Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 6: Not asking for referrals

This post is part 5 of a series. Read the rest of the series here:
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 1: Not signing a contract
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 2: Allowing a discount
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 3: Burning bridges

Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 4: Working for family

Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 5: Missing deadlines

Happy Monday! Today, we continue our series: Common Mistakes Designers Make With Clients. Today’s addition is one that I have always felt very strongly about. It’s a tactic that has built my design business quickly over the last years: asking for referrals.

What’s the big deal?

So what’s the problem with not asking your current clients for referrals? Here’s why it’s a critical mistake that any designer should avoid:

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  • Asking for referrals is the easiest way to find new clients.
    Of all the different ways I have tried to find new design clients (and believe me, I have tried a lot of them), asking for referrals is perhaps the easiest way to get great new clients.


    Because in asking for referrals from your current clients, you’re showing that you are proactive and value their opinion. If you time it right (See the ‘when and how’ section below), you can take advantage of the great work you’ve done for your client and get more than just a paycheck out of the deal.

    I say it’s the easiest way to find new clients because even if only 1 out of every 5 clients gives you a decent referral, that’s still a much higher rate than cold calling, maximizing SEO on your portfolio site, or any other common way of finding new clients.

  • A referral gives you a foot in the door.
    Secondly, a referrals gives you a starting place with your potential new client.

    Instead of starting from scratch and making up some reason why you’re contacting them, it’s easy to say something like “Your friend Larry from Larry’s Construction mentioned you’ve been looking for a designer to help you get your business off the ground.”

    This gives you an immediate ‘in’ with your potential client and breaks the ice quickly and easily. Of course, you’ll want to make sure ‘Larry’ knows that you plan to use his name when contacting a referral. Otherwise you’re as bad as those door-to-door salesmen who won’t leave you alone until you give them the name and house number of someone else who they can go torment.

  • Referrals are a great way to stay in touch with former clients.
    Lastly, (but I’m sure there are more reasons, please share your reasons in the comments) referrals are a great way to follow up with old clients.

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    Imagine, for example, that Larry (remember him?) gives you a referral and says that his dentist Susan is looking for a nice new web site.

    After contacting Susan and moving forward with a project, call Larry back to thank him for the referral. He’ll likely be happy it worked out for you both and such excitement may even encourage him to refer you to future opportunities.

    Staying in touch with past clients is a great way to bring in steady business and referrals give you a great excuse to send an email or make a quick phone call to any of your previous clients who offered successful referrals.

When and how to ask for referrals

Okay, so I’ve explained why it’s important to ask for referrals, but when and how should you go about doing it?

Each designer should find their own way of doing it successfully, but here’s how I usually do it:

Once a project is completed, take every precaution to make sure your client is happy with the outcome of the project. An angry client will never give you a referral. (PS – this is why it’s important to not burn bridges as we mentioned in part 3 of this series. My favorite comment on Part 3 post came from Laura who said: “That client might have been a bear to work with, but they may have five really nice friends that aren’t.” Genius, Laura.)

After you’ve made sure they are pleased with the outcome of the project, then is the moment to ask for a referral. About 25% of the time, when I ask at that moment of the project, clients are willing to offer a referral and I gladly take it. The timing also happens to work out perfectly because just as one project is being finished up is the time I start looking for another project to fill the void.

Do you ask for referrals?

How do you do it? Does it work well for you? Share your thoughts on this post with me in the comments and let’s chat!

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  1. @Nathan, that’s a good question that I was wondering myself. How do you actually go about asking for new leads? What do you say or at least how do you start?

    Although I am still somewhat of a baby boomer myself, I like to learn relevant information early on. That way, I have time to polished up my skills by the time I come to that bridge, and can cross over it, no sweat.

  2. When you ask for referrals, are you just asking for the client to recommend you to their colleagues etc or do you ask for actual contacts?

    If it’s the latter, how exactly do you ask for other people’s details?


  3. I have and I haven’t asked for referrals.

    I did up until I was getting too many new leads and wanted to work less.

    But I agree totally – take control of all of your marketing and don’t just leave it up to fate. Take control when you can and asking for referrals is something YOU can control.

    Good stuff Preston. Looking forward to checking out the rest of this series.

    Kenn Schroder

    Blog + Report + Free Chapter to help you get web design clients.

  4. I have read your previous part of this post and i appreciate your contribution towards guidance and make an awareness to designers. Really useful things you have shared here. Thanks for it, and i am looking for a guidance about web designers value and what are aspects and future of web designers in the next few years.

  5. I always try to work referral requests into three areas: the initial meeting, midway through after receiving great feedback, and of course at the end of a successful project. It’s a great way to set expectations and get your client thinking.

    1. @Brian Shively,
      That’s a great point! I usually only ask at the end, but if you ask at the beginning and in the middle too, your client will be thinking about it the whole time so that when you reach the end of the project, they’ll be more likely to have someone to send your way.

      Great advice! Thanks for sharing, Brian.

  6. it seems that we are pretty used to screw up on a lot of little details tht would come up with some awesome results.

    almost all the job I have now is from referals, or resellers, witch is not the best work I can have but it keeps me bussy and keep the income flowing, witch is good, and yet I have the time to take some good and big projects.

    great post

    Haven’t had the time to comment since my business is growing and we are bussy.

    Later on I will start a blog just about UX on spanish and I will start my personal Design blog in english, yet I can’t figure out a good Niche for that blog.

    1. @Raul Salazar,
      I’m glad to hear that business is so busy that you haven’t even had time to comment lately on the blog! Clearly you’re doing something right (And maybe Millo is helping a little too?)


      Best of luck with your upcoming projects and blogs.

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