Most freelancers find clients by word-of-mouth. So you should all understand the power of your previous client talking about you -- it’s the most effective marketing tool you can’t buy.

When you write content for your website, portfolio, or social media accounts, don’t forget to capitalize on the incredible power of your client’s words in the form of reviews and testimonials.

Many freelancers are too embarrassed to ask for testimonials or think they seem sleezy. Here’s how to ask for them and publicize them in an authentic, unsleazy way:

How to get testimonials

Off-the-cuff

If you’re too self-conscious to ask for a testimonial, then just listen carefully to the feedback clients give of your work. Besides, sometimes the best reviews of your work are off-the-cuff exclamations or clients’ first impression of your work. Jot down what they say and ask them, “Hey, do you mind if I include that on my website?” You’re catching them just when they’re the most enthusiastic about your work, so chances are they’ll say yes.

If you can’t catch it all perfectly, consider writing up their comment and then sending it to the client to ask them to approve it. Clients are used to writing reviews, and will appreciate that you’re saving them time!

From non-clients

Although testimonials from your clients will probably be the most effective, don’t stop there. Especially if you’re first starting out, ask for a testimonial from a teacher, a previous boss from your 9-5, a previous coworker, a fellow freelancer, etc. Anybody who will speak intelligently and honestly about your work. But not your mom.

On social media

Very generous clients may be willing to post about their love of you publicly on your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. This magnifies the power of your testimonial!

Feel free to take quotes directly from these posts for your website -- the person has already made them public, so you don’t need extra permission to post them on your website. You may be more likely to receive reviews on social media if you sell physical products.

If a client gives you an especially good review of your work verbally or over email, ask them if they’d be willing to post the same thing as a Recommendation on your LinkedIn profile.

Over email

The first thing to recognize is that testimonials take time and energy for your client. Don’t expect them to do a lengthy write-up. Make the entire experience as short, guided, and painless as possible for them.

When I say “guided,” I mean that you should lead them through a series of short questions, rather than just saying, “So, what did you think about me?” This not only helps them understand what you’re looking for, but it also gives you the kind of response that you can actually use.

Step 1. Choose who to ask

Follow your gut on this one, but don’t only ask clients who had a “stellar” experience -- ask every client that you had a satisfactory relationship with. Many people probably disagree with me on this one, but a manager on a so-so gig has surprised me with a great testimonial in the past. You don’t have to use everyone’s recommendations, but you should still ask.

Step 2. Understand your prospective clients

What convinces a prospective client to choose you over someone else? If you’re a visual artist (photographer, illustrator, etc.), perhaps you don’t need a testimonial about how beautiful your work is -- the prospective client can see that for themselves -- but you want to showcase how easy you are to work with, how you also function as a trusted advisor, or some other key benefit.

Complete this sentence (in your head, right now!): Clients are nervous to hire a ________ (your title) because they don’t want ____________. I will set them at ease by showing them I am ____, ____, and _____.

You are asking for testimonials to put your prospective clients at ease by showing them those three attributes you listed above. How do you get them to talk about this?* Leading questions*.

Step 3. Come up with leading questions

These will obviously depend on what you want to get them to say, but here are a few general ideas:

  1. Do you feel like [the service you provided] was worth what you paid for it? How so? (If prospective clients are worried about price)
  2. Did you find that I understood the style/mood/aesthetic of your project or brand? (If prospective clients are worried about you matching their style)
  3. Did you find that I explained [your field] in a way that was easy to understand? Did you learn something about [your field] that makes you feel more confident? (If prospective clients are worried about their lack of knowledge about your topic)
  4. Can you tell me about the impact of my work in terms of pageviews/conversions? (If prospective clients got real results)

Step 4. Write the email request

Keep it short, guided, and painless. Don’t beg. Try this:

“Would you mind just taking a few moments to answer one or two short questions about working with me? It really helps improve my business and lets my future clients know what to expect when they hear from clients like you. Thanks!”

Notice that I made the appeal about how it will help other clients, not just how it will help me. Then they intuitively understand that they should direct their comments to people like them.

Step 5. Wait until right after the project ends to send a request

The best time to send a testimonial request is right after the project ends. You’re fresh on their minds and they’re used to answering emails from you. However, if you’re in a dry spell and haven’t asked for testimonials in the past, you can send a quick email to previous clients. These emails may not have as high of a response rate as ones you send right after the project is finished.

Where do you put the testimonials?

There’s no one right answer for this, but the most important guideline you should follow is to put them where clients can see them!

Many freelancers only put testimonials on a “testimonials” page. You’re forcing clients to click away from where they are (your homepage, your portfolio). You need to surface this content more creatively.

Your homepage

Post excerpts of the testimonials on your homepage, and then link to longer reviews on your testimonials page. Sarah Kolb-Williams and OneBrightSpark do this well.

Your portfolio page

Many freelancers think that it’s enough just to post the content of their portfolio -- the photo album or logo or writing sample. Increase the effectiveness of your portfolio by also including a brief explanation of how and why you made certain decisions, and then back it up with a quote from the client for that project.

The truth is that many clients aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for, and you want to demonstrate that you think deeply about what you create -- that you’re not just slapping your style across their project. A testimonial supports that claim.

Your contact page

Did you look at your Google Analytics and find that people are visiting your Contact page, but aren’t contacting you? Capture the people who are almost your clients with some convincing testimonials.

Your social media accounts

This is one to be careful about. The art of social media for business is promoting yourself without appearing like you’re promoting yourself, and a direct plug (Look what @client said about me: “What a fantastic freelancer!”) feels a bit false.

However, if your client tweets or shares a testimonial, I think it’s appropriate to tweet back Thanks! and a manual RT of the original post.

Obviously, LinkedIn is the most appropriate social media account for testimonials. As I mentioned before, if you get a client in any of the above ways -- through off-the-cuff statements, emails, etc. -- you may want to ask them to submit it as a LinkedIn Recommendation.

Freelancers, how have you asked for testimonials? Do you think they work?

Image by Tribute Media.


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