Word of mouth is the most potent form of marketing at your disposal.  Having your web design business recommended to potential clients by someone they trust and already have a relationship with is more powerful than any other type of advertising.  Referrals give you instant credibility.  If you aren’t harnessing the raw power of this form of marketing, then you are leaving money on the table.

How a referral system can help you:

1. Referrals are very effective. A potential customer is 2 or 3 times more likely to follow the advice of a referral rather than any other form of mass advertising when they have need of web design services.

2. Referrals business is inexpensive. It can cost you as little as nothing.  If you do pay for referrals, you only pay for actual business you get, not just potential business as with other forms of marketing.  So, it is a win-win, either way.

3. Referrals can make you more money. Not only can you make more money because of adding clients, but referral clients are usually more trusting and willing to purchase more services, which contributes more to your business long-term than clients you get through other means of advertising.  When you quote a referral your price, there is less of a flinch since they have already been told that you are good and trustworthy.  You don’t have to work as hard to sell them on the value of your services.

4. Referrals are a good business practice.  You will work harder for each client and give them your best knowing that they are your best source of new income over the coming months.  It creates a perpetual self-sustaining cycle of offering great service and getting more business as a result.

Helpful Guidelines for a Referral Program

1. Only ask your top clients for referrals. When someone talks about you to their friends and colleagues, you want them to be excited and thrilled with the service you offered them, not just so-so.  A lukewarm referral is as good, and maybe worse, than no referral at all.

2. Don’t ask for the referral right when you finish the work. They have just paid you good money, and you gave them a fair service in return; that isn’t the right time to ask for a favor.  Instead, follow up a week later and make sure that all of their needs were met.  This will impress them.  Then, a week after that, contact them about offering referrals.

3. Specifically ask your clients to give you referrals. Don’t just hope that they do!  If you ask, you will receive, but if you don’t ask, then don’t count on anything.  Sure, you may get an occasional referral, but nothing that will be reliable, and certainly not business-sustaining.

4. Be overly grateful and generous. If someone sends you a referral, at the very least, send them a thank you card.  Including gift certificates to the local theatre, bookstore, or coffee shop, or if they aren’t local, to Amazon.com, is a great way to show thanks as well.  This will put you in their mind as someone they like to do business with, and they will be all the more likely to recommend you again in the future.

Implementing A Web Design Referral System

Why bother with a system?  Because if you don’t it will likely not happen.  If you don’t have a set, defined path, then this will be another thing that gets overlooked and forgotten about.  You will do it the first couple of times, but then it will drop off the radar.  So after reading this article, write out the action items that you will follow with each client and a timeline for following it.  Here are some ideas to implement in your referral system:

1. Set up calendar reminders for yourself to do the 1 week followup and the 2 week followup with your clients that I mentioned above.  You can start with any client you have completed in the last month.  Set up a recurring half-hour reminder each week and group these followups all together.

2. Consider using a set reward system. I mentioned above using gift cards as a thank you, but you can incentivise the whole process by offering a percentage of each sale or a set reward for every thousand spent.  This may seem expensive, but remember that you wouldn’t have gotten this business at all without someone referring the client to you.  It is still more cost effective to reward clients for referring actual paying customers than to gamble on mass marketing.

3. Create personalized referral business cards or fliers that your clients can give out.  This makes it easier for them to spread the word about your services, and it is something tangible for the referred client to remember you by.

4. Look into automating the process. I haven’t tried this yet, but you could include personalized codes on the cards/fliers mentioned above.  When a customer uses the code to contact you on your website, they could get a discount, and you would know who referred them. As with anything, the easier it is to do, the more likely people will be to do it.

5. Consider working by referral only. I have to admit that I didn’t think of this one on my own but got it from this link.  On your card, flier, and website include something like:

By Referral Only


By Referral Only…means: We invest 100% of our time and energy to delivering first-class service to our clients. As a result, our valued clients, suppliers, and friends refer their family, friends and work associates to us for advice on buying or selling real estate. We’re interested in building strong life long relationships one person at a time.

I like how this creates a red velvet rope around your business that tells potential clients that you only work with the best because you are the best.  This puts you in demand.  You are no longer the desperate web designer, just scraping by looking for any scrap of business that comes your way.

In this scenario, you want to be sure to tell your clients what kind of customers you are looking for when you ask them to refer you, again adding to the sense of your high standards.

How have referrals helped you in building your web design business or what methods have you used that I didn’t mention here?