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How to Get Referrals From Clients as a Team or Freelancer

By Robert Williams | Last Updated: January 18, 2021

Contrary to what most people think, your work alone isn’t what gets you referrals from clients.

The truth is there’s something else that’s way more important for getting referrals.

That’s creating an amazing client experience.

Now, I don’t have all the answers on this topic, but I do know one thing:

Happy clients become repeat clients. Unhappy clients leave.

That’s why it’s so important to focus on more than just your skills as a company.

This goes for whether you’re a one person or 20 person team. One of the smartest things you can do to get more referrals from clients is fix your client communication.

All of these are more valuable than just providing great work. But doing them consistently requires a plan. This post is going to help you create that plan and tailor it for your company so you create an amazing, unique, client experience document that you can refer back to at any time. Let’s dive in.

Designing a Client Experience to Get Referrals as a Team

In 2020 the world changes. Work became virtual. With this came a new challenge. Communicating with clients became more difficult than every before. Details got lost on Zoom calls, Slack convos, emails and more. That’s why the first key to great communication with clients is this: getting everyone on the same page.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

The first step to upgrading how you communicate with design clients is to create a processing document. A client service processing document is a manual that you can refer back to in various client situations. It can be as simple as a Google Doc you share with everyone in your company that talks to clients.

This ensures all clients receive the same high-level of service and everyone on your team knows how to deliver it. Here’s a look at what ours looks like at Folyo:

Communicating With Clients Well Starts with Documenting Great a Process

You’ll want to include things like great responses to the most common questions clients ask, and other common scenarios. This way you can control the client experience in one central place. Note: this can take a while to create, so below we have some templates you can use for various scenarios including difficult conversations. Some questions to think about:

The truth is you can create a pretty awesome client processing document just by copying and pasting emails from your inbox. As you and your team begin to use this document, you can continually improve it by tweaking your processes.

(Last note on this: your processing document doesn’t just need to be text, it can include video walk-throughs of tasks or even client calls demonstrating your process.)

Being Proactive

Responding to clients with great service is only one half of the equation. To truly master client communication, you need to proactively reach out to clients so they’re never left wondering what you’re doing.

Here’s a rule that will serve you well: aim to be the first to reach out.

This conveys a genuine interest in improving the customer experience.

For instance, you might send weekly check-in emails or executive summaries on Fridays to all of your existing clients that outline your progress and next steps for the week. Here’s a template you can use for this email:

Hi [Client name],

Thanks for chatting with me / the update on the project.

Here’s a status update on where we are currently. This week I did the following:

  1. X
  2. Y
  3. Z

Next week I’m going to be tackling the following:

  1. X
  2. Y
  3. Z

Do you agree? If so, [Team member A] please provide [Team member B] what he needs by Friday. [Team member B], please review by Monday. Please both confirm.

-Your name

In doing so, you ensure that clients won’t be left wondering what to do. 

You can save time and effort on sending these updates by creating templates in advance. With emails, be sure to avoid abrupt or impersonal language like generic greetings. Keeping messages clear and concise shows that you value the recipient’s time as much as your own. It’s also wise to end with a note of gratitude for the continued support. 

Another strategy is to request feedback on a regular basis. You can’t satisfy your clients unless you know what they want. By frequently checking in with them, you can swiftly identify and eliminate issues before complaints arise.

Communicating with Design Clients Consulting Feedback Template

As your client base grows, it’s worth looking into customer relationship management (CRM) software and survey tools to help you stay on top of responses. 

Whichever method you use to obtain feedback, try to be receptive and open to any suggestions. 

In addition to these strategies, you can be proactive by:

Touching more on the last point, you can highlight and show your appreciation for top customers in numerous ways. Plus, you don’t have to spend a fortune. For instance, incentivizing referrals might actually make you more money. Showcasing their brand on your homepage and sending invites to special events are also affordable options.

Perhaps your service lends well to loyalty programs. If you’re working with established corporations, the benefits of their membership can go towards charities as opposed to discounts or points. 

Being Thoughtful

Anticipate what your clients need, albeit without assuming. 

While nothing is necessarily guaranteed, you can make informed decisions about future actions and behaviors. This begins by assessing what might save your clients time and reduce their workload. 

For example, you can make it easy to reply to your emails. There are various ways to end messages to clients. Let’s say you received the brief for a new project. The key is to throw in a suggestion with instructions. Simply stating what you think and asking for confirmation before getting started can make all the difference. 

What’s great about anticipating needs is that it’s mutually beneficial. For instance, you can gather more compelling referrals and testimonials by making it a breeze for clients to write them. All you have to do is provide the questions. Here are some ideas:

An equally simple strategy is to send clients birthday wishes or gifts. You may want to create an email template for this purpose. You can even make your client’s life – as well as your own – easier by presenting upsells like monthly retainers. Whatever the case, ensure that you support your thoughtful gestures with prompt responses. 

Small teams can cut their response times in several ways, including: 

Being Efficient

The final recommendation for this section of the guide is to make proper use of your time. 

Of course, operational efficiency is vital to managing client expectations, as punctual teams provide prompt responses and send swift deliverables. They can also rely on each other to stay on top of tasks and mitigate stressful situations. Let’s briefly discuss the primary methods for improving time management. Your small team can:

Even the most focused and organized teams can experience stress in the face of an overwhelming project or task. It’s not always possible to control the cause, but you can always adjust your reaction. 

