How to Ask for Referrals and Get More Clients

Overcome your fear with these simple tips

Two business people talking in restaurant
••• Tom Merton / Getty Images

You probably already know that referrals are one of the top ways to grow your business. What you may not have realized is that you can exponentially increase the number of referrals you get, dramatically increasing your client base, by doing one simple thing—learning how to ask for referrals.

Many of those running their own businesses don't bother with referrals. Maybe they just assume their clients will pass along good word of mouth about them. Maybe they find asking for referrals uncomfortable. They hope to get referrals, of course, but they don't overtly do anything about it. So when a job is done, they just walk away and leave half their dinner on the plate.

On the other side of the table, the client has their own concerns, and none of them has anything to do with helping to grow your business and get you more clients. But assuming that you've done good work and the client is satisfied with your performance, they'd be happy to help you out. It just may never enter their mind unless you ask.

So, do you want to get more clients? Then set aside your squeamishness and force yourself to get in the habit of asking for a referral from every satisfied customer.

Get Over Your Fear

The first thing you have to do to get in the habit of asking for referrals is to overcome your fear. Do that in the following ways:

  • Remember that most people like to help other people (if there is no negative cost to them).
  • Remind yourself that the worst that can happen is that the client says, "No." That's not too terrible, is it?
  • Avoid the awkward segue by making a referral ask a part of your project routine. With most projects, there's a final meeting with the client, a perfect time to ask for a referral.

Use a Script

Until asking for a referral has become a habit and you are comfortable with it, write yourself a script to follow. Remember, you're not making an Oscar acceptance speech here. When you ask for a referral, be sincere and direct—and brief. Say something like,

"I'm really glad that you're pleased with my work. I'd really appreciate it if you'd pass my name along to anyone else you know who would be interested in _____________ (what you do). May I leave these extra business cards with you?"

Leaving extra business cards with a person makes it easier for them to pass your name and contact information to someone else.

You can vary this script to be even more direct and ask for names. For instance, you might say:

"I'm really glad that you're pleased with my work. I'm always looking for referrals and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do)."

Pause here and see what they say. Some people will offer some names. Some will say, "Yes, maybe," and not offer any further information. Some will say, "No," but at least you tried.

If they do offer names, take the names down and ask the person if they mind if you contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them. If they don't offer names, ask if you can leave them some additional business cards that they can pass along.

Tips for Asking for Referrals

When asking, there are a few best practices that can increase your chances of success.

  • Always ask for referrals face to face. It's not only more respectful of your clients, but also tends to be more successful. People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. It is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are uncommon or very difficult. For instance, a website designer may create a website for a client on the other side of the country.
  • Never ask for a referral when presenting a bill. You don't want your client to feel like you're asking for too much.
  • The time that you're asking for referrals is also an excellent time to ask a client for a testimonial. This short, written endorsement of your company and your work can be used on your website and in other marketing materials such as brochures.

Don't expect anyone to write a testimonial for you on the spot; either leave them a printed card or form that they can use or ask them to email it to you.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don't let bashfulness or fear get in the way of building your business. Referrals will get you more clients. And the more referrals you ask for, the more referrals you'll get, simply because your clients know that you want some. It's a small effort for a great reward.