Yesterday I received a letter in the mail from a client who I worked with for a long time. Hearing from her was totally unexpected and her letter was filled with praises. She came to me for help because she wanted to become a better leader and grow. This letter spoke of all that we had done and who she had become after working with me. It was filled with honesty and love, truths and transparency—a letter I know she was able to write because of the changes we made together. She mentioned how she boasted of Emyth and business coaching to her friends and inquisitive business alliances. Hearing from her reminded me why I love helping business owners and it also made me wonder—why don’t I get more letters like this?
As small business owners, referrals from existing customers are one of our easiest and best ways to gain new customers. If you’re like me, asking for a referral might not seem natural. I realized I had never asked this client for a referral, instead I was hoping—like so many business owners do—that my great service, stellar personality, and the results we achieved would simply speak for themselves. But building a business on hope is a bit reckless. So how can we make the process easier?
Whether it’s giving constant reminders, sending out referral cards or letters, having a form to fill out, or simply asking for them to send a name and email—you must help your clients help you.
What you may not have discovered is that you can increase the number of referrals you get by actually asking, directly, for referrals. As much as you enjoy those few golden, glowing ones that come in, the rest need to be coaxed out a bit.
Asking for referrals is part art, part science. You want to achieve a balance between being structured with email templates, scripts, and campaigns while leaving room for the unexpected
Now, in my business I do a few things to ensure referrals: I run a formal campaign every year, I have consistent points in my client relationships where I ask, and I send email reminders randomly. I follow through with referrals the same as I would with any lead, until they end up a client. Here’s how you can start doing the same:
Remember that most people like to help other people.
Remind yourself that the worst that can happen is that the client says, “No.”
Make asking for a referral part of your project routine. With most projects, there’s a last meeting with the client, a perfect time to ask for a referral.
Create larger referral campaigns (ideally to counterbalance slow times of the year).
Just as anything else, strategic execution of this system will be key for your greatest result.
Referrals should always be asked for face-to-face. It’s not only more respectful of your clients but 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’s acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are rare or very difficult (i.e. you’re a website designer and have clients on the other side of the country).
I’ve learned from experience that being direct is key. Do not beat around the bush, whether you’re asking by email or face-to-face. That lack of confidence will shine through and destroy any chance of something coming from the conversation.
Because you’re trying to open a door that your client may not be expecting you to knock on, having a reason for your conversation will make it less awkward and put you both on the same page. I run my formal referral campaign at a time of year that can generally be slow for me and I let my client know that from the beginning. At other times, it’s because I’m looking to fill openings in my schedule, “I recently had a slot open up on my client list and I am looking to fill it. I have made such a connection with you and the work we have done has delivered such great results, I was wondering if you know anyone like yourself who’s looking to take their business to the next level.”
Clear. Crisp. Transparent. Real.
When you’re asking for referrals it’s also an excellent time to ask a client for a testimonial, a short written endorsement of your company and/or your work that you can use on your website and in your other marketing materials. Get your clients thinking about how they can share the benefits of working with you with others; that you and your business need to be shared with the world.
Don’t let your own fears or forgetfulness get in the way of building your business. Referrals will get you more clients and more clients means bigger business. It’s a small effort for a great reward.