When you’ve finally got a client you love working with, how do you get them to refer you to companies like them?
The first time I got a referral from a client, it was quite accidental.
It hadn’t occurred to me to ask for referrals, so when she said, “I know someone else who might be interested in using your services,” I nearly fainted.
The honest truth is that it’s hard for me and many other writers I know to ask for business referrals. Yet, referrals are natural to us in every other aspect of our lives. We give referrals about movies, restaurants, vacation spots, and more.
Referrals are a vital part of doing business as a freelance writer for several reasons:
- A referral is several times easier to talk to than a cold-call prospect …
- Referrals are the fastest way to grow a new business …
- Referred prospects are more receptive and far more likely to buy …
- The sales cycle of a referral is a fraction of the sales cycle for a non-referred client …
- And, a referred client is more likely to contract for a more expansive first project with you.
As freelance writers, our income depends on having clients who pay us well for the work we do. And, if you go by the 80/20 rule, 20% of your clients will pay you 80% of your income.
Referrals are the best way I know to replicate my best clients.
Wouldn’t you like to have more of those 20% clients and fewer of the 80%?
The Best Time to Ask For a Referral
I’ve heard it said that the best time to ask for a referral is “any time you feel comfortable asking.”
There’s some truth to that, but there are some times that are better than others. Some great times to ask are:
- Assuming they like your first draft ─ and say so ─ ask for a referral. You can be light about it, but this is a time when they’re feeling good about you.
- Whenever your client comments about how much they like you or your work, thank them and ask for a referral.
- At the completion of the project, ask for a referral. This is generally thought of as the best time to ask for referrals, but I’ve found that I get
better results when I ask during the project because they’re actively thinking about me and the work I’m doing.
- When you follow-up to see how they’re doing, ask for a referral. Just because you’re done, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask! Plus, they likely could use your help again.
You have to assume that your client is not thinking about giving a referral. He or she has much bigger fish to fry, such as growing their own business and making sales.
That’s why asking after the project is complete isn’t always the best time to ask.
From the moment the thought of contracting for your services comes to the customer’s awareness to a short time after the contract is complete, the
customer goes through a heightened awareness time.
Any time during this heightened awareness time is a good time to ask for a referral, especially when they are demonstrably pleased with your work.
How To Ask For a Referral
The most effective way to ask for a referral is to first prime the pump.
Just after you and they have signed the contract, let them know that your business is a referral-based business. If they’re pleased with the work that
you do for them, you’re going to ask for a referral. Get their agreement up-front on this.
Also get their agreement that you’d like to conduct a completion interview with them at the end of the project. Project managers like to call this the
“post mortem,” but I don’t like to think of my projects as dead beasts.
If it’s a lengthy project, you can remind them during each phase that you depend on referrals. Remember the heightened awareness time
I mentioned earlier.
At the completion of the project, here’s what you can do to increase your odds of getting a good referral:
1. Conduct a project completion interview.
I know my clients hired me to write so they wouldn’t have to. Some are happy to provide a testimonial, but most would rather suck sour lemons. Conduct a short phone interview and ask specific questions about their experience with you and the project. Be sure to ask if you can quote them.
Conducting a final interview like this serves several purposes:
- You’ll get the best possible testimonial (because you write it using their words) …
- You get them thinking again about the job you did for them …
- They are instantly more prepared to offer referrals to people they know …
- And, it leaves a wide opening to talk about what’s on the horizon and how else you can help them.
2. Make it easy for them to refer you to others.
Unfortunately, when I ask for referrals, I’ll often hear “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.” They rarely do.
I’ve had better success by creating a referral email for them. Most people would rather be in control of a referral. They don’t want to just hand out names and phone numbers. Besides, a referral that comes directly from them is far more powerful than a cold call from you.
Here’s what you do:
Create an email template into which all they need provide is the name of the recipient, and perhaps a few personal remarks.
The email should be simple and straightforward, highlight how you can help the referral, and provide your contact information.
When the email is sent, your client sends it to the referral and copies you. It is meant as an introduction, and might go something like this:
I’d like to introduce you to
I’ll leave it to the two of you to take it from here.
Be as specific as possible about what you did for your client, and what you can do for the referral.
After that comes the hard part … following through with the introduction or referral.
Contacting Your Referral
If your referral has a website (most likely they will), review their website thoroughly prior to your first contact. Make some specific notes as to how
you can help them, given your specific areas of expertise.
If connecting via email (copy your client):
It’s a pleasure to meet you. I want to thank
So, I took the liberty of reviewing your company, your products (or services) to get a better understanding as to how I can best be of service.
I’d like to talk with you about some of my ideas when you get a moment. Just let me know the best time to call. The call shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes.
P.S. Here’s one thing that hit me right away when I looked through your website:
Some people will say that calling is better than email. The problem with calling is that there are too many variables.
Has he read the email from your client?
Does she have time to talk (ever)?
Does he prefer the anonymity of email over a real-live person?
Either way, the objective is to begin a conversation about how you can help them, and the best way to know that is to do your homework before that first contact.
Once you’ve agreed that they need help, and you can help them, the rest is “just” sales.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.