How to Ask for Referrals & Get Repeat Business

Austin L. Church
September 1, 2017
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I’m going to assume that you want more business. I know I didn’t wake up this morning thinking, “Can’t wait for Wunderbar to wither and die!”Of course, not all new business is the same. Some dollars take more time to earn than others. For example, any of the following might be true for you:

“I need more freelancing clients.”“I need more repeat business.”“I need more referrals.”“I need better profits. I need to spend less to get new business.”

Yet, the easiest (and best, I think) way to grow your business is with repeat business and referrals.Here’s the kicker: You usually have to ask for both.Asking for referrals and introductions to new prospects can be uncomfortable. You don’t want to come across as desperate or needy. You don’t want to send the wrong signal to your loyal clients and make them think, “The only time I hear from this guy is when he needs something from me.”Discomfort is one reason we don’t ask for repeat business and referrals, but the puzzle has more pieces:

  • We forget to ask.
  • We don’t make time to find the right words—language that fits our personalities and particular brand of professionalism.
  • We beat around the bush and don’t make it exceedingly clear what we want people to do for us.

What usually happens is this: I finish your website. You’re happy. We shake hands and go our separate ways. Nine months pass, and I think, “Maybe Louis needs something else.”By the time I get in touch, the relationship is a bit stale. Of course, reconnecting with past clients is as simple as saying, “Hi Louis, I was thinking about you. Is everything still good with your website?” But if I only check in every nine months, I will miss out on opportunities.You have to stay in touch to stay top of mind, and you can find artful ways to follow up, create value, and stay top of mind. For example, you can send emails like this:

“Hi Daniel, I was thinking about you this morning. A while back, we talked about referrals, and I just wrote a blog post about that. Here is the link...Hope all is well!”

(I share more ideas in this post: “7 Ways to Follow Up with Past Clients and Silent Prospects Without Annoying Them.”)Wait a second. I’m jumping the gun and assuming that you remember to keep in touch. It is so easy to forget to check in with clients!Here’s what to do to jog your noggin:

  1. Use a simple customer relationship management (CRM) tool to automate reminders.
  2. Create email templates that you can reuse.

Use a CRM to remind you to send emails asking for referrals.

I doubt I have to convince you that follow-up is important.If you’ve ever emailed a past client at just the right time and gotten a new writing project with almost no effort, then you have experienced firsthand the addictive nature of repeat business.Yes, more of that please. (CRM enters, stage right.)In the past, I have used a free Highrise account. Highrise was never the prettiest or most robust tool, but it had a single feature that I liked: quickly adding contacts or automating reminders.That’s the ugly truth of tech and tools: If you pick a beautiful free tool that is hard to use, you will stop using it. The tool ends up having no value for you and may be expensive in the sense that you miss opportunities because of it.On the other hand, an ugly but easy-to-use tool that costs money may end up being less expensive than a free tool if it creates opportunities.In short, pick tools that remove friction, regardless of whether they will win a beauty contest.If you can’t help yourself and must explore various CRM options, then check out Pipedrive and Airtable.

Create referral email templates.

If you find request a referral and you actually get one, then turn that email into a template. Keep using it.Once I develop templates, I paste them into aText, which is similar to Text Expander but a fraction of the price, and assign a code to each one of them—for example, “.referralrequest.”Then, when my CRM sends me an automated reminder, all I have to do is open a new email, type .referralrequest, and Voila! My referral email template populates in the email body. I can quickly customize it and click send.I trust these templates. They work. They have gotten me new business without weirding out my clients and other people in my network.That’s about it. Sorry if you expected some fancy growth hacking trick with an extra dusting of fairy magic. I’m old-fashioned, and I like to grow my business with strategies that will still work ten years from now.Straight up asking for repeat business and referrals works now. It has always worked. It will always work even if my 3D avatar—a tabby cat in an astronaut suit, naturally—is chatting up your 3D avatar in a virtual reality in another universe in 2052.[caption id="attachment_2814" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

how to ask for referrals

Photo Credit: Sticker Mule via Unsplash[/caption]

How to ask for referrals in an email

When you're asking for referrals, remember to lay the groundwork by answering these questions before sending the email:

  • What would make people want to refer you? What would make it easy for them?
  • What value do you create?
  • What makes them qualified to speak on your behalf?

I will even go so far as to write an introduction email in the third person and share it with my referral partner. This saves them time and makes it easier for them to follow through.

Here’s your homework.

  1. Pick an easy-to-use CRM. Paid or free doesn’t matter as long as you keep using it, and it thus generates ROI.
  2. Add your past clients as contacts.
  3. Set up and automate follow-up reminders. (Note: I follow up every six weeks.)
  4. Write a referral request email template. Note: You can find three that Hubspot shared here. You can also get my freebie below.
  5. Write a repeat business request template. One of those is also included in the freebie.
  6. Rewrite the templates to make them sound like you.
  7. Ask a client to read them and highlight any weirdness.
  8. Start asking for referrals and repeat business.

Rule of Thumb: As you kickstart this process, treat other people the way you want to be treated.Here's an example of an email I sent in October 2016...

referral request from October 2016

Closing Remarks

It’s fine to ask for more business. People do it all the time! You don’t have to be super clever and find an angle. You don’t have to make a splashy announcement your latest award or cutting-age, Elon Musk-approved thingamabobber.You can simply ask, straight up, to be introduced to people your client thinks you can help.Always default to being polite and to-the-point, and you’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help you. In fact, a study that came out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that most of us downplay what others know and underestimate their willingness to help. So if you need help in the form of referrals and repeat business, just ask.

Do you want the email templates I use?

If you want my four templates and the cheatsheet that explains how to use them, then enter your name and email address below.I’ll email you the download link.[convertkit form=5071848]