How to ask for referrals as a web designer (and what to do when it doesn’t work)

Leverage relationships to gain trust

Do you ever survey the flood of clients your competitor has and ask yourself, “How?!” You could create designs like theirs in your sleep. Your portfolio would make any pro designer swoon; their portfolio looks like it was compiled in the ‘90s. As true as this all might be, you’re missing a big advantage they likely have over you: they know how to ask for referrals.

Put yourself in your target market’s shoes. Flattering examples of past work are of course a consideration, but your potential clients are more focused on selecting a web designer they can trust. While they’re well aware online reviews can be fabricated, they take their buddy Lenny’s word for it hands-down when he says, “ABC Web Design knows their stuff. I had a great experience working with them.”

How to ask for referrals

Asking for client referrals can feel a lot like asking for a compliment … and for many, that’s a cringe-worthy undertaking. There’s no getting around it, though — straight up asking for referrals is the best way to ensure you receive referrals.

The good news is that you don’t have to sound desperate. Give the following approaches a try!

In-person

If you meet with your clients face-to-face, that final handshake with eye contact is the best time to ask for a referral. All it takes is something like, “Susie, it was a pleasure working with you. If you have any friends or family who need a web designer, I’d appreciate you pointing them in my direction!”

Social media

Approach clients on a platform they’re already comfortable sharing from. In between the memes and selfies, why not share a post from your business?

Running a contest like “Share this post for a chance to win a $300 Visa gift card” might do the trick, or you can simply ask your loyal clients to support your business out of the kindness of their hearts.

Snail mail

Thank-you cards are always a great touch and the perfect opportunity to mention your referral program. Tuck a few business cards, brochures, or marketing flyers in with a note along the lines of this client referral letter template:

[Client],

I just wanted to send you a quick note of thanks for choosing [Your Company] for [Client’s Company]’s new website! Businesses like yours are what make my job so rewarding.

If you were happy with our service, I’d be honored if you’d consider referring us to your friends and family. I’ve enclosed a few of my business cards.

Thank you again from myself and the whole team here at [Your Company]!

— [Your Name]

Invoices

That final invoice (assuming there are no unexpected fees) could be a good place to add in a line encouraging clients to give you a referral. It’s probably best if this is paired with another approach like those shown above, otherwise the client might become distracted by the other items on their invoice.

How To Ask For Referrals Desktop

Email

Email might be your best route if much of your communication was via email, to begin with. Handy email marketing tools make it a cinch to stay organized and automate referral efforts.

Cat got your tongue? Give this email asking for referrals script a shot:

Dear [Client],

It’s been such a pleasure working with you and your team at [Client’s Company]. I hope your experience has been as fantastic as ours has throughout this project!

At [Your Company] the majority of our business is generated through client referrals. We would be absolutely thrilled if you would consider referring us to your friends and family.

To show our appreciation, we’ll happily give you $100 for each client you send our way.

Thanks again for choosing [Your Company]!

— [Your Name]

Your website

Create an irresistible call-to-action featuring content like, “Happy with our service? Refer us now and get $100 for each new sign-on!” Try adding a big button above your navigation that reads, “Refer [Your Company] to your friends!” Linking these to share a marketing post or link via social media or email will make it that much easier for clients to refer you.

What to do when asking doesn’t work

Each extra step clients must take pulls you one step back from getting those referrals. Create marketing materials that can be shared with a few clicks. An image that can be easily shared on social media or even business cards and pamphlets will save clients from the daunting task of figuring out what to say.

Refer them.

Like you, your clients have a business to run. Chances are they’re a fan of referral business just as much as you are. Let them know you’ve been shouting their praise from the rooftops and share their promotions on social media every so often.

Increase your activity on social media.

Social platforms like Facebook have recently made it even easier for audiences to give referrals. The Recommendations feature allows Facebook users to request recommendations for all kinds of things. If Facebook’s direction indicates anything, it’s clear that referrals are still a big win for businesses.

How To Ask For Referrals Facebook
Photo credit: Facebook

Cultivate a presence on social media that makes you impossible to forget next time their friends ask for web designer recommendations.

Take an honest look at your business.

Are you putting your best foot forward with customer service marketing, and client work? If clients don’t want to refer you to their friends, it’s worth exploring the possibility that they’re just not happy with the experience they had with your business.

Ask yourself a few honest questions:

  • Were you on schedule for hitting project milestones?
  • Was the outcome in line with the client’s original expectations?
  • Did the project stay within scope?
  • How was your relationship and communication with the client?

If you’ve made some mistakes along the way, consider reaching out to that client to make amends. It certainly can’t hurt, and might even land you a referral after all.

Offer incentives.

If all else has failed, it’s time to bring in the big guns — dangle a juicy carrot in front of them. Like we’ve touched on above, any mention of a referral bonus is sure to grab your clients’ attention.

Perhaps you’re not keen on dishing out cash. Offer a discount on their next purchase instead!

In conclusion

Selecting a web designer can feel like a big gamble for consumers. If they would rather travel the safe route, why not meet them along the way? Knowing how to ask for referrals will earn your market’s trust, and ultimately, their business.

Salena Poussard
Salena Poussard is a freelance copywriter and SEO strategist. Through her content, she strives to demystify SEO, website design and digital marketing for the masses. When she isn't sipping coffee at her keyboard, Salena tackles small hikes and attempts to keep up with her Golden Retriever, Luna. Connect with Salena on LinkedIn.