Some seven or so years ago, I’d just run my first proper full-day course. A few weeks after the course, I was at a conference and sat down next to a woman who’d attended. “How did you find my course?” I asked brightly.

She looked momentarily uncomfortable then said there was a lot of information given, probably too much, and that she would have liked more support after the course. Thankfully, the conference presenter started and we stopped talking so I could die quietly.

First I felt totally deflated and depressed. Then I angry, then indignant, before settling back into some semblance of normalcy.

It was an invaluable experience. And though I didn’t fully agree with some of what she said, nonetheless, her feedback changed the way I’ve marketed and run my courses over the last seven years.

Feeling uncomfortable

I could have started this article focusing on the fantastically heartfelt, natural and enthusiastic testimonials that I’ve garnered over the years. I could have talked about how word-of-mouth and repeat clientele are the backbone to my business.

But that would be talking around the subject. Because at the heart of attracting raving fans, securing quality referrals, and being given fabulous testimonials and case studies, is your ability to be momentarily uncomfortable.

Too often, we go out of our way to avoid difficult conversations with both prospects and clients. We think everything has to be uplifting and inspirational, upbeat and encouraging.

We run from situations that are provocative or confrontational in an attempt to avoid making ourselves and others uncomfortable. But you already know the process of change can be uncomfortable. (You may feel uncomfortable just reading these words.)

The process of seeking feedback on your business might be momentarily uncomfortable, but this is where growth happens. Excellence doesn’t spring from your comfort zone.

And talking with people (not just from behind your computer screen) is part and parcel of being in business.

Don’t ask for testimonials

To get testimonials, don’t ask for them. Nobody wants to give a testimonial. It’s a big, serious word that incites constipation. Result? Procrastination, delay, and overly formal, stilted language that failures to express the depths of your excellence.

Your clients may love your work and want to refer others to you, so make it easy for them while taking the pressure off (their colon).

How to structure your request

First, ask how your client found you. This measures the effectiveness of your different marketing activities. Second, ask why they choose you or your business. This measures how effective your branding is.

These two questions form the ‘before’ picture of your client.

Third, ask what the outcomes they’d experienced as a result of doing business with you. What has changed? How have these changes translated into their life/relationships/health/business? This is your ‘after’ picture.

Fourth, ask whether there’s anything the client would change about the process of working together and anything you could improve on. This gives you invaluable feedback on potential improvements.

You may not necessarily agree with their feedback from this question. However, even bad feedback is useful – it shows that your marketing is attracting the wrong type of person or that you need to better qualify, or educate, prospects before they become new clients.

Finally, ask clients if they know of anyone else who could benefit from what you offer, and ask for their name and contact details. Remember, your client has just had an awesome experience of your business. They are excited and they want to spread the joy. Referring others is a natural, joyful thing to do that makes people happy. Don’t deny people this pleasure.

Finally, edit what they’ve written so it’s succinct and relevant. Good testimonials are short testimonials. Longer testimonials can be expended into case studies, best done over telephone interview.

Don’t ignore the gifts in front of you

Your email inbox and your mobile phone is likely full of testimonials that you’re not recognising as such. A lot of the testimonials you see on this website were given freely, via email, text message or social media.

These spontaneous, natural messages often make far more compelling testimonials. Thank people and ask if you can use their words on your marketing materials, with a photo to accompany. Suggest that you can use their Facebook photo or LinkedIn photo, to make this even easier for them.

When to ask

When I first started in business 10 years ago, I had a lot of retainer clients who utilised my digital marketing services over many months and years. I was always hesitating, wondering when was the best possible time to ask for a testimonial and as a result, I have no testimonials from my first few years in business.

Stop waiting. The best possible time is when your client is most excited – so your course, event, program or relationship does not need to have ended before you ask. In fact, they’re more likely to experience major progress in the middle, rather than the end of your working relationship.

If you find the process of asking difficult, streamline this as much as possible through online forms and automated emails. Don’t ask for feedback when people are in a rush or distracted – think about where and when would be best to request.

Referrals make business

I am eternally grateful for the people – both clients and others – who’ve recommended my business to others. We all appreciate that word-of-mouth marketing is the best kind. This is earned, over many years, and easily destroyed.

Instead of sitting on your hands waiting for raving fans and glowing testimonials to come to you, be the person who gives these. Write Facebook page reviews without being asked. Give Google reviews without prompting by the business owner.

Send thank you cards if you want to receive them, and also have champagne chilled to better appreciate the gifts which are right under your nose. You never know when you make a small business owner’s day. What a powerful gift to give with two simple words. Thank you.