How to get testimonials from clients

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If you look at a successful freelancer’s LinkedIn page, it’s usually peppered with positive testimonials from past clients. And for good reason.

We humans are social animals, and typically base our decisions on what other people think.

We’ll usually choose a film or a restaurant because a friend recommended it, or because it got a high star rating in an online review. This psychological principle is known as ‘social proof’, and it applies to choosing freelancers just as much as anything else.

So, should you mass email all your clients, and beg them for glowing testimonials right now? Actually, that’s not the best way to go about it, for reasons I’ll outline in a moment.

Instead, I’m going to outline a more business-like and professional approach to getting client testimonials that may seem more arduous, but will ultimately net you a lot more freelance work in the long term.

1. Ask for constructive feedback

The first thing you should do on completing a project is ask your clients for constructive feedback, rather than purely positive feedback. Stress that you want them to share any negative experiences of working with you, as well as positive ones.

Why would you want to hear bad things about your performance? In short, because while testimonials are one element in attracting work, they’re only a small part of it. Client referrals and word-of-mouth are much more important. And getting these, ultimately, depends on you doing excellent work that makes your clients happy.

So while it may not sound fun (and it often isn’t), getting genuine, constructive feedback from clients is absolutely vital if you wish to grow your freelance practice in the long term.

2. Ask specific questions

We all have egos and assume everyone’s happy with our work if they don’t tell us otherwise. But sometimes, clients are simply too embarrassed to offer criticism. So how do you get them to come out of their shell?

First, you need to spell out that you want to hear negative feedback, when relevant, as well as positive feedback. And secondly, it helps to ask specific questions. Typical questions might include:

  • Why did you decide to hire me in the first place?
  • In what ways did my work exceed your expectations?
  • In what ways did my work fail to meet your expectations?
  • What did you enjoy most about us working together?
  • What parts of the process could I improve to make things easier for you?
  • Would you recommend me to other companies you work with?

The trick is to strike the right balance between asking too many questions (making clients less likely to respond) and too few (which means you won’t get enough info). You know your client, so you should have a sense of where that balance lies.

You’ll also need to judge how best to conduct the Q&A. For example, you could do it via email, by setting up an online form with a tool such as Typeform, or over a phone or Zoom call.

3. The benefits of negative feedback

If it turns out the client isn’t happy with your work, that’s going to sting. But on the plus side, it will help you avoid similar issues in future.

Moreover, assuming the project hasn’t been a complete disaster, the client in question may still be keen to hire you again, because you’ve shown a willingness to empathise and improve things next time. Plus, it will save them the hassle of hunting for someone new and untried.

In short, even if you do get negative feedback from a client, you can turn it into a positive. Which makes this whole process a win-win situation overall.

4. Turning feedback into testimonials

Of course, if it turns out the client is totally happy with everything you’ve done, then happy days! You’re now on track to putting together a genuine and authentic testimonial.

First, write back thanking the client for taking the time to respond. Tell them about how great it’s been working together and ask them to bear you in mind for future projects. Also enquire if they work with any other companies (such as suppliers) that they’d be willing to recommend you to.

Next, it’s time to turn their Q&A answers into a testimonial, by cherry-picking the most positive parts, and pulling them together into a single paragraph. There’s no ‘correct’ length for a testimonial, but in general the shorter the better, as people are always more willing to read something concise and to the point. Two or three sentences will normally do it.

Don’t hold back from rewording some of their sentences slightly, just to make it flow better. Just tell the client you’ve done so, and they should be fine with this. In fact, as long as the meaning stays the same, they probably won’t even see the change.

Once you’ve put the words together, email them back to the client, ask if they’d be happy for you to use this as a testimonial, and nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes.

You might also ask for an accompanying headshot, which will help enormously in personalising the testimonial and making it all the more persuasive.

5. Share the testimonial

The final stage of the process is to share the testimonial in as many places as you can.

You’ll usually want to add it to your LinkedIn page and portfolio, include it in your newsletter, and share it on your social media. You might also choose to embed it below your email signature, or to write a full case study for your blog and include it there.

Wherever you share your testimonial, it’s courteous to let the client know, and they may also be able to amplify its reach; for example via their own social media accounts.

The process I’ve outline might all seem a bit long-winded, compared with simply asking the client to write a testimonial directly. But in practice that approach is self-defeating, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the client might not have the time or inclination to do so, because writing something from scratch is always more difficult than answering questions. Second, even if they do, they may be annoyed by the extra effort, given that they’re not getting anything out of it. Remember, that asking for both positive and negative feedback gives clients the opportunity to improve things in future (benefiting them), whereas just asking for a testimonial benefits you, and you alone.

Thirdly, getting constructive feedback will enable you to improve how you work with clients in future, making them more likely to both rehire you and recommend you to others. And finally, if your Q&A comes back with mainly positive feedback, you’ll be able to put together a genuine testimonial you can be proud of, rather than something that the client just cobbled together to stop you hassling them.

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