All good marketing starts with a benefit to the prospect in mind. Yet, I often find people are reluctant to ask straight up for referrals out of a fear of looking needy or infringing in some manner upon the relationship with the client.

I think the reason that this fear exists is because of the improper way most people have learned to ask for referrals.

Most business owners position the asking of referrals as a favor to the asker. Kind of like, we need your help. As much as people like to help, there’s really no benefit in that kind of ask.

Here’s what I mean:
Many businesses try to rationalize asking for referrals by suggesting that they need more clients just like you – this is how I work or if you provide me with referrals I can spend more time working with you. The problem with both of these ways to frame referrals is that they are all about you. I need your help. I work like this.

One of the keys to becoming a referral magnet (actually the key to any marketing message) is to frame it as a benefit. When you are talking to an existing client the benefit of a referral is the opportunity to help that person help a friend or raise their value with a colleague.

So, how could referring you make your client’s life better? That’s the proper way to start thinking about referrals. Do that, and you will never be afraid to ask a client again.

Now you are not asking your clients for help – you are offering to help them get more of what they want. Use your expertise to make them look good, add value and enhance their status – now that’s a winning proposition.

Finally, make sure that you communicate your willingness to make yourself available to help them reach their goals. Tell them so in every form of communication.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • I try to frame my referral requests with something along these lines:

    “Do you know any colleagues or friends in your network who could use a website or need an existing one revamped? If so, please feel free to tell them about my services and how they might be of help.”

    I’m trying to put my clients into the position of being “helpful” to others (that they tell about my services). However, your article has helped me explore whether I might make it into an even more valued statement/request.

  • John Jantsch


    Yes, I think you are on the right path. Show them the benefits or at least help them understand how you can help them.


  • Hi John,

    I have had good success working with CPAs and attorneys using this kind of referral strategy for my graphic, web and marketing services.

    Because they are seen as “trusted advisors,” their referrals tend to carry a lot of weight. And because these professionals understand my pricing structure, they are also in a position to know whether their client can afford my services.

    This is the classic win-win-win situation that all of us strive (or should strive) to achieve.

  • James

    As an attorney, for me, the probelm is not asking for referrals — it is locating those individuals that are aware of the clients I am looking for. I practice in a couple of very specalized areas of law, so really my only marketing opportunities lie with other attorneys who encournter clietns in need of my services (clients do not recognize the need, so I can’t really ask clients for referrals).

    So I end up doing a lot of netorking, which is a real drain on my billable hours. I have heard of several online services (such as and I have had a lot of success with the later service. I do think that eventually techology sites like this will replace the need to actually solicit referrals… Am I dreaming?

    • Ian E.

      I've had a lot of success with a site called I tried going on CasePost and LawRex, but they're both out of business now. helped funnel a lot of new legal clients my way.

  • Right on, John — I agree 100%. I find the problem goes even deeper sometimes than just how people have been taught to ask. Often there’s a real mindset thing going on too… people get so caught up in their own need for more business that they actually lose sight of how much they benefit their clients. They start thinking of themselves purely as salespeople instead of the professionals they are, and then they project that image of themselves onto their clients and assume they’ll look greedy or sleazy if they ask for referrals.

    What you suggest — focusing on benefits and the desire to help others — is perfect, but it only works when someone is able to see HIMSELF that way and articulate those benefits. A few simple exercises designed to re-establish sense of value (jotting down various ways that you’ve helped a particular client, for example, or putting yourself in the role of client/customer and thinking about other professionals — doctor, accountant, lawyer, financial advisor — who have made a big difference in YOUR life) can really help.

  • When and How to Request Referrals
    Over at Duct Tape Marketing, John Jantsch had a good post on How to Frame a Referral Request. First addressing the barrier of why more referrals aren’t requested, Jantsch says:…I often find people are reluctant to ask straight up for referrals out o…

  • Ian E.

    I've had a lot of success with a site called I tried going on CasePost and LawRex, but they're both out of business now. helped funnel a lot of new legal clients my way.