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4 Easy ways to ask for referrals without asking for referrals

Table of ContentsUpdated Jan 29, 2014

One of the most common pieces of advice I see freelancers offering other freelancers is “get referrals.” That’s because it is one of the best pieces of advice there is.

Referrals are one of the best ways to get new clients. They are a chance at new business, with a warm introduction. Referrals are as good as gold.

They can also be very uncomfortable to ask for.

Maybe you have clients with friends that you’re dying to work for, but you know they are busy people that might not have time to refer you. Maybe you’ve asked them and don’t want to ask again, or maybe you just can’t bring yourself to start asking for referrals yet.  Does this mean you have to miss out on this amazing opportunity and forget about asking for referrals?

No way!

Check out this list of ways to ask for referrals, without ever really asking for them, and you will be rocking new business opportunities before you know it.

Have a business card people cannot resist showing others.

We’ve all seen these types of cards.

Whether it’s a super-clever design, some bit of humor or the ridiculously nice paper it’s printed on (okay, maybe not everyone gets excited about paper the way designers do,) if your card is amazing, people will feel naturally compelled to share it with every one they know.

Make it a gift they can give to friends; not a favour to ask of them.

Make a voucher or coupon good for a percent off or a free extra of some kind and next time your wrapping up a project give your client one and give them “one for a friend.”

Your clients can give a little gift to their friends and it doesn’t even feel like they are going out of their way to refer you.

Refer yourself.

Don’t wait for your clients to refer you; do it yourself. Tell your client you’re going to be reaching out to someone they know and ask if it would be alright if you tell them about your work together.

This takes the pressure off your client to come up with someone to refer you too and still gives you the advantage of a warm introduction and some credibility with the new client.

Set up passive referral templates

People are way more likely to share things that are written for them. Just like social icons on a blog will drastically increase the sharing rates, similar buttons can increase your referral rates.

Send out an email that your clients can easily forward on as a referral to people they think would make a good match. Another way to do this is set up a referral page on your website that has social and email links so people can easily send it off.

When you have a client that can’t stop singing your praises about a project you can always direct them to your referrals page to spread the love.

What are your best ideas for getting easy referrals?

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Written by Ben Brush

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Ben Brush is a graphic designer working and living in Nova Scotia.

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  1. This is really cool. I always felt super bad about asking directly, but now I see, there are approaches that are in a way more “adorable” and not even remotely annoying. Thank you for this!

  2. Ryan Tomlinson says:

    Great article Ben! Referrals are the life blood of my business right now. One simple thing I did was add a little line about referrals in my email signature and that has seemed to help a little as well. It is super small and not in the way of the rest of my signature but still there if you look.

  3. Very helpful…! thank you keep sharing!

  4. Gordon Powles says:

    Great article about using the power of referrals to gain more business. I have been Freelancing for over 13 years now and I would say that referrals have been the most effective.

    Another tip which might enhance the referral rate is to maybe offer some form of incentive. I have some contacts and clients who are business consultants and IT professionals and I offer them 10-20% commission on work received. It is a good way to tap into other peoples network of contacts. This does not need to be financial it could be helping them out with your time instead.

  5. Tanvir Hussain says:

    Good to know. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Oscar Valdes says:

    About “give them a business card they can’t wait to show off”: I’ve had an awesome reaction when I hand out a plastic business card I was experimenting with a printer and now I can’t wait to perfect it. Everyone I’ve handed this plastic card to has been in Awe and they look at it longer than any other business card I’ve handed them. One time, a client handed me back the plastic business card because I had given her husband a card as well, and this happened a few days after the event when I first met them. The more unique your business card is (not only design wise) the better the chance they keep and show off your work. It shows that you care about details. I”m in design (Since 2004) and print business (Since 2011).

  7. I liked your idea with business cards much – haven’t thought of it myself but seems a very great way to get references without even asking for them – wonderful chance for those who just start, you just have to be creative!

    1. Ben Brush says:

      Thanks Victoria.

      Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

  8. Pyramid Pixels says:

    Good points Ben,

    Thinking of the fact that how much time and effort (not to mention anxiety and stress) goes in finding a new client, referrals are definitely gold! I normally ask for testimonials but haven’t asked for referrals as such. I will have to work on that muscle for sure.

    1. Ben Brush says:


      Definitely give it a try. There’s nothing to lose with either asking the old fashioned way or some of these alternative approaches.

  9. Heather M Schiefer says:

    These are great! I’ve already implemented the referral page and plan on designing a pretty little voucher that could be emailed or sent via post. I already give out credit but my clients seem to forget about it. Thanks for this.

    1. Ben Brush says:

      I checked out your referrals page, it looks really great!

      It has such a fun casual approach. Let me know how it works for you.

  10. Richard van der Oost says:

    Great stuff! At this point, ALL my clients are through referrals, it’s very important and actually a very passive way of marketing.

    People like to tell stories, especially cool stories. So make their experience with you like a cool story, the way you communicate, your website, everything. Then they just WANT to tell others about you, because people like to show off or get approval/validation/attention by telling cool stories 😉

    1. Ben Brush says:

      Awesome point Richard.

      I like the idea of approaching it as creating an good story for people to tell.

      Thanks for your comment!

  11. The timing of this post is perfect.It’s like you read my mind. Wow ! The referral page is a unique idea, just might have to try that.

    1. Ben Brush says:

      Awesome, thanks for reading Amani!

      Let me know if you give it a try.