How to Get an Awesome Client Reference to Show Off Your Expertise

May 09, 2022

Receiving a request for a client reference isn’t uncommon in PR. Prospective clients can ask for your references during the discovery call, while they’re reviewing your proposal, or any time in between! Being asked to provide client references can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve never thought about them before. 

But whether you’re stressing over how to handle reference requests or have no way to get a client reference in the first place, all you need to focus on is preparation. 

How To Get A Client Reference 

Sourcing a stellar client reference is actually quite simple! Reach out to your current or past clients that have had big PR wins while working with you. Ask if they’re open to being a reference, and then pass their contact information to your prospective client. 

Be sure to get their preferred means of communication, too! If they’d prefer to connect with your prospective clients over text, clearly note that when passing along client references. You don’t want your prospective client to catch your reference off-guard with a call. 

But if you don’t want to scramble to reach out to your clients each time someone asks for a reference, there are two easy ways to build sourcing client references into your existing service delivery! 

Related: How to Explain the Value of PR to Your Clients

Add It to Your Testimonials Process

Your first option is to add reference requests to your testimonials process (and yes, you’ll need references and testimonials!). Each time you gather testimonials from current clients, make it a standard part of your process to ask if they’d be willing to serve as a reference for your services, too. 

Sourcing a client reference is much easier when you’re not stressed because you need it immediately. 

As you get those killer testimonials, you’ll also start building a mini-database of clients that you have express permission to list as references whenever prospective clients ask. Talk about a win-win situation! 

Seize the Moment After a Big Win! 

Your other option is a little more tricky to time. Instead of making client references part of your standard testimonial process, you can ask clients to serve as references after scoring a prominent feature or hitting a huge milestone. 

Think about it! You just got a major win for your client, and everyone is happy and celebrating your results. Why wouldn’t your client jump at the chance to gush about how exceptional your PR services are? 

Asking for a client to serve as a reference doesn’t have to be awkward. Honestly, it’s the perfect opportunity to ask them! Open with a reminder of how much success you’ve found together (“I’m so glad we’re achieving such huge results together!” is a great way to start), and ask if they’d be open to being a reference in the future. 

What Should You Do When A Prospective Client Asks For A Current or Past Client Reference? 

So you’ve got all your client references in place. First step accomplished! Now, you’ve got to hand them over to your prospective clients. 

When a potential client requests references, just pass along the contact information of your past or current clients who have already agreed to be a reference. You could even provide case studies, testimonials, or big wins featured on your website. 

Decide the best format for your agency and clients, and make sure you’re consistent. 

If you have a long list of client references on hand, consider hand-picking which ones to give as references to your potential client. You could send them references for clients in a similar niche or those who expressed similar goals or challenges during their discovery calls. 

Think of each client’s unique experience and put your best foot forward!

What If You Don’t Want To (Or Can’t) Provide References?

Sometimes, your past or current clients will decline to serve as a reference. And that’s okay! There are ways around providing client contact information the next time a prospective client requests references. 

Instead, you could pass along completed case studies or a document of excellent testimonials from past and current clients. If you want to keep things short and sweet, consider sending a highlight reel of your most significant accomplishments in place of a client reference

But you have to be prepared with your response the next time a client requests to see your references! 

Keep things simple and avoid going into too much detail. A simple “I don’t have permission to share my clients’ contact information due to privacy concerns” is enough. Just follow it up with case studies, testimonials, or a capabilities deck as a replacement! 

And honestly, if you don’t want to provide client references at all, you don’t have to! It’s your agency and what you say goes. 

What If You’re Just Getting Started in PR?

If you’re right at the start of your PR career, know that this will be the most challenging time to source a client reference. But it’s possible, and it only gets easier from here! 

Think About the Little Wins You’ve Gotten So Far

Your first step is to reach out to current clients for which you’ve created great results (even if you’ve only been working with them for a few months!). See if they’re willing to be a client reference for you. You never know until you ask! 

Even a few small wins are a great sign of your potential as a PR pro, and your clients are sure to see that! And if they’d rather wait a few more months before agreeing to be a reference, then you have a timeline on when you can next ask them.

Be Honest About Your Experience

If you’re a PR newbie and don’t have any clients to speak of, you need to go into this situation with honesty and confidence. If a prospective client asks for references and you have no way of providing them with any, be candid that you’re just getting started in PR or your niche. 

Go into your past experiences outside the industry and explain your strengths and accomplishments there. If you have any references from your pre-PR life, ask your prospective client if they’d like their contact information instead. 

You could also offer them a discounted rate for the first few months of your partnership (make sure you have a set expiration date for the discount!). Explain that the goal of this period is for the client to get a true sense of what it’s like to work with you and see how you go to bat for them and work hard to deliver incredible results. 

Prepare Your Reference Response 

Now, this is just good advice for everyone! Whether you’re working hard to get that first client reference or have a list at the ready during each discovery call, you need to have a go-to response whenever someone asks for references. 

Don’t waver on it! Be confident and show your client that you’re prepared and got all your ducks in a row before your discovery call. If you haven’t prepared for a client reference request and stumble over your words, you won’t portray yourself as the strong PR pro you are.

You can even practice saying your go-to response before your call. You need to honestly believe in what you’re saying (and in yourself!) to come across as confident and capable when asked for references. 

Step Into the Right Mindset

The last step is to get into the right mindset. Have the attitude that not having references doesn’t even matter! You know your strengths and talent, which is more than enough to show clients what you’re worth. 

Building your confidence, honing your mindset, charging what you’re worth, and collecting testimonials, references, and case studies is a lot to handle. We cover all of this (and so much more) in-depth inside The Agency Accelerator, because…

…there’s something so magnetic about someone who’s genuinely confident and excited about the opportunity. Believe in yourself and your value, and your prospective clients will believe in you, too! 

Building a client reference list can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be! No matter where you are in your PR journey (or whether or not you want to provide references in the first place), the key is to always be prepared. When you feel prepared, you’ll step into every discovery call with confidence, ready to show your prospective client how valuable you are!