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The Power of Referrals for Your Business (and How to Ask for Them)

Think about the last time you received outstanding service at a local restaurant and recommended it to everyone you know. Or when you had an online customer service experience that was so memorable, you had to call it out on your social media channels.

Now, think about the times you’ve gotten recommendations like these from friends or colleagues—and how much their endorsement of a business or service made you want to try it out for yourself. Because it came from someone you know, this word-of-mouth referral often resonates better than a flashy TV spot or social post ever could. In a nutshell, this is the power of peer-to-peer marketing (P2P).

In the context of your agency or freelance business, you can mobilize P2P by getting referrals from people who already know you and your work, and it’s a powerful tool to help you win new business opportunities.

How powerful? In our 2022 Mailchimp & Co Benchmark Report, an invaluable resource that details what over 2,000 surveyed agencies and freelancers from 63 countries think about the current state of the industry, 48% of freelancers ₁ said that client referrals are—far and away—the best way to bring in new clients.

The bottom line? If you or your sales team (if you have one) can learn how to ask for referrals and convince your clients to talk you up to their friends and business connections, you’re more likely to win more business—and grow your own.

With that in mind, we want to share a few tips that can help you overcome whatever’s holding you back—and help you learn how to turn your clients into evangelists for your business.

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the data from this year’s Benchmark Report to learn why referrals—and their winning ability to generate leads—can be so powerful for your business.

₁ Featured article data is based on findings from our 2022 Benchmark Report and, where noted, some stats are freelancer-specific or agency-specific.

  • When we asked agencies what they thought one of the most effective ways to bring in new clients was, a clear winner emerged: Referrals from existing clients.
  • Despite the indisputable power of referrals, 57% of surveyed agencies in this year’s report said they hadn’t implemented a cohesive strategy to increase them.
  • Only 16% of surveyed freelancers said they regularly asked for referrals, while 36% said they never asked for them at all.

Here are a few ways you can learn how to maximize your referral-earning power.

Hook a lifetime client (or two)

When you started your freelance business or agency, you worked tirelessly to build something your target audience wants—and may still gush about with their friends. But client relationships don’t end with your point of sale, and even long-term clients can bow out if you don’t keep them engaged.

It’s essential that you create a strategy for retaining them. After all, racking up referrals within your clients’ networks can be more manageable than landing new business elsewhere. Let’s unpack a few tips you can use to help you sustain and leverage long-lasting business relationships.

Got to be real

The internet’s plagued with copy-cat content and empty promises. Authenticity is the cure. Your marketing should accurately reflect your business personality and point of view. Otherwise, you may not attract—and maintain—genuine business relationships that can help you acquire referrals down the road.

Address clients’ pain points

Your customers have ongoing questions, frustrations, and needs. Your job is to predict what your clients will be searching for so you can be the first answer they see. Check in with the people behind the briefs, benchmarks, and business proposals to help resolve their problems.

Provide value—not noise

A heaping pile of marketing clutter can distract your clients from understanding your message and finding real value in your business. Focus on amplifying what you do exceptionally well—and make that your primary selling point.

Find your niche to help you scale your business

You might be asking, “How do I address my audience’s specific needs?” After all, small businesses that hire freelancers and agencies often don’t need assistance with just one thing these days—they need help with branding, social media strategy, SEO, B2B demand generation, and all the other elements that create a modern marketing mix.

We’ve got news for you—even the best marketers can’t excel at everything. Among the challenges of drumming up new business, 16% of surveyed agencies in this year’s report said that lacking a marketable niche or specialty can create a barrier to winning new clients and generating leads. So, by finding your niche market, you can potentially land bigger clients—and that can help boost your credibility and make it more likely that clients will refer your business to others.

Not sure how to get started? Try specializing in something your existing clients and prospects can’t get anywhere else. And make sure they’re aware that this specialty is what they’re paying for. After all, what many clients really value is, well, real value. They’ll pay a premium to get it, and they'll likely share that value with their contacts. Need some inspiration? Check out how these marketers carved out niches for their businesses.

Listen to your clients and ask for their feedback

People tend to stick with companies that do right by their customers by making them feel supported and respected. By listening to your clients, you can help create and sustain authentic client connections—and inspire customer loyalty that can help you increase your referrals.

One way to listen and elicit praise from your clients is to collect feedback through a client survey. But before you hit your clientele with questions, you want to ensure you’re going about it in a way that’ll actually help you garner accurate results, as this data will impact the changes you’re seeking to make across your organization.

Pro Tip:

When collecting feedback about your organization, consider making it anonymous. Anonymity helps employees and clients share their thoughts honestly without fear of repercussions. Your clients deserve to have a safe space for genuine candor—and your business can benefit from it, too.

Do great work—and showcase it

Before you can rack up client referrals, focus on fine-tuning your business and services—and then share what you do. A few ways you can position your work to help you build credibility and increase your referrals include requesting testimonials from your clients, getting customer reviews, and practicing savvy social media marketing.

“Referrals might come from someone who’s seen the work, on Instagram, for example, or it might come through a client you’ve worked with,” said James Kape, founder of Omse, an independent design studio focused on branding, and one of the creative professionals we shined a spotlight on for our Movers and Makers series in a partnership with It’s Nice That.

“A lot of the work that we got in the early days came through a referral from someone who knew the client. Obviously, to get those referrals, you have to deliver on point one—doing good work—which is why it’s so important to invest in your case studies.”

Listing your business in our Experts Directory, a search directory that exclusively features Mailchimp partners and pro partners and allows small businesses to search for and hire creative professionals by specialty, language, and location, is another fantastic way to get your name out there.

