How to Ask for a Referral Without Sounding Like a Jerk

referralsIt’s a lousy truth, but if you want referrals, you have to ask for them. No matter how great your work is, no matter how wonderful you are, most clients aren’t thinking about referring you to anyone.

In this post, we’ll share the story of one talented designer who failed to get a referral. We’ll also tell you an easy way to get your clients to give you referrals.

Why Clients Don’t Give You a Referral

Did you ever wonder why your clients don’t give you more referrals?

It’s not because they’re mean or because they don’t want you to succeed; it’s because giving you a referral never crosses their minds.

I’ve seen this happen with my own two eyes. In the company I used to work for, we contracted out our design services to a very talented guy. He would come in to the office to present his work, and he was always great to talk to and fun to have around. He put out quality work, too. If you’d asked anyone in the company, he was a killer designer.

I don’t think we ever referred him once.

In fact, I watched an opportunity for a referral go whizzing right by. My boss’ friend, who ran his own company, came in for a lunch date and was complaining to my boss about the terrible designer he’d hired. My boss sympathized and hoped he’d find someone who could fix the problem.

It didn’t occur to him to refer our own freelance designer. He might have thought of it had his friend specifically asked if he knew a good designer.

But, the friend didn’t ask, my boss didn’t volunteer, and that was that.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Freelancers don’t ask for referrals because we think we’ll sound pushy, or unprofessional, or, in the worst case scenario, like a complete jerk. These are valid concerns. Many people who ask for referrals come off sounding like a bad used car salesmen.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask for referrals. There’s nothing stopping you from doing it the right way. Here’s your number-one tip for asking for a referral without sounding like a jerk:

Make it about the other guy

When Should You Ask for a Referral?

The best time to ask for a referral is when your client is raving about what a fantastic job you just did on your last project. Let’s say you’re a copywriter, and he’s telling you that he’s worked with dozens of writers in the past and no one has been able to hit just the right note the way you have.

“I’m so pleased you like it,” you say. “I know it can be rough finding a good writer. There are a lot of hacks out there. I’ve heard some horror stories.”

That’s his cue. Usually, your client will he’ll launch telling you about his own bad experience or that of another company he knows. Let him, and be sympathetic about it. Then say this:

“Well, listen, if you know of any other companies who are having a rough time finding good work, feel free to pass on my name. Actually, if you have a few names in mind, I could just drop them a line myself and save you the trouble.”

See what just happened? Instead of saying that you want a referral so that you can get more clients, you’re saying that you want a referral so that these companies–who your client knows and likes–won’t have to deal with shoddy work anymore.

You’re not being a jerk. You’re being helpful. You’re being the nice guy.

And guess what? Not only will your client give you the referrals, he’ll think you’re a great guy for asking.

Not bad for a task you always considered the low point of marketing, right?

Share Your Stories

What method do you use to get referrals?

Share your stories in the comments.