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25 Ways to Ask for a Referral Without Looking Desperate

Make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for your clients to let people know that you do good work.

Everyone agrees: referrals are the most effective, and cost-effective, way to generate new business, yet asking for referrals can feel awkward. You really could use some more clients but you don’t want to come across as desperate or pushy.

Over the past year, I've been focusing my business on getting referrals. We've found that when a person is referred over to our business, they are 3x more likely to use our product after 90 days than someone who wasn't referred.

Here are 25 ways that we've found to be effective to ask for referrals that don't make our business look like we're desperate for new customers:

1. Directly ask.

Want to know the best way to ask for a referral? Be direct and just ask your clients or customers through an email, online, in-person or at the bottom of your invoices. It’s not pushy or awkward if you’ve earned it by going above and beyond. Here are some of the top invoicing companies to help you get started.

2. Focus on your "best best" clients.

Instead of targeting all of your clients or customers, focus on the ones that you already have a relationship with, those that offer complementary products and services, or those in your community. They’ll be more likely to refer your goods or services to others since they trust you, can vouch for your work or products, and have a chance to work with your side-by-side, as opposed to clients that you haven’t world with much.

3. Provide value.

Did you just read an article that a client would find entertaining? Did you just publish a case study useful to your clients? Did you just release a new product or service that could complement your solutions for clients' needs? If so, send them a link or an attachment in an email or at the bottom of an invoice. It’s a simple and effective way to show them that you’ve kept them in mind - even after a project is completed.

4. Recognize and thank your referral sources.

Whether it is a phone call, email, handwritten note or holiday card, encourages clients to refer others by showing you appreciate the chance to earn and keep their business. When they send a new client your way, thank them with a handwritten letter whenever possible.

5. Start asking before the project is over.

There’s a misconception that you have to wait until a project is over for you to start asking for referrals. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If you and your client are excited about the start of a new project, then share that infection with others. If they sent you some feedback halfway through, thank them for the input and remind them that if there is anyone else like them that could use your services to send them your way.

6. Make it personal.

Instead of sending a broad and generic referral request to all of your contacts, send direct emails or phone calls that have a personalized message. If your client mentioned that they could use a graphic designer down the road, call that client and remind them that you offer graphic design services.

7. Get your contact information on their phones.

If you clients don’t have your contact information, don't expect any new referrals from them you. Make sure that your email address and phone number are everywhere. Begin with your invoices, email signature and social channels, then make sure that you get that information on their phones. For instance, if you’re at a conference, ask for their number and send them a text so that you can each program each other’s numbers into your phones. If you’re in a business like insurance you also want to make sure that every member of the household has your contact information stored on their phones so that they can easily contact you - and refer you to their contacts.

8. Don't always be direct.

Some clients are uncomfortable or not allowed by their employers to refer. In that case, you need to think outside of the box. Can they leave a review or testimonial on your website or review site? Are they willing to be a part of a case study? Those are ways that they’re endorsing and recommending your business without giving a direct referral.

9. Offer incentives.

Even though your work has to speak for itself, everyone enjoys a gift. Incentives like a gift card, percentage off of future work, a small gift or charitable donation in their name are powerful for buiding a bond.

Inform your clients that for every referral they send your way, they’ll receive something in return. And, the more they refer, the more they’ll get. For example, if they refer five people, they’ll get a $10 Amazon gift card per referral. That adds up to a quick $50 for them - and five potential clients for you.

10. Be specific.

When asking for a referral, don’t simply ask, “Do you know anyone that could use a freelance writer?” That’s too broad. However, if you asked clients who have hired you as a financial writer, if they know a couple of people that could use a financial writer to discuss the blockchain or fintech, you have a better chance to spark their memory.

11. Create referral marketing materials.

This could be anything from a business card, pamphlet, email templates or referral cards that include your logo and contact that “Referred by _________”. This makes it easier for clients to refer you since they only have to hand out or forward these marketing materials. We found that when we added that one button to our back end, there was a 6 percent increase in referrals to our site from our customers.

12. Recommend-a-friend functionality on your website.

You could create a page, link form, or add a box to your website that allows visitors to add the email of their contacts or send them a personalized referral link. ReferralCandy, InviteBox, and SaaSquatch are a couple of tools to get you started with this approach.

13. Referral fees and commission.

One of the more common referral techniques is to pay others for referring your business. For example, you could leave referral cards at a local cafe or salon and offer the owner and their employees a buck or two for every card they hand out. For ongoing referrals, you could also offer them a percentage of each new sale that they’ve referred.

14. Give them a little something extra.

As a rule, freelancers should not work for free but there are a couple of exceptions. If you’re just starting out or want to keep anchor clients, you could hook them up with a discounted price or doing some free work. If you have a couple of minutes to help them out with a project, it could be beneficial in the long-term.

15. Make it easy for them to refer.

Respect your client’s time by make it as easy as possible for them to refer you. Write them an email script for referrals where they just need to add their name, a mobile-friendly form where they can share links, encouraging them tag friends on social channels, or a card where they can add the names and contact information of their friends or family and mail it back to you.

16. Use your email signature.

Your email signature is prime real estate to ask for referrals where you can write “Forward My Contact Information” as a call to action to remind the recipient to recommend you.

17. Give a referral.

Do you know anyone that could use the products or services that you client provides? If so, refer them to your client. Even if someone hasn’t you specifically, you could still recommend your client on Facebook or Twitter.

18. Follow-up and stay-in-touch.

Schedule reminders on your calendar to email your clients every three, six or 12 months to ask how they’re doing and how you can assist them in new ways.

19. Be active on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for referrals and getting introduced to potential clients. For instance, LinkedIn gives you the ability to reach out to your connection’s connections. Before reaching out to prospective clients, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is updated and optimized. Be an active member by creating and sharing relevant content.

20. Ask clients to like your Facebook page.

Keep in maind that half of all Facebook users have more than 200 friends. That’s a lot of potential clients at your fingertips! Encourage your clients to like your Facebook page by developing share-worthy content, such as infographics. We did this with my company Due and it drove us over 400 signups in one day.

21. Join a referral networking group.

Business networking groups are where local business owners gather once a week or so to practice their elevator pitch, socialize, learn a new skill, and give each other referrals. It can be time-consuming, but it’s one of the best ways to get new referrals without really having to ask. Use Meetup to find a group near you.

22. Make clients your first priority.

If you have a new product on-the-way, like an eBook or app, give your existing clients a chance to preview or beta test it and provide feedback to make improvements. If you have an upcoming sale, give them early access. If you’re hosting an event, give them a discounted entry price. In other words, make your clients feel like VIPs and then return the favor.

23. Build symbiotic relationships.

Referrals are not limited to past or current clients. For example, you could have partnered with another freelancer in the past who can send you work when a client asks for someone in your niche. If you’ve ever had too much work, you could refer a potential client to a fellow freelancer. If you own a brick-and-mortar store and customers always compliment the design, refer them to the individual responsible. After building these symbiotic relationships, it’s not uncommon for send each other referrals all the time.

24. Engage in their work.

You can show your clients that you sincerely care about them by commenting on their Facebook status or blog, championing one of their causes or new products, mentioning problems that you notice (like their website not loading quickly enough), or backing their Kickstarter campaign.

25. Give them a surprise.

Who doesn’t like a surprise?

When you’ve completed a web design project, for example, you could include a premium plugin that wasn’t initially included. When their birthday comes around, send them a birthday card or small present. It’s a powerful way to thank them and build loyalty.

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