To get paying clients is one of the toughest aspects of operating an online business. The clientele work received puts food on the table, and let’s face it, without them, you’d probably go hungry and homeless.
As a virtual service provider, there are many ways to score clients for your business. However, you might cast a blind eye to a very effective method by failing to target your existing clients. I’m talking about asking the clients who are already paying you for client referrals.
To be honest, I felt a little uneasy going that route, but decisions needed to be made; I decided to take my client prospecting to the next level and ask for client referrals.
You’re not being encouraged to lower your business standards or appear desperate for work, but you’ll simply learn how to ask for referrals to keep your family going. It’s your responsibility to keep your home together, so I’ll share a simple strategy I use to ask for client referrals. It’s nothing fancy but it has been successful for me.
How to Ask for Referrals from Existing Clients
Get to know your clients
Do you ‘make’ time to know your clients? Getting to know your clients does not equate to presumption. It’s a business relationship you’re trying to foster, but there are no hard or fast rules about establishing a rapport, only etiquettes.
Ask the right questions. Do your due diligence on the people you work with. You’re not paid to research your clients, but it could reveal their preferences and needs. As I work extensively with bloggers, I simply use their websites to gather all the information I need. Doing my due diligence also reveals small aspects of their personal life. That’s a good place to start.
Build a relationship with your clients
Use the information gathered from step one to build a relationship, not just a business one. Not only is it rude to ask for client referrals from someone you don’t have a relationship with, but it’s unprofessional.
Put your clients at ease. Ask about their welfare, express appreciation for the established business relationship, commend them on their website design (or anything relevant). Especially if you’re following them on social media, comment on a post they share that you find tasteful. No… you’re not placating or kissing up to your clients; you’re simply building a relationship, one that includes looking out for their interests.
To build this relationship, you must know something about your clients. I have a longstanding client who’s very family-oriented. We regularly converse about family matters. Find common ground, something you both are interested in.
Discerning the right time to approach (or if not to approach)
After establishing a relationship with your clients to the extent that you can send corny emoticons and emojis, be patient. I waited six months before asking a client for a referral. That’s a long time and it may or may not work for you.
The client you’re working with may only need seasonal, hourly, or a small project done. Pick your battles wisely. I don’t ask all my clients for client referrals, just hand-picked ones.
Not because you’ve worked with a client for several months (or years) automatically qualifies you for a referral. Some may choose not to bite.
One of my clients (been with him since 2014) does not seem like the type to ask for a referral. He’s an awesome client, but personalities differ. To add, businesses need reliable virtual service providers and freelancers. When clients find a good one, they tend to get possessive and may not want you to seek other opportunities that could take away from their work.
Getting down to business and popping the question
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for, ‘how to ask for referrals’. Just do it! There’s no special question or way to do it. If you’ve confidently executed the foregoing steps, or you want to create and work with your own client referral process, go for it.
When I approached a client, I simply asked if she knew anyone who could benefit from the services I provide her with. She knew a lot of bloggers but didn’t provide a single name. Instead, she went into one of those Facebook groups and bragged about me and how much I helped her to grow her website traffic.
She got about 10 bloggers in her inbox who she forwarded to me. Instead of contacting those clients, they contacted me. As I’m writing this article, I’ve received details needed to commence work for one of those client referrals, while I discuss terms with 3 others.
Express gratitude even if it doesn’t work out
If an existing client opts to send client referrals your way, express gratitude there and then. Don’t wait for one of those referrals to contact you. Let your client know that just the thought of having them help you out speaks volumes about them.
Even if the prospects sent your way refuse to bite and commission your services, express your gratitude, nonetheless.
Show gratitude to an existing client when a client referral bites
You’re not obliged to, but it’s good business practice. If an existing client brings you business, give them a client referral discount. Whether it’s 5% or 10% (or anything you opt for), it doesn’t matter. Show that you appreciate the business they’ve sent your way.
My client referral discount structure is quite simple and isn’t continuous. I give my existing client a 5% discount on their next invoice, that’s after receiving payment from the referral sent my way.
Like I mentioned, there are no hard or fast rules regarding how to ask for referrals. However, be mindful that cultivating a relationship with your existing clients is important before you make a move.