

While your work should speak for itself, everyone loves a gift! So incentivization can produce big results. Past clients especially might need a bigger nudge to do some peddling on your behalf.

For example, you could offer, “I loved writing your sales page. It looks like you’re still going strong, congratulations! I’m back on the freelance circuit and really loved working with you and would love to find more projects like yours. If you know of any other scuba instructors, please send them my way. For every new client I get because of you, you get a $50 Amazon gift card.”

Manuszak of Verve & Vigour offers an affiliate program where anyone can earn credit towards a copywriting package of their choice. The program is front and center in her website’s navigation, which takes pressure off Manuszak to ask individually for referrals.

Incentives can include cold, hard cash, a small gift, flowers, a charitable donation, or a discount on your services. You can get really creative, or ask clients what sort of reward they would enjoy. I love this tactic because you’re doing double duty: getting advice while planting the idea of referrals.

Plus, an affiliate program that’s highlighted on your website can encourage referrals from people you might not have thought to ask.

4. Say “thank you”

Even if it’s just a quick email, don’t forget to acknowledge referrals when you get them. I haven’t always been thanked for referring clients and it puts me off a little bit when it happens.

Be thoughtful in thanking clients who refer you. A gorgeous, personalized card will go a long way towards making that referral happen again and again. Bonus points if you call out what you really love about your new client. “Your referral, Cindy, is such a sweetheart. I’m so excited to start running her blog, it’s the perfect combination of my skills, and I have you to thank!”

5. Overachieve

This goes hand-in-hand with “doing good work,” but I want to separate out the idea of overachieving because it involves doing work for free.

I’m about to launch a new service, and wasn’t entirely sure how it should be structured. Someone hired me before I had the chance to iron everything out, so I gave her an incredibly low rate. Once the work was done, she asked how much it would cost to do a review in another week. I did it for free. When she emailed again asking a few follow-up questions, I didn’t do my usual, “that’s another session we’ll need to set up a proper phone call.” I spent a ton of time giving her my best advice.

I wasn’t undervaluing my services or trying to underbid the competition; I was practicing my craft while also building up enormous goodwill with my first-ever client.

Afterwards, she gushed over how generous I was with my time, shared my website on social media, referred me to her friends and left a glowing review. While usually I feel like this type of behavior gets me in trouble, if you’re just starting out, going above and beyond without haggling over cost is a great way to leave a client glowing.

6. Stay in touch

If you ask a client for a referral, they might not know anyone who needs your services just this second, and it’s easy to forget your request. The best way to stay top of mind when the time is right is to keep talking to them. You can occasionally check in to see how they’re doing or email a helpful article related to their business. You can also provide advice and resources through a blog, newsletter or social media. If your old clients are subscribed, you’ll be top-of-mind any time a service like yours comes up in conversation.

A quick reminder: referrals can come from other sources besides previous clients. Other writers who can’t take on a project might send clients your way, as may other freelancers who aren’t in your field. I have a magical web developer who I work with on some projects, and we send each other referrals all the time. Building symbiotic relationships go a long way and the above tips apply to all people, not just previous clients.

How do you encourage referrals? I’m sure there are tons more creative tactics and I’d love to see a collection of them in the comments!

Filed Under: Freelancing


  • Excellent Work in article it’s a very helpful for me thank to share this info.

  • Josh Slone says:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few referrals and they usually act like the client that referred them (which is mostly a good thing).

    Meaning, you can typically except them to treat you the same (e.g. fast payments, communication, etc.).

    I will use this to recreate some of those winners in my portfolio.

  • My business was built on like 85-90% referrals and very little actual pitching. It’s been great so far and now I can’t keep up with it, so I’m going to have to cut some clients. It’s hard, but it’s a good problem to have.

  • I just LOVE these ideas!

    The one thing I would add with regard to overachieving on new services is to be sure the first client realizes you are going above and beyond. This can be done by reiterating how grateful you are for the opportunity and saying, “I wanted to make sure to give you extra bang for your buck because you were so kind as to give me this chance to try something new.”

    Otherwise, the person they refer to you may expect the same deal, and it’s very awkward if they don’t get it. Let’s face it: You can’t give away work for free forever, or even for very long.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Great point, Trish. I’m sure no one wants to admit when they’re doing something new for a client or just landing their first client – but clear communication with the client at times like this can be crucial for long-term success!

      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa Rowan
      TWL Editor

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