How to Ask for Referrals (Part 1 of 2)

Andrew Neitlich

Thanks for the question on the previous blog about the right way to ask for referrals from clients. There are two parts to the answer, with part 2 coming on Wednesday.

Part 1 is important enough to stand on its own.

Most people think about referrals after the fact, as something to get after work is done. That’s backwards, and will cause you to miss out on many opportunities throughout an engagement and client relationship to get referrals.

The best way to get referrals from clients is to have them think about referrals right up front.

A powerful way to do that is to put a clause in your proposals/contracts that talks about referrals (and testimonials while you are at it):

“Upon successful completion of work, if not sooner, Client agrees to have a discussion with Consultant about possible referrals, and use best efforts to identify at least two potential business owners or executives that might benefit from Consultant’s services. Client also agrees to provide a testimonial and/or case study about the engagement that Consultant can use as part of marketing collateral.”

This clause does a couple of things for you.

First, it is a unique clause, and will get the prospect thinking that you are a unique service provider. The prospect will realize that you are in this for the long term. They will feel confident that you have more than a short-term financial interest in doing a quality job for them.

Second, it gets them thinking about referrals right away. By using this clause in my own contracts, I’m often pleasantly surprised how most clients come to me with referrals rather than my having to come to them.

Third, it saves you the awkwardness of asking for referrals as a favor. You can remind the client of your contract, and get right into a discussion.

How do you talk about this clause to prospects? It’s simple:
“This clause might seem odd, but like you, I rely on referrals to grow my business. By putting the clause in the contract up front, you know that I’m grateful for any referrals you can provide while we work together. And I’d be delighted to help you build your business with referrals, too. Maybe we can sit down once we get going and figure out how to best refer business to one another. At the same time, I’ve worded the clause so that we only have this conversation if you are satisfied with my work — which is both of our goals.”

If clients want to negotiate price for referrals, decline: “Well, that’s not really the purpose of this clause. I already have plenty of referrals. I include it in this contract so you know that I’m looking to delight you, not just for money, but so that you are confident enough in my abilities and results that you might tell some colleagues about me. Also, my goal is to become a referral-only business, and this is one way that helps me to do it. So it’s not really a price issue, and if you want me to take this clause out of the contract, I don’t mind at all.”

Even if you do remove the clause from the contract, they’ll still be thinking about referrals and you’ll have accomplished your goal.

This contract clause gets the whole thing going. Next time we cover when and how to have a referral conversation with your clients.

Try it! You’ll be impressed.