Have you ever gone out of your way to share a product with a friend because you genuinely thought they would love it?

Have you ever been asked to recommend a restaurant? Or told a friend about a great shop you stumbled upon over the weekend?

Of course you have, and you probably even seek out these kinds of recommendations from the people closest to you, or those likely to make a good suggestion.

These are low risk recommendations, for both parties.

What if I asked you to recommend someone for an illustration or website project? These projects are likely to be in the thousands of dollars. Certainly a higher risk recommendation than a pizza joint.

But you still make the recommendation if you have one. You want to make the recommendation. It helps everybody, and it feels good.

Your clients have friends that could use your service. They want to recommend you. Here’s how you can proactively get more referrals from your customers.

Do great work

It goes without saying but if you do great work your existing clients will keep buying from you. Not only that, they will jump at the chance to refer you to someone who is in the market for your services.

Do the easy things well

Have you ever been to a restaurant and had a great meal, in a great atmosphere, only to have the experience tarnished by poor service? It’s a shame when someone does all of hard things really well, but the customer leaves feeling like things could have been better.

Doing the easy things well isn’t going to win you any awards, but it is going to make sure that your customers are always focused on your work. And since you do great work, things like timely responses, accepting feedback, and well designed invoices give the customer peace of mind, and reflect well on your ability to consistently deliver the hard things.

Communicate effectively

Client communication seems like one of the easy things, but don’t be mislead. Great communication requires the same level of thoughtfulness and consistency as the work you deliver for clients. Some things you can do to stand out:

  • Surprise and delight: If you are working on a deadline, deliver one day early. If there is an easy opportunity to deliver an extra feature, just do it.
  • Own your mistakes: We all make them. How we deal with them is what’s important. If you make a mistake, own it, and propose a solution. Your clients know there will be bumps in the road. If you smooth them out in an honest and professional way, your customer isn’t going to remember the error. They’re going to remember that you saved the day.
  • Be genuine: People like to work with people they like. Ask great questions, be honest about your capabilities, and propose realistic timelines. If you don’t think the project is a fit, don’t take it. This is a great opportunity to offer some guidance on the scope, timeline, or to recommend a few alternatives to your services.

You have to ASK for referrals

If you’re doing great work, and clients are confident about your operation, there’s only one thing left to do. You need to actually ask for referrals. Here’s how to do it well.

  • Only once you’ve delivered: The best time to ask for referrals is when you’ve just delivered great work. Strike while the iron is hot, as they say.
  • Be specific: Everyone is busy and you’re asking for a favor (even though the best referrals reflect well on your clients too). Let your client know how much you appreciate their business and how they contributed to a smooth project. Then make the ask, and let the client know they can just forward the email to make an introduction. Mention what you’re great at, and that you’d love to work with more like-minded clients. Finish it off by stating that your business has been built on referrals, that it means a lot to you, and you will handle any referrals with care.
  • Make your client feel good about it: Once you’ve been referred be sure to respond quickly, thank the person who referred you, and be respectful of your new potential client’s needs and timeline. Be responsive, but don’t rush them. They may not need you for a few months.
  • Keep in touch: Keep in touch with your new prospect by sending them something of value once in a while to keep the relationship alive. When they need your services you will be top of mind. Be sure to thank the person that referred you when you get considered for a project (win or lose).

I spent 6 years selling consulting services to startups and Fortune 500 companies. If you have specific questions hit me up personally on Twitter or Quora.