The marketing gurus call it “social proof” – evidence that someone else has hired you and has been happy with the experience. It reassures your prospective client that they’re making the right choice, reduces the risk, and lets them know they’re in good company.

For coaches, consultants and other service providers, that means testimonials are the lifeblood of their business.

And yet we’re often reluctant to ask for a testimonial. People who tell me “word of mouth” is their main source of new business nevertheless hold back from asking for the words they need from those mouths.

What keeps you from asking? Maybe it’s fear of being a bother or a general reluctance to ask for help. Maybe a concern that the client wasn’t really all that happy? Maybe you’ve been turned down before, or more likely someone said they’d do a testimonial and didn’t follow through and that’s discouraged you from “the ask.”

I had that don’t-want-to-ask-for-anything problem myself. How did I get past it? I decided I really, really needed good testimonials. And, sadly, they weren’t just going to appear on my website. I was going to have to suck it up and ask people to recommend me.

Also, I had a coach. (This turns out to be the solution to any number of business problems.) And he suggested a testimonial format that I’ve adapted for myself.

Why do you need a format? Left to their own devices, many people will put off the whole thing because they don’t know what to say or they think they don’t know how to write. They have good intentions but they don’t follow through. When you make it easy for them, you increase the likelihood they’ll come through for you.

Some will send a bunch of blahblah about how smart or talented or skilled you are. Which is flattering, but not at all useful. Because if a would-be client is contemplating working with you, they don’t actually care about how smart or talented or skilled you are. They care about one thing: What are you going to do for them? And they’ll respond to a testimonial that tells them that.

So after a fair amount of blahblah and many un-fulfilled testimonial requests, here’s how I ask for a testimonial now, making it easy for people to respond. (With thanks to Rob Schultz of Profit Seduction.)

Please answer three quick questions for me:

  1. What was the biggest challenge you faced before [the coaching program, workshop or VIP Day]
  2. What were the one or two biggest breakthroughs you had in our work together?
  3. What specific results have you achieved because of the program? Or what’s possible for you now that wasn’t possible before?

I also ask for a headshot – testimonials are much more interesting when there’s a smiling face to go with them. And a website – so being quoted in my newsletter becomes publicity for them.

I give people a deadline because it’s always easier to write about a fresh experience, even if they’re only writing a few sentences. And because the longer they don’t get around to my request, the more likely it is that it will fall through the cracks altogether.

And sometimes I ask twice. Okay, some people are just never going to take the time to respond; I get that. But especially with speaking engagements, when someone tells me they’re happy to recommend me but then fails to respond to my request, I follow up. I acknowledge that they’re busy and this is not at the top of their to-do list … and ask them one more time to help me out with this.

And lately, I’ve surprised myself with my persistence.

Once I have the answers to my 3 questions, I take out the questions, weave the answers together into a few paragraphs … and there’s my testimonial.

Depending on your business, some variation of this process should work for you. Some professionals can’t name their clients publicly, and some provide a service that clients don’t want to admit to. If that’s you, you may have to resort to using client-quotes without names, or with just first names or initials.

In general, though, testimonials carry much more weight when they have a real person’s name attached to them. And a photograph makes them even more credible.

If you’re not in the habit of asking happy customers to say they’re happy, give it a shot. It’ll be a boon to your business if you start gathering testimonials that give future clients a reason to say yes to you.