How to Get Client Referrals

how to get referrals

Client referrals are important for any service business. In today’s economy with so much traffic and advertising being driven by the Internet, customers are skeptical. To be specific, 3 out of 4 don’t trust online advertising, so when a prospective customer visits your site for the first time odds are they will be cautious and looking for some form of reassurance—namely, customer reviews or client referrals.

Client referrals show-off real success stories of real companies that are comprised of smart people making well thought-out decisions. For new customers, client referrals essentially show that someone else has done the background research and invested their own time and money to prove the waters are safe.

When in a startup phase, it’s a real challenge trying to overcome this skepticism. In the early days of my company, typically about 3 or 4 callers out of 10 remained suspicious of our service even after we outlined all the details and offered full-disclosure of the process and fees. Crazy as it seems, the truth is most people would rather miss-out on a great opportunity than run the risk of being scammed. However, once a few prominent and recognizable company logos were displayed on our client referral section, the ‘skeptic rate’ dropped to maybe 1 in 10— and with the addition of our tutorial “explainer” video that visually detailed our service, the suspicion rate is now practically non-existent.

So it’s great that referrals can be such an effective and mostly free marketing tool, but no one is really debating that. The biggest issue with referrals is attaining them in the first place, so here are some techniques we deployed at Time to Hire that helped us get those so very valuable positive words back from our clients:


This is a part of the service industry anyways: asking for the client’s opinion and review of the experience. Service businesses remain appealing through positive customer experiences, so as an eventuality you must ask for feedback, so why not ask via a referral request to get the ball rolling? For most customers, it’s familiar ground and something they can appreciate, particularly if the favor is posed correctly. Some tried and true phrasing of mine, “I’m a small business and this is how we market our services—trying to make customers happy and hoping you tell other people. Do you know anyone else who might be in need for our services?” It’s an effective way of saying, “Your word is an asset for my business.”


If direct calls aren’t your speciality or if a particular client can’t be reached via phone, you can implement an automated email system to request for you. I utilize both for my company, with automated requests running through a simple system set in-place: after success stories, we check the ‘happy’ box in our database and an email goes out to the customer asking them to please submit an online review as well as fill out a survey. We’ve generated hundreds of referrals this way.


Offer a link or shortcut on the company website where customers can script and send and be done with it. Often times, writing a referral for someone can begin to feel like a chore more than a favor because of the steps required to get it done. Having a streamlined process will also make for easier conversation when it’s time to ask, as you can simply direct them to your site to click the referral link.


Implement discounts or cash incentives for both the customers who submit and the employees who ask. If a customer pens a formal referral for my company, we offer $75 cash or $100 in credit toward their next use of our service. For employees, a small cash sum is incentive enough to get them to bring up the subject, and once they do it enough and get comfortable with it, asking will become habit and drive more success.


Many people and businesses are actively conversing on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, so use it as a chance to throw your hat in the ring and get the conversation rolling in favor of your business. Use these sites to tag your customers and extend your appreciation for their business—you may not always receive a nod back your way, but it’s a numbers game and over time the positive feedback will start rolling in.