By Andrew Neitlich

Some quick secrets to asking clients for referrals

By Andrew Neitlich

Most people ask for referrals the wrong way. They say something like, “If you know anyone who could use my services, please let me know.” This is not an effective way to get referrals from busy people with other things besides growing your business on their mind.

Here are some quick tips to ask more effectively:

1. Find a good time to ask the client for a referral. Best times include: when they sign a contract, when you complete a job and they like it, when they thank you, when you go above and beyond to solve a problem — and other times when you have demonstrated value and they like you.


2. Ask permission to take time to discuss referrals, so that they are focused on it. “Would you mind sitting down, either now, or at a more convenient time, maybe over coffee, to talk about who else you know who might get similar value from my services?”

3. Ask specific questions, not vague questions. If they are on a board of directors, ask who they know on the board that might need your services. If they go to a specific place of worship, ask who they know in the congregation who might need your services. And so on. In some cases, I’ve even asked straight out: “Can we go through your Rolodex?” The more specific your questions, the more likely the client is to think of someone.

4. Ask how you should follow up, and respect their wishes. They may want to make an introduction, or they might want you to send a letter.

5. Let them know what happens, and thank them either way. Going back to point #1 above, a great time to ask for a referral is after you get a referral. After all, the client has now become your advocate and has put their butt on the line for you.

Homework for you: Try the above with 5 of your best clients, today (if you don’t already practice this advice).

  • Hmm, I’ll have to to think about this!

    I do have one question though: What in the world is a “Rolodex?”

  • offering some sort of reward to the client is a preffered method of mine. For every client they refer to me, they recieve something like a 5% commision, seems to work pretty well – and most people, when they see the pound signs, tend to be more helpful.

  • gforce

    I agree with cloak. We call it a “finders fee”. It can range from 5 to 20 percent depending on how much business they bring in and their status as a client. We get a lot of business this way, particularly from associated businesses who don’t/can’t offer web design. For example we have a mini display with our business cards on the front desk of a small computer repair shop!

    Also, shouldn’t sitepoint be writing secular articles given it’s enormous world-wide audience?

    Thanks for the tips!

  • aneitlich

    Rolodex is the brand-name of an old-fashioned way of tracking contacts. Readers other than myself may be too young to remember when we tracked contacts with index cards and a plastic device that revolved to store them. Sigh.

  • pdxi

    Hey, I’m young-ish and I definitely know what a Rolodex is, and in fact, I still have one.

    And I used to write school papers on a type writer.

    And I’m under 30! Heh.



    You won’t get your users attention, neither referrals this way. Better, try, before writing nonsenses.

    Better try some psychology tricks…

  • Well, superuser. Who is really writing nonsens here?

  • Ahh! I always wondered what those were called. (Thanks, showing my age I guess (or lack thereof)).

  • Interesting tips–I actually offer a finder’s fee already, but I can’t see myself asking to go through a clients Rolodex. That just seems to be stepping over an invisible line, to me. I guess it all depends on your relationship with the client.

  • aneitlich


    Yes, it definitely depends on your relationship with the client! I’ve asked only a couple of clients to do this, based on a VERY strong, long-term relationship.

    It’s interesting: I’ve asked my longest term referral source for same, and he refused. We have a great relationship, but he knows that his Rolodex is worth a fortune and so keeps it to himself. But it didn’t hurt to ask!


  • >Also, shouldn’t sitepoint be writing secular articles

    could they? YES
    should they? Not necessarily

  • Bailey

    These same clients who offer referrals will also be very valuable in laying down tips on how to approach the prospects, what makes them “tick,” the sort of business the prospect runs and the things that he/she values in business.

    I actually have one client whom I am close enough with that I would not hesitate to ask about the Rolodex — but as was already said, it depends upon the relationship. The others, no way would I ask. :) hehe

  • 1Click4Help.com


  • amy eaton

    what about us insurance agents who are not allowed to offer something in return. For those of you that don’t know, that is known as rebating in the insurance industry…

  • dawoodman

    That was an excellent tip 1Click! Thanks! I always ask but never get a good response. Always something like, “I’ll call my friend and see if they need anything.” Getting a list of numbers and info is a much better way to get referrals!

  • Anonymous

    You can offer money without it being rebating. Rebating is when pay someone or offer them money to accept what you are giving them or paying them for services on your product. It is totally legal to give gift certificates, money whatever else for referalls. You cannot offer money to keep someone on the books, or to pay someone’s first month premium to get them to accept your services. I offer gift certificates to favorite places to eat but my client has to know up front that in order to get it the referral has to be legit and must purchase something from me. But you can give rewards to clients for referrals totally legal.

    Fellow Ins Representative

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