how to get referrals

How to Get Client Referrals (Everything You Need to Know 2022 Edition)

Referrals are typically how most service business owners get their clients. But what happens when you want more referrals so you can continue to grow? That’s where knowing how to get client referrals versus simply waiting for them comes in. 

Many creatives and consultants can build a solid client base with referrals, especially when they’re first starting out. Those referrals come in from existing connections and happy past clients, but it’s done passively.

While referrals can be one of your best sources of clients, you need to go from passive to proactive. You can’t just wait for customer referrals to come to you, you need a referral strategy. 

Let’s take a look at why referrals matter, what many people tend to get wrong about referrals and what you can do better to ensure you’re referral ready.

Referrals: The Simplest Way to Get Clients

When you’re getting your business off the ground, you might feel like any prospective client is a good client.

Depending on your situation, it could be that you need the cash or it could be that you need the experience. So you figure that the more people who come your way — whether they’re a good fit or not — the better.

At some point, you’ll have to start to determine what kinds of referrals you actually want and begin to communicate that with your referral sources. All of this will dramatically impact your plan for how to get client referrals.

You don’t just want to know how to get referrals; the key is to get the right ones. You want referrals for your ideal clients.

Now, let’s say you are already getting awesome referrals from your existing happy clients and you want those referrals to keep coming.

If you have your offerings dialed in and you’re providing exceptional service, your current clients probably know more people like them. Those people are all potential clients for your business.

A client referral is not only high praise from your loyal clients, but also saves you from having to spend a lot of time and energy on marketing.

For most of us, referral marketing is a much more desirable strategy than other methods. That introduction to a potential customer is as good as a positive review on Yelp! when you’re trying to decide where to eat, and it helps make the marketing and sales process so much simpler.

However, as your business grows, it’s easy to get complacent about asking for referrals or to just expect that they’ll keep on coming.

When considering how to get client referrals you need to keep in mind that there’s no guarantee the stream will continue. Your biggest referrer could change roles, move to a new company, shut down their business, or just meet someone new that they’d prefer to refer instead. 

Remember, you’re not entitled to be anyone’s go-to service provider forever, and that your referral sources need ongoing care and feeding.

Be sure to keep in touch so you stay top-of-mind and be sure they know you value them as a human, not just as a referral source. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just check in with a quick email, DM, or card in the mail.

When you put forth that effort, you’re going from passive to proactive, and that can make all the difference. Think of it the same way you would any other marketing strategy. You need to have a referral program, the same way you may have a plan for your social channels or business networking.

As part of your plan, you’ll want to map out how you can create processes for nurturing your referral sources, as well as proactively asking for referrals.

What We Often Get Wrong About Referrals

Don’t get me wrong, I love referrals as a way to get new clients, but there are definitely some things that we get wrong about referrals. So here are a few things to consider.

Not all referrals are created equal

When thinking about how to get client referrals, it’s important to remember that not every referral is going to be a good fit. Some referral clients turn out to be a hot mess for many different reasons which may include:

  • The referrer is a hot mess. In my experience nightmare clients tend to refer more nightmare clients. 
  • The referrer doesn’t know what you do. For people to refer you, they needs to know what you actually do, otherwise you’ll have referrals that simply aren’t a fit. 
  • The referrer thinks you’re a bargain. Past clients may have fond memories of what a great deal they got way back in the day. . 

This is exactly why the source of your referrals matters. To get the kind of referrals that will be loyal clients, you need to cultivate relationships with the right referrers and know what makes for a successful referral.

As for the nightmare referrals, it’s okay to say a clear ‘thanks but no thanks’ to the people they send your way. If they’re not aligned with your customer base, you’re not doing anyone any favors by saying yes.

Always the receiver, never the giver

If you want more direct referrals, start by giving more referrals. Refer business back to the people who refer to you — without expecting them to do the same. 

When you’re someone who makes it a habit of introducing and connecting people, it makes you a center of influence, raises your profile and grows your network. 

If you’ve never operated like this, you’ll likely be amazed by what comes your way.  For referrals to become the fuel that drives your business, a commitment to giving is essential.  

Approaching the entire referral process from a place of giving is not only good for your business — it’s also contributing to an ecosystem of people who do share your values and do business in a certain way. (All while getting more high-quality referrals in the long run.)

Shutting the door on referrals

One of the most critical factors for how to get client referrals that grow your business is being ready to welcome more clients into your business. 

The question is: Are you ready for more clients?

This can be a tricky one to answer. If you’re maxed out, you’re maxed out. The last thing you want to do is take on new business when you don’t have the capacity and to impact your relationships with clients.

That said, putting the message out there that you’re “booked out” and not taking any referrals can backfire.

Many times people use being booked out as a badge of honor but it also tells people you don’t have room for new clients. Instead, keep the door open and start a waitlist, as you don’t know when you may need additional clients.

Better yet, operate with a bit of extra capacity so that if a dream client comes your way via one of your referral sources you’re in a position to say yes. 

How to Get Client Referrals: 5 Simple Steps

If you want to focus on how to get client referrals the right way, start by going back to basics.

#1. Be clear: You need to be able to articulate who makes for a good referral. Create a list of people who represent the type of clients you want and see what they have in common.

#2. Get focused: You should know who the right referral sources are for your business. Most likely, this will be clients and collaborators you’ve worked with over the past 12 to 18 months. 

#3. Sell yourself:  You may have to educate potential referral sources about the best type of clients for your business. If things have shifted recently, make sure they are aware. People want to be helpful; make it easy for them. 

#4. Bring the wow: This should go without saying, but if you want referrals you need to do good work and ensure your clients have a positive experience. Your client relationships will make or break your referral strategy.

#5. Be grateful: Your referral sources should always know you appreciate them. Going the extra mile with a quick email, a card, or even a small gift can be a great way to say thanks and keep business referrals coming your way.   

Bottom line, if you want to book more clients for your service business, you need a process for how to get client referrals. It’s a form of marketing that works and doesn’t require an extreme effort to get clients in the door.

Make it easier to get more clients and work with more people who are an ideal fit, it pays to get better at doing referrals. Avoid the BS tactics and get back to the human side of doing business so you’re referral ready.