Creating a System for Referrals – Part I

Creating a System for Referrals – Part I

Intro by Skip Cohen

Photography is a word-of-mouth business, yet so many of you act like a referral is something that happens by accident. With every client you should have the same fundamental goal, to exceed expectations. Customers who have great experiences share their enthusiasm.

“Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.”  Chip Bell

Bryan Caporicci does an outstanding job in this two-part post sharing ideas about referrals. Not only does he believe in taking a pro-active approach, but he’s about to give you the tools to build a strong referral network, starting with some solid basics for creating a great experience for each client.


There is plenty of education on the importance of referrals, and as photographers, I think we can all agree that the lifeblood of our business is referrals; our success depends on it. It costs anywhere from six to eight times as much to generate a new customer as it does to sell to an existing customer

This concept applies to referral business as much as it applies to repeat business. When an existing satisfied client refers us, that referral comes to us pre-qualified and has an existing appreciation for what we do. There is much less “selling” to convert them to a client in comparison to a “cold” inquiry from someone who Googles us.

If we can all agree on the fact that referrals are important, then I can stop that part of the conversation here. I’d rather spend the bulk of this article discussing ideas and tactics instead of convincing you that referrals are important. You know referrals are important, that’s why you’re reading this article, right?!

Referral enablers

How do we get our clients to refer us, then? Let’s look at the same question in a slightly different way:

How do we provide such a remarkable experience, deliver the highest quality product and exceed expectations in a way that makes our clients want to talk about us?

This is an easier question to answer, and it’s ultimately what referrals are all about. At Sprouting Photographer, you know that we love actionable ideas and tactics, but I want to really enforce the idea that referral tactics are useless unless you have solid business practices, an excellent customer experience and are delivering great photography. This is why I have established three “referral enablers” that need to all co-exist and before even asking for a referral:

  • Great customer experience
  • Beautiful photography and finished product
  • Exceeding expectations and delivering delight and surprise

It’s only when these three enablers are in existence that a referral can truly be genuine and effective. Before you ask for referrals, be sure that you have really perfected your photography, your products and your customer experience.

Referral rules

Building on the “referral enablers” above, here are the five “rules” that you must follow for every single client in order to truly make a referral successful:

  1. Be remarkable – give people something to talk about.
  2. Exceed expectations and only ask for referrals once you’ve over-delivered.
  3. Ask for referrals at “happy points” in the relationship.
  4. Be specific when asking for referrals.
  5. Always thank your clients for referrals when they give them.

When to ask for referrals

The best time to ask for referrals in the life cycle of a client is at the “happy points” in the relationship. You should only be asking for referrals when your clients are thrilled and “over the top” with you, your service, their images and their experience. When you are designing your customer experience (check out this article that I wrote about designing a killer customer experience) you must build in “happy points” to the flow where you intend to ask for referrals. Some example “happy points” where you may want to ask for referrals throughout the process include:

  • After the session when you’ve delivered a great experience and you’ve shown them a few images on the back of your camera. They’re happy, excited and feeling good.
  • When you e-mail (or better yet – mail) a teaser from their session and surprise them.
  • When you deliver the final product (prints, album, book, etc) and they see their finished images for the first time.
  • At some point after the session when you deliver a surprise (gift print perhaps) and delight them.

When you’re designing your customer experience, be intentional about injecting “happy points” into the flow – this is when referrals are most likely to happen. To help you define and grasp the “happy points” in the relationship, they will be at one of three points:

  1. When you exceed expectations.
  2. The delivery of happiness.
  3. When you surprise and delight.

Tune in for Part II about referrals later this week when Bryan shares ten great ideas on how to ask for a referral.

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This article was written by
Bryan Capporicci

Bryan Caporicci is the CEO and Founder of Sprout Studio. He is an award-winning wedding and portrait photographer based out of Fonthill, Canada. He is a Fuji X-Photographer and was one of the youngest Canadians to receive his Masters of Photographic Arts (MPA). The Sprouting Photographer blog is one of the most extensive professional photography blogs in the industry and in 2015, after just 8 months on the air, the SproutingPhotographer podcasts won best of iTunes. Click on Bryan's picture to link to his blog.

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