The referral-grabbing tips of successful freelance designers

Marketing is a hassle, especially for designers. Usually we like to focus more on the design part of our business and less on the business part. We don’t particularly enjoy marketing tasks, but we are forced to do it or we won’t gain clients.

What if I told you there was an easy marketing tactic to get repeat business?

You would probably say I’m crazy, but I’m not.

Several businesses have been using referrals to generate consistent clients and it’s easier than most people think. Use these tips below to create a referral-based business.

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If you have any other tips you want to add, I’d love to read and respond to your comments.

Simply Ask

Asking clients is one of the easiest ways to get a referral. There is always a high chance that they can refer somebody to you, and if not, they will remember your name if they know somebody who could use your services.

  • Ask before the start of a project – “Before we start, do you have any friends or family that could benefit from my services?”
  • Ask at the end of a project – “Thank you using me to help your business. Do you know anybody else that I can help?”
  • Ask former clients – Before asking for a referral, talk with the client first and ask how their business is going. Then you can ask “Is there anybody you know that would benefit from my services like you did?”

Offer Incentives

Another way to get referrals is to offer incentives to clients if they refer people to you. Fortunately, society loves to be rewarded in some way, so this technique can be very effective.

  • Give money – If they refer a client to you, offer to give a set amount or percentage of the money you will be making. Money is one of the best incentives to get people to do what you want, so if you can afford it, take advantage of it.
  • Offer discounts – An alternative way would be to offer discounts for your service. If a former or present client refers a person to you, give them a discount code. My suggestion is if this client brings in more than just one referral, you can give them bigger discounts.
  • Be creative – If neither of those ideas work for you, think of something else to offer. You can offer them free consultation, free tools to help manage their business, and whatever else you can think. As long as the incentive is appealing to your client, it will work.

Use Your Business Cards

Lastly, take advantage of your business cards. They can be your greatest tool in getting referrals. If you don’t have a sweet set of business cards, get some at

  • Send a few to former clients – Take the time to mail or give former clients a few of your business cards. Let them know you want them handed out and add a thank you note in there. As long as you’re friendly about it, your former clients will hand them out and remember your name.
  • Give extras to current clients – When you meet up with your current clients, give extras to them and also ask them to hand them out to anybody who could use your services. The client will hold on to them and hand them out to people telling them how satisfied they were with your services.
  • Hand them out to everybody you know – Why not take advantage of your connections? Hand your business cards out to family, friends, professors, coworkers, or anybody you talk with; tell them to refer people they know to you. The more people who see your card, the better chance of them referring somebody to you.

What tips do you have for getting referrals?

Have these tips worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and discuss with me and other fellow designers about referral marketing. Go on, don’t be shy now.

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  1. I have found that active participation on LinkedIn, showing my portfolio to friends and family, and utilizing Facebook of all things to showcase my work has worked wonders. With Facebook, I post portfolio pieces as my personal work and all of my contacts who may or may not know someone else who needs design work. Just the sheer number of people who see it makes it worth it to me.

    Example: I recently started a relationship with long-term possibilities because an ex-coworker of mine knew an ex-coworker of his who needed a contract graphic designer. We three live in different states. Wow! That is difficult to make happen with traditional advertising.

    1. @April, That’s great you landed a nice long-term relationship! Utilizing social media can be essential to grabbing referrals.

  2. I agree with all your tips, especially about asking directly, its always works. Initially I couldn’t muster enough courage to ask clients – brushing it off that they wouldn’t have any referrals. But, when I started asking got 5-10 projects through one client.

    Also, I would add to get referrals from fellow designers, sometimes when I can’t do new projects because of current commitments I pass the work through me to a fellow designer. Works both ways..

    @GraceOris, you could send a seasons greetings card kind-of-thing as a nice gesture, apart from this a collage of your selected designs or maybe design a calendar with their logo and branding..just saying.

    1. @saad, Asking other designers is also a great way of getting referrals. It keeps your name in their mind which will come up when they don’t have time for a design project that you could do.

      I would suggest any readers looking for referrals to also contact designers and agencies offering your services to them. You may be surprised how many of them will outsource or pass along projects to you.

  3. Thanks for the reminder, Nicole. I’m not so sure though about asking before the start of the project. I may be confident about my services but isn’t it somewhat presumptuous to ask for referrals when you don’t know yet how satisfied the client will be? Anyway, it’s still something to think about. Who knows, the client may be more reassured than “offended” by the designer’s (over)confidence. Hmm.

    I am in the Philippines, with my clients in the US. I’m thinking about mailing them my business cards along with something else but I can’t think of anything else appropriate. Any ideas?

    1. @Grace Oris, you could send a seasons greetings card kind-of-thing as a nice gesture, apart from this a collage of your selected designs or maybe design a calendar with their logo and branding..just saying.

        1. hey Nicole,
          The calendar idea is brilliant. Wish I had thought of it earlier. Now is a great time to put this in action with 2015 just around the corner

    2. I completely agree with you. Not sure I would ask for a referral before the start of the project.

    3. @Grace Oris, I’m glad you find my tips useful! They are mostly guides to get you thinking about how to grab referrals, so feel free to use these tips in anyway you like.

      I mentioned asking before a project because it is an unused method of getting referrals. While you do run the risk of coming off as egotistical or being offensive, if you word it correctly, it could work for you.

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