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How to ask for referrals from your existing clients

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Referrals from existing clients are one of the most effective ways to generate new business. This is true across industries and business models. It is especially important, however, for web designers and other freelancers.

Getting web design clients or clients for your graphics, writing, SEO or other type of business depends largely on the issues of trust and credibility.

Every business has the challenge of how to get more clients. Let’s look at how and why to use client referrals for your success.

asking existing clients for referrals

Why are referrals from clients so crucial?

Before we look at how to get referrals, it’s worth looking at why this is so essential.

Referrals from clients build trust. One of your biggest challenges as a freelancer is building trust. If people haven’t heard of you, they need some indication that you are going to provide them with the quality of work they need.

Advertising is of limited effectiveness here, as this is just a business touting its own horn. Referrals, on the other hand, represent social proof.

Research, in fact, shows that people are two to three times more likely to be influenced by a referral compared to traditional advertising.

Referrals from clients are cost effective. Referrals are not only more effective than advertising, they are much cheaper. In fact, asking for referrals costs you nothing at all. In practice, of course, nothing that takes time is truly free.

Referrals from clients help you make more money. When you’re a web designer or any kind of freelancer, you obviously want more clients in order to earn more money. Referrals are one of the most effective ways to do this.

In many cases, referral clients are more likely to make larger purchases from you. This is because they start off with a higher than average level of trust. Since someone they already trust has recommended you, so they feel comfortable dealing with you. This helps your business grow faster.

Referrals motivate you to do your best. When you depend on referrals, you have an extra incentive to do your best. You want to live up to the expectations of your new customers.

You also want to be able to use your new customers for future referrals. This helps to motivate you to deliver the highest quality service to all of your customers, new and old.

How to get referrals from clients

One thing that some business owners don’t recognize is that most customers won’t provide referrals without being asked. Even the most satisfied customers will usually forget to refer you to friends or colleagues without being prompted.

That’s why asking for referrals is essential. You may be reluctant to do this, feeling perhaps that it’s being too forward. When done in the right way, however, it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Directly ask for a referral from clients. Don’t be shy or hesitant about it, even if you secretly feel a little uncomfortable. The fact is, most customers won’t refer you unless you specifically ask them to. It’s not that they don’t want to be helpful.

Most people are busy and distracted and it simply won’t occur to them unless you ask them directly.

Here are 4 easy ways to ask for referrals without asking for referrals.


Limit your requests to your best clients. It’s best to ask clients with whom you’ve developed some level of mutual trust. Asking for a referral when a new customer has just placed a small order is not as likely to yield the same results as asking someone for whom you’ve done multiple jobs.

Show gratitude. When you do get referrals from clients, be sure to thank the customer and show your gratitude with some gesture. At the very least, send them an email or call them. You might also give them a complimentary gift certificate as a thank you.

Develop a referral system

While it’s fine to simply ask for referrals from clients at your own pace, it’s even better if you do it more systematically. As your business grows, you’ll find it gets more difficult to keep track of your client referral requests. There are some ways to automate the process of asking for referrals from clients.

1. Put it on your calendar. Whether you keep track of your appointments and tasks with a smartphone app or an old school notebook, put referral requests into your calendar. Just as you would schedule an actual job, schedule in “ask Customer X for a referral.”

You can also automate the process of asking for referrals using a software like MailChimp to follow up via email.

2. Provide incentives. In addition to thanking people and sending them gifts, you could set up an actual rewards system. This might include a certain percentage of profits on money spend by new clients.

3. Create special referral material that existing clients can share. This could be a business card or pamphlet or something in digital format such as an email template. This makes it simpler for clients, as they only have to hand out or forward something that you created for them.

There really isn’t any secret formula for how to ask for referrals from clients. The challenge is to turn this into a regular business practice.

When you do this, you’ll find that your client base grows faster and that clients come to you with a high level of trust!

What other tips do you have for asking for referrals? Share them with us in the comments.

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Written by Sally Smith

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Sally Smith is a writer with years of background in marketing communication. She enjoys meeting new people and reading more books to be inspired for her own book. At the moment, she writes for Orange Digital, a web design company in Brisbane.

Sally's Articles

Reviewed & edited by Preston Lee, Editor at Millo.

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  1. Joey & Johnny says:

    Hi Sally,

    This is a good read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it and we learned a lot 🙂

  2. This is all so helpful! Such a great tip to add it to the calendar/workflow of asking the client for a referral (if it was a great client). Thank you!

    1. Sally Smith says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Mariah. It’s best to ask for referrals from clients whom you’ve developed some level of mutual trust. But you can start with a very simple way of doing by asking for it any time the clients give you compliments 😉 Good luck.

  3. robert damilola says:

    thats some great stuff i just read. i was discussing this with my client support manager this morning. we will put this into use. Thanks Sally Smith, you rock

    1. Sally Smith says:

      Robert – Thanks for reading. That is awesome! Let me know how it works.

  4. Hey Sally,

    I enjoyed reading your article. Do you have any advice on how to ask a client for referrals a second time? I already asked, but they never did refer anyone and I know they have a lot of contacts. I’m wondering how to approach it again (the first time was probably over a year ago)

    Also, what kind of rewards system do you use? I’m wondering what kind of incentive would encourage more referrals.


    1. Sally Smith says:

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for reading. Well, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with asking for referrals a second time. Most people generally only ask once. Certainly, asking once is better than not asking at all. But you have more opportunities if you ask twice right?

      But the point is you have to make sure to do it right. As I said, it’s best to ask for referrals from clients whom you’ve developed some level of mutual trust. You will also have to make sure that you had delivered exceptional service and that the clients were happy. If so, I suggest you send your clients an email. I suggest you craft your email really well, making sure it will not waste someone’s time by keeping it short and sweet, introduce yourself, initiate small talks, and ask them, making sure though that you mention incentive. Please don’t forget to give them a way out, in case they don’t feel comfortable giving a referral. Simply say something like “Feel free to say no – I won’t be offended in any way.”

      For incentivization, I usually offer discount (%), but there are many more concrete way of saying thanks. It could be gift card, free business card design, small client gifts, etc.

      Good luck!