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Why Testimonials Are So Important, And How To Ask For Them

What are the absolute minimum content needs for a service-based business’s marketing website?

I suggest they are only three things:

  1. a compelling and short introductory statement (what, for who, etcetera)
  2. contact information
  3. testimonials

The first two are hopefully self-explanatory. Let’s dive into why the third one is essential.

Testimonials can be everything a person needs to know

A well-curated set of testimonials can tell the entire story of your business.

  • what kind of clients you have (industries, personalities)
  • what you do for them (services)
  • how you work (relationships, project management)
  • the results of your work (benefits)
  • how you are different/better than competitors (about)
  • who you are as a person/company (about)

Social proof

Best of all, these details are not coming from the business owner, but from real clients. Sure, we all know that testimonials can be faked, only the favorable ones will be published, etcetera. I still maintain that testimonials have a “social proof” air about them that marketing copy can never match. I cringe a little at the term “authentic” nowadays, but it is an apt descriptor. This concept can be reinforced by using an image of each client and a link to their website or LinkedIn profile.

Testimonials are a service, not bragging

You are in a service business, and you can’t professionally help people unless you have clients. Clients need to know that you are worth hiring. Testimonials enable potential clients to hear from your past/current clients about what it is like to work with you. They are a way for people to understand how you can help them with your skills. Think of it as providing a service to these people before they are even a paying client, for free! Really, it’s an act of benevolence. Beyond food, clothing, and shelter, helping people is why you have a service-based business in the first place, right?

Editing testimonials, or not

Can a testimonial be edited? I say Yes. The obvious important thing is to preserve the writer’s message, voice, and word choices as much as practical. Yet is is just as important to make sure to deliver text that will be helpful to the viewer. In other words: it will be short enough to be approachable, clear enough to be understood, and compelling enough to be inspire positive thoughts and action. Therefore I think it is okay, even preferable, to edit down and rearrange testimonial text while maintaining the writer’s hand.

Can a testimonial be embellished or ghost-written? I say No. Those feel wrong to me.

When testimonials go bad

Words matter, and some testimonials are useless or actually harmful. If a testimonial is vacuous, insipid, pandering, jargon-y, or vague then leave it out. People can say nice things without really being helpful to you or your potential clients. If you get a testimonial back that is not specific, ask for specifics. Use the “how to ask” keys below to help ensure you get good testimonials.

A few testimonial tests:

  • does it make you feel “aw, shucks”? (it should)
  • could it fit on someone else’s website, verbatim? (it shouldn’t)
  • does it get specific about benefits, services, relationship, etcetera (it should)
  • does it prop you up, by name? (it should)
  • does it push anyone else down, by name? (it shouldn’t)

If a testimonial fails any of those tests, edit lightly or try to get a re-write from the client if they are willing. Failing that, it might be better to omit it.

Beware celebrity status

It may be that you have a client who has name/face value to your potential clients, and it would seem that any testimonial from them would be worth sharing. Maybe it is not the person themselves, but the name value of the company they work for. I suggest that you still make sure the testimonial passes the above tests and edit/re-ask/omit appropriately.

How I ask for a (good) testimonial

Feel free to use this approach and adapt it to your style.

My keys are:

  1. Get right with your intention: testimonials are a way to help others, and I am testimonial-worthy.
  2. Send the testimonial request in two parts: 1) the small ask, and 2) the details.
  3. Keep the small ask very, very short.
  4. Keep the details very, very loose. Enough guidance to point them in the right direction. Not so much that they feel put on rails or suffocated.

In my experience many people react positively when asked for a testimonial. Most of the time they even follow-through, eventually.

Ask with confidence!

Following up, or not

After I send the details email I typically do NOT follow up to inquire “where is that testimonial you said you’d write?”. Sometimes I never end up getting a testimonial from that person, and that is okay with me. No need to force it.

Images and titles

I think that adding a portrait of each testifier is a huge boost. It puts a face to the text, makes it feel more “real”, and adds life to your website.

An easy was to do this is to look for the client’s LinkedIn profile. I typically use this image without pre-asking, because the client already “approved” it when they posted it to LinkedIn (and I ask for a secondary approval later, see below). I also will grab the client’s self-selected “job title” from LinkedIn as well. Always run the final presentation by the client!

Publish, notify, and prosper

Once I publish the testimonial on my site I send a link (so they can see it and request any edits… which no one ever has) and say thanks! It’s a nice way to close the loop, remind people you exist, and let people see themselves in a tiny bit of promotion on the interwebs.

I hope this has been helpful!

May your testimonials be plentiful, lively, and specific!

My request templates

Here are the templates I start with and adjust for the recipient and my whims of the day. Please adapt them to your own style and voice.

Remember the keys listed above!

1. The Small Ask

subject: can you help me out with a testimonial?

I’m so happy with our collaboration and would love for you to offer a brief and informal testimonial about it.

Testimonials are a BIG way you can help me help others like you.

If yes (I hope it’s a Yes!) I’ll send you some quick guidelines to make it easy for you.

Can you help me out with this?

2. The Details

subject: [reply] can you help me out with a testimonial?

Thank you for helping!

Feel free to ignore these tips and do whatever you want.

If you’re unsure about how or what to write in a testimonial here are some suggestions:

  • Write right now! I know you are busy, so sending this back immediately would be a to-do check-off! Seriously, just crank it out.
  • Don’t think too much, just write what feels true. Passion over polish. As much or as little as you want.
  • Use your own voice. Imagine a real conversation with words you use casually.
  • It’s a party. Imagine an inner-circle friend-colleague asks you: “what was it like to work with Kirk?” or “how did he help you?” or “what has been the result?” What would you say?
  • Make a case. Pretend you need to go back in time to convince yourself to work with me and you only have a minute to do it. What would you say?

You can check out my Testimonials page for what other people did if you feel stuck:

Thank you!

Earlier Post: I buy, therefore I am

Later Post: How to take your own “professional” portrait

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