Being Pleasant

It certainly helps if your clients like you. The absence of admiration hampers collaboration, relationships, referrals, and repeat business. What makes organizations or teams likable? Start with the basics:

As you go about winning over clients, remember that there is such a thing as too nice. If you fail to address your concerns when necessary, your client will have free rein to exacerbate the issue. This is overtly explained in the following excerpt from the article “Getting Clients” by Mike Monteiro.

“There’s a difference between being enjoyable to work with and being “nice.” Being nice means worrying about keeping up the appearance of harmony at the expense of being straightforward and fully engaged. Sometimes you need to tell a client they’re making the wrong call. Part of client services is being able to do that without coming off as a dick. But being afraid to do it because you’re too invested in being “nice” is worse than being a dick.

“No one is hiring you to be their friend. They’re hiring you to design solutions to problems. But if they can get the same solution from someone who’s pleasant and someone who’s a jerk, they’ll go with the former.

“Be pleasant, don’t be nice.” – Mike Monteiro

Being Clear

Now more than ever, the bulk of our interactions with clients are facilitated by keyboards. 

With typing making up around 90% of your work, being able to write simply is immensely useful. How do you write simply? The key is to omit anything unnecessary. It’s also good practice to keep sentences short. 

A particularly important sentence to simplify and refine is the first one. It’s responsible for captivating the reader and generating interest in your message. Whether you’re writing an article, copy, email, or proposal, make sure that the introduction cannot be written better. 

You can also be clearer by organizing your sentences in accordance with how the brain processes information. We find it easier to comprehend “the boy kicked the ball” than “the ball was kicked by the boy,” for instance. 

There’s no telling how many problems you’ll sidestep by communicating clearly and concisely. It’s one of the things you can do to go the extra mile for your clients. The rest of your efforts in that regard exist beyond the objectives that you’ve aligned your actions to so that the client’s goals are accomplished. 

How to Deal With Difficult Clients

The unfortunate reality is that some client expectations lie beyond reality itself. 

Some expect to get away with fraud. Others expect undue preferential treatment. This section details how to navigate these scenarios appropriately. 

What to do when clients don’t pay

It can be frustrating to have the fruits of your labor withheld from you without any explanation. 

When communicating with non-paying clients, bring up your contract, and remain professional. First send a follow-up email to determine the issue. Perhaps the client just forgot. 

Here’s a template to help you collect more payments. 

Hi Client,

It was great to work with you on Project X. I invoiced you 30 days ago (Invoice #215) but haven’t received word from your accounting yet. Is there additional info you need from me, or can you tell me when the check will be mailed?

-Your name

This starts on a positive note and makes it easy for the client by referencing the specific project and invoice details. Finally, frame the question so it’s neutral – it could be you or it could be them. 

The key is to be gentle but firm, not confrontational. 

What to do when clients are rude

The client might be lowballing you. Maybe they’re just plain rude. 

You’re allowed to be choosy, especially when you know how to get good clients. But if you still happen to come across an inappropriate or unprofessional customer, this template can help:

Hi Client,

I suspect that you are viewing this project as a cost rather than an investment in the future of your business.

If you think [the project] is the future of your business, then you should do this ASAP (and to toot my own horn for a second, there is nobody better to do it than me.)

If instead you think [project type] is a passing fad, I’d be happy to recommend a junior [work type – e.g. copywriter, developer].

-Your name

Here, we make it clear that time is money. If you’re getting a hunch that the client isn’t valuing your work, it’s best to call that out immediately.

You don’t want to get stuck with a client who doesn’t value your time. Always give your client (and yourself) options.

What to do when clients ghost you

As always, don’t take it personally if a client hasn’t responded in a while. They could be busy. 

If you haven’t heard back from a client after multiple follow-ups, there’s one more email template you can use to revive cold leads, dead deals, and all other situations where you’re getting ignored.

It’s called the Magic Email and it was created by my friend Kurt Elster. It’s a simple, one line that closes the loop:

Because I haven’t heard from you on this, I have to assume your priorities have changed.

Another benefit of sending this email is that it lets you move on with your own life, too. Emphasizing the value of time in your final message can vastly improve response rates. 

What to do when clients ask for discounts

Don’t lower the price here. Instead, remove scope. 

Here’s a template you can use:

Hi Client,

While I can’t discount my rate for various reasons, I may be able to find a way to work within your budget if we make some changes to the scope.

The way you suggested will take 12 more hours. But there’s a way I can do it that will only take one hour. It won’t do x but it will do y.

Does that sound good? 

-Your name

These are the sweetest words a client can hear. Budgets are never all about money. Try reducing the budget for your client today using the words above to gain their trust.

Let’s end off with a few suggestions for avoiding the aforementioned scenarios. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to partnering with the right clients. Granted, this can be strenuous.

The challenge lies in finding ways to do it efficiently, consistently, and at scale. After all by definition going the extra mile can be time-consuming (and disorganized).

But keeping your design clients happy through awesome communication will:

After all, both happy clients and high profits are vital to business success.

At the end of the day, properly managing your clients and meeting their expectations provides the most value. It leads to greater satisfaction, repeat business, and references.

Now you’ve developed a plan for keeping clients happy, you can move on to marketing with confidence. Sign up here to get a full guide on finding clients.

Folyo exists to help your agency find better leads quickly. Since 2013 we've curated the web's best RFPs and client opportunities inside our flagship lead program Folyo PRO. Each year we help thousands of agencies add millions of dollars to their bottom line. Get instant access to agency leads by trying Folyo PRO today.