One of the best ways to grow your business is to ask for referrals, where you have your clients recommend your business to other people they know.
There are a couple of problems, however. Asking for referrals from clients can be intimidating, and once you make the ask, there’s no guarantee that someone will fulfill your request.
In this guide, we’ll explore how to ask for referrals, with 15 proven methods that work.
How to Ask for Referrals
Now let’s look at some of the best strategies you can use to ask for referrals from clients, which should make the process both easier and more effective for you.
1. Just come out with it.
Even if you’re feeling sheepish about the situation, often one of the best things you can do is simply be upfront with your request. Being fully transparent and honest with your clients will likely be met with a warm reception. Dancing around the subject or manipulating your clients won’t work; just be straightforward with them. Here’s a template for how to ask for referrals in an email:
“Good morning! I’m grateful we had the opportunity to work together, and I hope you’re doing well. I’m looking to expand my business, and primarily find new clients through referrals, so if you have anyone who might be in need of our services, I would welcome the recommendation!”
2. Offer multiple options.
That said, not everyone will feel comfortable giving you a referral. It’s a good idea to give these people additional options to support you. For example, you can inform them that they can leave an anonymous review on a site like Yelp, or provide you with advice on how you can improve your services in the future.
3. Explain your needs.
Your request may be received more favorably if you take a moment to explain your motivation. For most people, the primary need is “business expansion” or something similar.
You could also explain that you prefer to grow your business with warm introductions, rather than cold lead generation. Again, honesty is the best policy.
4. Personalize the ask.
Too many referral-based businesses have an email that serves as a kind of template; it makes an effective request for a referral, and can be mass sent to every client whenever a project is over.
However, this approach is easily sniffed out by people who are tired of all the email automation programs businesses are running these days. It may be useful to have some stock phrases on hand to craft new emails, but it’s much better to personalize your communication.
Speak directly to each individual customer, and tailor your questions and comments to the experience you had with them. If you’re working from a basic template, it will likely be obvious—and it might come off as cold or impersonal.
5. Prioritize your best relationships.
Don’t bother asking a client for a referral if you had a shaky relationship with them. If you disagreed constantly, or if you feel they weren’t truly satisfied with your product or service, it may be better to reserve your request for a client with whom you shared a better relationship.
Focus on the clients you feel confident in; they’ll be much more likely to honor your request, and much more likely to give you a warm, favorable introduction.
6. Offer value first.
As with any kind of request, you’ll increase your chances of having it granted if you lead in with some kind of value for your client. For example, before you make a request for a referral, you could retweet a few of your customer’s tweets, comment on and share their Linkedin posts, share their latest blog post on your social media accounts, give them a special discount, or link to their website in a guest post.
People will be much warmer to you and more willing to help you out if you do them an unsolicited favor first.
7. Make them feel truly appreciated.
Expressing gratitude is simply one of the best things you can do in a business relationship. It improves your own sentiments and views on the relationship, and makes the other person feel appreciated.
Accordingly, you can ask for more referrals by first demonstrating your appreciation for the client. Depending on the nature of your relationship and how much they’ve already helped you, this could be something as simple as a well-worded email or a grander gesture, like sending them a fruit basket.
8. Ask at the right time.
Many people new to the referral game believe they have to wait until a project is over and done with before they can ask a client for referrals, but this isn’t always the case.
In fact, it may be better to ask for referrals from existing clients while your project or service is ongoing; you’ll be practically guaranteed to be top-of-mind with your client, and you’ll have more excuses for regular conversation. Just make sure you continue to provide excellent customer service.
9. Stay in touch.
If you do decide to wait to ask for referrals until the project is finished, or if you’re hunting for referrals only after you’ve finished jobs for a variety of clients, make sure you stay in touch regularly—and for reasons beyond referrals.
If a client doesn’t hear from you for a year after your only project together, then you’re suddenly asking for favors, they’re probably going to ignore your request.
Instead, make it a point to follow up with them on a regular basis. Ask them how their business is doing. Take them to coffee. Keep the relationship strong, so when you need to ask them for a favor, it doesn’t seem to come from out of the blue.
10. Be active on social media.
You’re also inclined to get more referrals if you’re more visible on social media—where most of your clients will see you incidentally. This effect is perhaps most powerful on Linkedin, so make sure you’ve filled out your profile and that you’re posting regularly.
While you’re at it, publicize the fact that you’re actively seeking new clients and/or referrals.
11. Develop referral collateral.
Depending on the scale at which you plan to ask for and accept referrals, you may develop “referral collateral,” including marketing materials designed to make it easier for your clients to forward referrals your way.
For example, you could give them a pack of business cards with a line that states “referred by: ______.” This is especially helpful if you offer some kind of incentive to the person doing the referring, which leads me to my next tip.
12. Offer commissions (or referral fees).
One of the easiest ways to encourage more referrals is to make it worth your clients’ time. You can offer a monetary reward, or some similar incentive, to encourage this action. For example, you might pay them 10 percent of whatever sales they forward your way, or give them a flat referral fee for each new client.
If you’re still working with this client, you can offer them a discount on your product or service.
13. Make it super easy to give referrals.
People will be much more likely to give you a referral if it’s easy for them, so make things as simple as possible.
For example, you could set up a landing page of your site specifically to handle inbound referrals, and give a shortened URL to your clients that they can pass along to their associates.
14. Get involved in a referral networking group.
Almost any kind of professional networking will have the power to improve your client base and potential referrals, but it’s even better if you can join a networking group designed specifically for referrals.
In these groups, individual members with different business backgrounds will share their contacts with each other, and forward new leads to each other as appropriate.
15. Create a true partnership.
It’s easy to get referrals from people who think of you as a true and valuable partner, so spend time improving your professional relationships to see better referral results.
Make sure each new client you acquire has the best possible experience, and go out of your way to help them in any way you can. They’ll be more likely to return the favor.
Now that you know some tricks for how to ask for sales referrals, you’ll need a way to visualize your communication and gauge how effective it is. Most of your requests for referrals will usually take place over email, as will the majority of your client communication. But most people are perpetually in the dark about how many emails they’re sending, how many they’re receiving, and what kind of response time they’re offering.
That’s why you need a tool like EmailAnalytics. With it, you’ll be able to study dozens of different metrics associated with your email habits, including your busiest times and days of the week, top senders and recipients, and average email response time. Sign up for a free trial today, and visualize your email activity!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.