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Business referrals and how to ask for them

Arno Yeramyan
October 20, 2022

Have you ever been in a situation, for instance, when working on a project you have been directed to someone in order to ‘get the X job done’? If yes, then you already know the meaning of a referral.In freelance jobs, a referral means that other people, whether they are clients, connections in your professional network or other freelancers, direct people to you for consultation, knowledge or working on a project.

Why are referrals so important?

Referrals, especially the client referrals, improve our business connections, bring in more work, make our network grow and contribute to our professional reputation. After all, who do we ask for guidance in times where we need an issue to be dealt with or a work to be completed? Usually, most of us consult people that we know and it’s easy to understand why: because we tend to trust people that we know more than commercial advertisements. This is where referrals come in. Referrals are important mostly because they;

  • Enable freelancers to maintain longer and more sustainable business relations with clients
  • Function as a creative alternative to traditional marketing and advertising techniques
  • Minimize doubt and create a trustworthy image (Especially for startups!)
  • Act as word-of-mouth endorsements

Why should you ask for referrals as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, the motivation behind asking for referrals from current and previous clients may not seem so clear to us since we may already have no problem finding our projects and future clients from online platforms. But mind that referrals can expand our pool of clients more organically. What is more significant is that referrals can lead to better clients, because those who refer you to somebody else know both what you are good at and what the client needs and expects from a freelancer.  For all these reasons, a new client who starts working with you through a channel of referral will already have a sense of trust regarding your business. Therefore, more referrals mean upgrading your freelance operations in quality as well as quantity.

How to encourage referrals

Whether we are talking about how to get referrals by adopting a direct approach or how to ask for a referral on online platforms such as LinkedIn, some golden rules to get referrals are the same regardless of the method.

Don’t be too preoccupied with asking for referrals!

While it is sometimes useful to ask for referrals directly, it may not always be the optimal thing to do. Especially for your first-time clients, it might not be a good idea to ask for referrals at the end of your first project together. It is better to make your clients understand, and then constantly remember, that you are a viable option in case their colleagues or partners have similar tasks or projects to complete. A horizontal way of communicating with your clients based on partnership and mutual benefit is more useful, as opposed to vertical communication that conveys an “I-need-more-clients!” sort of message.

Focus on giving referrals while getting them

We want referrals to be the outcome of your overall professionalism in your craft. In order to establish a professional persona, you can start giving referrals before beginning to ask for them. This way, your clients will realize, subtly or overtly, that they can engage in such an interaction with you where the pattern is determined by mutual reference and common goals. Remember that people feel much more comfortable with giving referrals to someone with whom they feel they are on the same boat.

Show your appreciation

An excellent way to assure that people go on referring to you is to thank them in a thoughtful way and show your appreciation. Depending on your means, you can achieve this by sending a gift card or a small present to your clients who referred to you. You can also show that you value your partnerships by remembering and communicating on special days like New Year’s.

Acknowledge the importance of new clients

Your connections are more likely to be surprised, impressed and especially pleased with the outcome of an assigned work when you aren’t their regular, go-to solopreneur just yet.  Making a very good and lasting first impression can lead your clients to give you a referral willingly. No doubt that you’ll increase your chance of being referred (sometimes even without asking) if you succeed in providing a top quality service to a new client.

How and when to ask for referrals in an email

You can begin with a simpler approach by sending clients and other freelancers emails. It’s all about timing when it comes to asking for referrals in an email. You can ask a client or a colleague for a referral right after completing a project for them, however, this may not be an ideal path to follow. More often than not, it is better to wait a while and complete more than one project for a client in order to make them understand that your services are worth referring to. Clients as well as colleagues will be more likely to share your services with their network connections once they understand that you are a trustworthy professional.

How to ask for referrals

Although there is not a single way concerning how to ask for referrals, you can more or less adopt a template and employ it when necessary. After you test and understand its function, you can alter your template and change it depending on your needs and how well you know the person with whom you are getting in touch with. Of course, sending an email is not the only way to ask for referrals. In case you want something more creative you can always try one or more of the ways below:

  • Client loyalty programs
  • Teaming up with service providers
  • Sharing your testimonials on multiple platforms

Ask for a testimonial instead

Testimonials are another way to spread the word that you are out there doing a good job.  Instead of formal referrals you can try encouraging your clients to write a testimonial summarizing what you do professionally and how you do it.  A client testimonial has the potential to be elaborate and thorough, so that prospective clients can have a clear picture in their mind about what to expect from you.

Offer an incentive or a discount

One of the most efficient ways to cultivate and maintain a long term professional relationship with clients and encourage them to give you referrals is to offer an incentive or a discount. You can do it by notifying them in advance that they are entitled to a certain percentage of discount if they choose to give referrals to your business.

Give and take

Instead of thinking about how to ask for referrals, try thinking about how to make your clients understand that referrals are crucial for the wellbeing of your business. This can be achieved by clarifying, in your initial meeting introducing your business or at the end of your project, that you count on referrals in order to keep doing what you are doing.

How to use referrals

On its own, it is not sufficient to get a referral. Once you manage to get a referral you should be able to utilize it efficiently. In order to use your referrals you can:

  • Keep in touch with your client network and update them about what you are up to
  • Publicize the testimonials which were written for you through social media and your business website

Sustain your operations and client relations with referrals

Referrals are absolutely crucial for solo talents doing any kind of work. They enable us to get better matches with clients that are on the same page with us. More importantly, referrals secure a steady flow of projects and sustain our business operations. By using the guidelines, tips and tricks that we provided above, you can give it a try getting referrals and see the results for yourself!If you want to read more about tips on how to build and nourish your solo business, check out other articles on Ruul Blog and register to Ruul to get weekly newsletters in your inbox!


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