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Using Referrals as a Web Designer (+ 5 Tips for Getting Started)

The lead generation landscape is always shifting. One minute email marketing is your go-to solution and the next it’s all about LinkedIn. But there’s one marketing ploy that remains consistently popular with web designers: referrals.

The Pain Point All Web Designers Share

A lot of web designers would rather stick needles in their eyes than spend a lot of time thinking about marketing. Even if you’re an agency owner, it’s hard to stay on top of all the ways to generate leads for your business. SiteManager surveyed web design agencies and studio owners to determine what challenges them the most in their careers. By far, the most common response was finding new clients.

Not that there’s any shortage of ways to find clients. The trouble is, most techniques are expensive, time-consuming, and far from easy to do. Setting up sales funnels, advertising, (online) networking, cold calling — when was the last time you heard anyone say these things were easy?

What if, instead of obstacles and steep learning curves, you could simply get your existing customers to promote your business?

In industry jargon, this is called referral marketing and it happens to be one of the most successful methods of generating leads that marketers know of.

Referral marketing is a great way to find clients for your web design business.
What if, instead of obstacles and steep learning curves, you could simply get your existing customers to promote your business?

Referral Marketing, the Darling of the Marketing World

It’s easy to see why marketers sing the praises of referral marketing. Essentially, all you’re doing is asking your existing clients to refer your company to their friends and colleagues.

So besides being one of the most successful methods, it also happens to be the easiest (and cheapest).

Another reason referral marketing has always been a favorite with marketers is that once it gets rolling, it’s pretty much a self-driven affair. Referrals are driven by existing relationships and that works to your advantage in several ways. The client who’s making the referral is able to identify with the potential new lead. They already know the challenges they face. The sequence of events will unfold naturally as the referring client will likely make the referral at the precise moment when the target is thinking about making a purchase.

All this makes them high-quality leads because they have likely made up their minds: they want a website and they’re are actively looking for a supplier. Your existing client has done you a solid by allowing you to take a major shortcut and meet your target way down the line in the buyer’s journey.

Are you ready for it?

Here Comes Your Part: Referrals Need to be Earned

Your existing client has done much of the work for you in the form of a referral at the precise moment when a lead is ready to make a purchasing decision. Referral marketing is self-driven but only to a certain point. Your clients do much of the front-end work but they can’t do everything.

Your pricing, your portfolio, and your experience are all important factors in the sales process. But your reputation could very well trump them all when it comes down to it.

People want to work with people they trust.

People will only refer to you if they’ve enjoyed their past collaboration with you. So if you want to be a referral-driven business, you’ll need to provide your clients with an stellar customer service and deliver a product that exceeds their expectations.

This means your business has got to be customer-centric. Designer David Raes describes this very well:

"A big part of my job is making my clients worry less. If they have a problem with print, emails or websites, I want them to be able to call me. I want to provide them with a single point of contact."

Your clients will only make a referral if they know it will strengthen their own relationship with the new client. If your client isn’t truly satisfied with your service, and if he/she doubts that their friend or colleague will be satisfied, there’s no way you could realistically expect your client to make a referral.

You Could Also Nudge Your Clients for Referrals

If your customers aren’t making referrals organicallyor if you simply need more of them, you could consider offering an incentive. Doing this could really push your sales and fill your orderbook.

Effective incentives come in many different shapes and sizes. What works for you really depends on the kind of websites you develop. Here are a few examples of referral incentives that have worked for other web designers:

  • A discount on the next website
  • Free hosting & maintenance for a year
  • €100 cash when you land a new client
  • 10% commission on the price of the project
  • Free SSL, free domain name, ...

The downside of a incentivized referral is that the quality of your referrals might suffer. Your clients could just be hoping to score some freebies and thus making the referral to just anyone. But a client is a client…

Here are some tips for launching your own referral marketing campaign.

Tip #1 — Just Ask (But At The Right Time!)

A lot of people are a little shy when it comes to asking for a referral. But honestly let’s be real. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Getting no for an answer.

Asking is your best shot at actually getting a referral. Just do it.

The best time to ask for the referral is after having a “wow”-moment with your customer. That isn’t necessarily after you’ve finalized the project. It could very well be after you’ve shown him/her your first proposal or when you’ve gotten some feedback. Just make sure that it’s a moment when your client is very excited and happy with your service!

Tip #2 — Describe Your Ideal Client

When you ask for a referral, it’s always a good idea to tell them who you want them to make the referral to. This ensures that you get the kind of customers you like working with.

If you have a small graphic & web design agency that only builds small five-page websites, you might not be interested in landing very large projects with a lot of custom coding. Share this information with the person you’re asking for a referral to have the best results.

Tip #3 — Say Thank You

It’s important to recognize the value of the referral and thank your client for their effort. Just a simple email or a quick phone call might be enough to encourage additional referrals.

If you truly want to be customer-centric, send an actual thank you-card or even a gift. People love them!

Tip #4 — Use LinkedIn

Using LinkedIn is a great way to get referrals. When you launch your client’s website, write a post about it on your LinkedIn page. Share screenshots, add some text, and tag your client’s business page.

Chances are your client will share, like, or comment on the post. This will actually make the post show up on the news feed of their connections.

Tip #5 — Show Genuine Interest

Really connecting with your client and showing interest in their lives and business will get you a long way. Follow their Facebook page, comment on their posts, send them an (e)card on their birthday.

Authenticity is key. Getting referrals is all about building lasting relationships with your clients so in time they become ambassadors of your business.

Grow Your Web Agency

We hopes this helps. For more insight into how you can get more clients and grow your web agency, take a look at our handy, no-nonsense guide. And if you’d like to come back for more, you can always subscribe to our blog.