And yet, despite knowing how important they are, most freelancers also feel intimidated by the mere thought of asking a former or existing client for a referral.
We get it: it feels awkward. You find yourself picturing all the worst-case scenarios of how that client might respond, even though you know they love the work you do.
But remember that as much as 91% of new freelance business comes through referrals or word of mouth — that’s a huge chunk of work! And sometimes, all it takes to get that work is simply asking for it.
Asking for a referral doesn’t have to be scary. Take a few deep breaths, and let’s talk about some simple strategies for successfully asking your clients for referrals.
Choose the Right Timing
No matter what you’re asking for, timing is key. If you ask for a referral at the right time, not only will your client be more inclined to say yes, but you’ll also make it a lot easier for them to follow through.
Some good times to ask are:
- After (successfully) finishing a project. You’ve completed all the work, delivered value to your client, and fulfilled expectations (or, even better, exceeded them). Try following up with a simple note asking if they know anyone who could use your help on similar projects.
- When renewing a contract. This client values your work and wants to continue working with you. More than likely, they’d be happy to recommend your services to people they know.
- After receiving positive feedback. When the client sees value in the work you do for them, they won’t feel weird about sharing that appreciation. Thank them for the positive feedback, and simply ask if they know anyone who would benefit from the same services they’ve just complimented you on.
Also keep in mind that referrals don’t only have to come from current clients. But asking for a referral from a previous client out of the blue after not speaking to them for months or years isn’t the best idea.
To avoid such a situation, keep in touch with previous clients, even if it’s just sharing a helpful article or resource here and there, to keep the line of communication open. Doing so will increase the chances of repeat business and also make it more likely that they’ll think of you when someone asks them about freelancers they’d recommend.
Be Direct & Specific
Don’t overthink it — just ask! Beating around the bush is a waste of time and might leave the client confused about what you really want.
When you do ask, be as clear and concise as possible. Instead of asking them to rack their brain for anyone they know who might be interested in hiring a freelancer, ask them if they know anyone in your specific target audience who needs your specific offering. That will make it easier for them to remember, and it also increases the chances that the person they refer you to will actually be a good fit for your business.
Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with reminding the client of specific things they’ve said about your work or results you’ve gotten them, and then asking them to share those comments or results with people they know.
If you’re still too nervous to ask outright for a referral, you can ease into it by asking for a testimonial to display on your website. Just writing the testimonial can sometimes prompt a client to refer you to others even without you directly asking, but more importantly, asking for something small first (and getting it) can help you feel more confident asking for something bigger later.
Make it Easy
Above all, asking for a referral should be as easy and painless as possible for both you and the client. You might want to make or download a template, so you don’t spend hours each time agonizing over every single word.
If you’re routine-oriented, make yourself a standard operating procedure (SOP) that builds referral requests into your regular client communication processes, so it becomes just another part of running your business instead of a big, scary task you have to talk yourself into doing.
When you reach out to your client to ask for the referral, make sure they have all the information they need. You could even send them a nicely formatted list of your services, rates, and contact information, so all they have to do is forward it.
Ask for Referrals with Confidence
Remember, clients who enjoy working with you and value your services want you to succeed and will be more than happy to put in a good word for you. But, if you never ask, they may not know what kind of clients to refer you to or whether you even have the capacity to take on new work.
Now that you have some simple strategies in your referral request toolkit, it’s time to practice using them. The more you ask for referrals, the easier and less intimidating it will feel — and the sooner those referrals will start sending new clients your way.