And don’t just fill the airwaves with praise from your existing clients—brag about your past ones, too. By showing your network how awesome your clients and their businesses are, you’re helping refer them out—and building a solid strategy for increasing your own referrals.

“I have business opportunities that come from referrals from past clients, which means my clients are happy with the work and quality I deliver,” said Olivert Lara from Seneca Marketing.

Suppose you hype up your clients regularly. In that case, it won’t feel forced to ask them for referrals later because you’ll have established a strategic alliance built on benefiting mutually from one another. You can easily share your current and past clients’ big ideas and product launches by firing off a social media post on LinkedIn or leaving them a review online.

“A lot of the work that we got in the early days came through a referral from someone who knew the client. Obviously, to get those referrals, you have to deliver on point one—doing good work—which is why it’s so important to invest in your case studies.”

- James Kape, founder of Omse

Offer referral incentives—like rewards and other fun perks

Show clients a little appreciation for supporting your business, especially when they go out of their way to refer your company to those within their inner circle.

Thanking your clients for placing their trust in your organization by rewarding them with a discount, exclusive perk, gift, or a rewards program can go a long way. Some customer referral programs offer customers the opportunity to save money by earning bill credits and other perks when they make a certain number of referrals.

Expand your business referral network

Imagine interacting with—and learning directly from—those who help shape Mailchimp. That’s exactly what Mailchimp & Co members who level up to partner status have the opportunity to do. Partners can find referrals through communication channels like our partner Slack, an insider workspace for agencies and freelancers to gather, exchange leads, and collaborate on projects with other Mailchimp devotees.

In addition, Mailchimp leaders from across departments host exclusive Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions in our partner Slack workspace to help answer questions on a range of topics, such as new Mailchimp product releases, how to get referrals, how to land more marketing leads, and more. You can foster a strategic partnership with an expert in real time by getting answers to your top questions to help you do more for your clients and grow your business.

Mailchimp’s exclusive collective of fellow marketers from around the world has the power to transform businesses by opening up all kinds of referral-rich networking opportunities. In our article The dos and don’ts of networking for agencies and freelancers, you can find more tips and inspiration that can help you expand your client base. But don’t take our word for it—read what our partners have to say.

“People underestimate the power of partner referrals—one great referral can really change your business,” said Westfield Creative’s Emily Ryan, whose acquisition of an Ivy League client in 2021—thanks, in part, to a referral from another Mailchimp partner in our network—has helped supercharge her business success. “Thanks to this community, networking has become more about building relationships with my peers.”

Use business referral email templates

When asking for customer referrals, we recommend using a referral email template to help steer—and streamline—your messaging. If you use a template, make sure to fill in the blanks with your specific needs. Otherwise, your client may not understand what type of potential lead you’re looking for, which may render your request for a referral useless.

If you’re looking for a robust referral guideline that has the power to help you land your next lead, we’ve created a dynamic referral template exclusively for Mailchimp & Co members that you can access—for free—from your dashboard once you join our community.

In the meantime, here are a few referral email templates you can use to help you get started (without sounding too salesy).

Follow-up customer referral request—for agencies

Hello [customer name],

We’re glad that you’re happy with the way our [product/service] turned out after working together on [project name/campaign]— we hope everything is still going well with you.

We know how slammed you must be, but do you know someone who might also benefit from our [product/service]? We’d hate to leave anyone who is also [experiencing the same or similar pain point] to be left in the dark.

Thanks for your consideration, [Signature(s)]

Follow-up customer referral request—for freelancers

Hi [customer name],

I’m so glad to hear that you’re benefiting from the work I did for your [name of project/campaign]. I knew my [experience with specific service] would help you reach your [specific marketing goal], and I’m thrilled to see how well things are going.

Given the success you’ve seen so far, do you know any [friend/ colleagues/peers] who might also be looking to [reap the benefits you received from my product/services]? If so, I would love to help them achieve great results.

All the best, [Your name]

How to write a referral thank-you note

Think of a referral thank-you note as a small way to show some gratitude to your clients for recommending your business, products, or services to others. We’ve provided a few examples of thank-you notes you can use to help you show your appreciation to an individual or full-fledged company for their referral.

Referral thank-you note—for agencies

Hi [client name],

On behalf of the entire team here at [agency name], we want to thank you for your thoughtful referral of our [product/service]. We are beyond grateful for our clients’ trust in our [product/service] and are always looking to build relationships with those who share our passion for [saving the world from crummy content one campaign at a time].

To show our appreciation, we would like to offer you a [special perk that delights and excites] to help you continue to make incredible things happen for your clients. Tap this link to access your [gift of gratitude], and thanks again for your kind referral.

Your partners in marketing, [Signature(s)]

Referral thank-you note—for freelancers

Hi [client name],

I want to thank you for recommending me after we wrapped our [project/campaign]. As a freelancer, I’ve spent my career building trust with clients, and I consider myself lucky to work with some incredible people who share my passion for [crafting copy that cuts through the noise].

To show my appreciation, I’d like to offer you [15% off your next consultation or project with me] to help you with your future marketing needs. Please, feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding this discount, and I’ll be happy to jump on a call with you.

Thank you again for the referral.

Cheers, [Your name]

Start creating referral opportunities today

Download our 2022 Benchmark Report to discover how your peers get referrals and win new business.

Mailchimp & Co is all about connecting agencies and freelancers to inspiring resources from our growing community of creative professionals to help you do more for your clients. When you join, you’ll get access to exclusive perks and tools you can use to help you make amazing things happen for your clients—and create more opportunities for winning quality referrals from industry experts.

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