Referrals are just one of the many keys that contribute to your business growth. No matter if you’re working in landscaping, real estate, or web design, you’ll want client referrals. Why? Because that’s the easiest (and cheapest!) way to find new clients, with little to no effort on your end. In this article, I’ll break down what exactly client referrals are, why they matter, and lastly a few ways to ask your clients for them (without coming off as too sales-y of course)!
What is a client referral?
A referral is a prospective client sent to you by an established connection. This could be a fellow web designer in the industry or a vendor you have a great working relationship with, but more times than not, it’ll be a past or current client that sends you referrals.
There are a couple of reasons why a past (or working!) client would want to refer you:
You offer a specific service that the referred needs: Perhaps you specialize in animation and your client was super impressed with the project you worked on for them. They’re likely to refer you to their friends/business owners who also need similar animation services. You went above and beyond with the past client: Many times, if you impress a client and the relationship ends on a high note, there’s no reason why a client wouldn’t refer you!
Now that you know why clients could refer you, let’s talk a bit more about why they matter. What’s the upside of client referrals? Is the effort worth the reward?
Why do referrals matter?
One of the best parts about referrals is you essentially skip past the “building trust” part of the relationship. Think about it. When you first try out a new product or service, you often look at customer reviews because you’re more likely to trust what past customers are saying rather than rely on a description.
Even more so, it’s easier to trust a business when they’re being referred to you by someone you trust. This means the referred client is coming to you not only with high standards based on the referral, but with a certain level of credibility in mind.
Another reason referrals are important is because they’re less work and effort on your plate. A past client is referring you to their connection, which means you didn’t have to do nearly as much work as you normally would to get a potential new client. As you know, finding new clients can be a struggle and if your past clients are helping you by sending potential clients your way, don’t stop them—help them!
Worried about the quality of referrals you might get? Don’t be. Nine times out of ten, referrals are good prospects. They were sent to you by someone who understands your business, the way you operate, your services, and most importantly your prices. If a client recommends you to someone else, there’s a good chance that the prospective client has some insight into those important parts of your business, making this lead a warm one that won’t require as much effort on your end.
How to ask clients for referrals
Asking for referrals may feel intimidating and you may be unsure of where to start, however, the process is easier than you think! But, I went ahead and split up the many ways to do so, based on the amount of effort!
How to ask clients for referrals with low effort
Any web designer, no matter how new to the industry you are, can tackle both of these methods! Chances are, you’ve already done these for clients, but the trick is to do these consistently.
Do good work
Easier said than done, right? Most of the time, if a client is satisfied with your work, they’ll have no trouble whatsoever referring you to their network, even if you forget to ask. Just make sure you start and end the relationship on a high note. This is a “perfect world scenario,” but you know better than anyone that not every client relationship ends perfectly.
When life gives you difficult clients, it doesn’t matter how great your work is or how amazing the project turned out, you may not want to work with that client (or a client they refer to you!) and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to prioritize quality clients over quantity, and prioritize your sanity in the process.
This may seem like a “no duh” moment, but you’d be amazed at how many web designers don’t ask for referrals! My tip would be to wait until the end of the current project with your client, after you’ve delivered great work and built up the level of trust.
Whether this happens naturally during a meeting or over email, a simple “Do you know anyone in your network that might benefit from my services?” will go a long way. Even if their answer is “not right now,” a simple “feel free to send any my way in the future” is a great follow up to let them know you’ll be around in the future.
How to ask clients for referrals with medium effort
Perhaps you’ve tried the two options above, and you’re looking for something with more impact. Here are some great ways to ask clients for referrals just a bit more effort.
Engage in online communities
One of the best ways to network is to engage and be active in online communities, such as Facebook Groups. Facebook groups like Graphic Designers, Web Design and Development, and The Daily Carnage are great places to not only market your services to those who may not have the capacity for a client, but also for you to hand off clients to others as well.
Oftentimes in these groups, people will pose questions or they’re on the hunt for someone with a different skill set than they can offer, so keep an eye on those types of posts! It’s a win-win and those groups are places to source inspiration and advice as well.
Develop relationships with others in your industry
Similar to engaging in online communities, it’s best to create and maintain relationships with others in your industry, whether it’s another designer in town, a developer you work with from time to time three states over, or someone on the other side of the world. You’d be amazed at how many web designers want to connect and collaborate.
It pays to know others in your industry so when they need to refer clients, they can keep you in mind. But, be sure to maintain communication and check in every so often, so it feels like a genuine relationship.
You probably read “incentivize” and automatically thought “money” but that’s not always the case! Think of easy services that don’t take too much of your time, but are deemed valuable to your client. Things like a shoutout on your social media page, free content, or even a personalized gift (you’d be amazed at how many people love free t-shirts and socks!).
On the other hand, if money or a discount is easier for you to manage, that works too! Just make sure you outline the rules for incentivizing client referrals beforehand so it doesn’t end up costing you more than the referrals are worth.
How to ask clients for referrals with high effort
Now, maybe you’ve tried everything above and then some — in which case you’re practically a pro! The best way to keep referrals coming in the door and to continue scaling would be to set up an easy-to-manage referral program for your business.
Create a referral program
If your agency has a niche and you have a pretty good idea of what a referral program looks like for your agency—go for it! Start to outline the different (trackable!) ways your client can refer others. An example of this would be mentioning their name in an email before signing a contract with that new referral.
You’ll also want to outline the incentives for the program, so things like 10% off one of your services, a free customized mug, etc. If you want to go one step further, you can even create tiers for those clients that want to continue referring you regularly. This is a much more formalized process than incentivizing and ensures that every single referral is recognized and rewarded! However you decide to set this up, just make sure it’s all outlined somewhere in your web design contracts AND make it easily accessible on your website.
If creating an entire program from scratch isn’t your cup of tea, no worries. The good news is that there’s tons of referral software available for you to choose from. Here are a few to get the ball rolling: CrewFire, Referral Rock, and Refersion. Just make sure to do the research so you know if the cost and functionality are worth the reward later on.
By now, you should have all the ideas in the world for how to ask clients for referrals! Have other great ways? Add them in the comments below!
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