Tips for Building a Design Client Reference List

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again, networking is the foundation of a profitable business.

Thumbs UpFrom working with other designers to connecting with new clients through an online presence, you must build a solid network if your design career is going to last. To truly generate a profitable client list, you’ll often rely on references from previous clients who’ve chosen your design work.

However, to a new designer, asking for client references can be terrifying. Whether worried about inconveniencing a longstanding client or fearing they won’t provide a sparkling reference, you’ve likely found many reasons for stalling on asking for recommendations. While this can be an awkward process to begin, it’s a leap of faith you must take to become more successful. The following are a few tips for building a design client reference list with limited awkwardness and fear.

Give it Time

If you’ve just completed your first ever design project for a client, this may not be the ideal opportunity to ask for a recommendation. Rather, building a solid client reference list takes time. After having worked for a client on at least three separate projects, you should then consider asking for a recommendation.

Whether asking for a quote to place on your website or the addition of a client’s contact information to your reference sheet, give the process some time. By not rushing the development of your client relationships, they’ll become stronger through a naturally occurring process.

Build a Generic Letter

As you become more successful, you’ll regularly be sending out reference list requests. To make the process less tedious, draft a generic reference request document. While you’ll need to personalize the details for each reference request, this will save time as your business expands.

The following is a sample reference request:

Dear ____,

I hope your week is going well!  I would first like to thank you for your confidence in my design services. I’ve enjoyed having you as a client and I hope to continue working together in the future. I am currently compiling a client reference list and, with your permission, would like to add you to the list.

The reference would include your name, email address, and phone number and would only be sent to potential clients who are considering using my services. Please reply to this email if I have your permission to add you to my business reference list.

Again, thank you for your confidence in my design services. Your trust in my ability to serve you is greatly appreciated.


Don’t Overuse References

After building a reference list, don’t burn bridges with longstanding clients by overusing them for recommendations. Rather, establish a schedule for finding new references and asking current references to remain on the list. An acceptable schedule is to switch out references every six months and to not reuse clients as references for more than two or three six-month periods. This will keep your reference list fresh and will avoid frustration from current clients regarding continually being contacted with questions regarding your services.

The most important aspect of a solid reference list is to thank clients who’ve agreed to recommend your services. Each time a client agrees to be added to the list, send a thank you note and a low-cost gift. This will show your appreciation and will ensure bridges aren’t burned with reliable clients.

Photo credit: Ambro

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