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How to Get More Referrals

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For the full set of lead generation ideas, see: 101 Ideas to Get More Freelance Work and Generate New Client Leads

Image from iStockPhoto

Getting a new lead referred to you by a previous client or friend is probably the single best source of work for most freelancers. Not only do referrals usually happen organically but they tend to start off with a high degree of trust and positive expectation.

The downside to referral clients is that most freelancers don't feel any control over where and when it happens. Some months you have lots of new leads and others none at all, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

In this article we're going to talk about how to make yourself referable and how to actively encourage those referral leads.

Being Referable

There are some businesses, some products and some people that are just easier to refer. How do you, as a freelancer, make yourself more referable? To answer this question, let's talk about why you might NOT get referred on:

  • You aren't very good at what you do
  • You aren't reliable
  • You are unpredictable
  • You aren't very likable
  • You are overpriced
Image from iStockPhoto

What all of these boil down to is that you might make the referrer look bad in front of their friend or acquaintance. When a person refers someone else they are essentially putting their name to your business and this is a risky thing to do.

So to be more referable you must either reduce that risk or make the pay off big. Here is how you do this

Everything to Win

When a person refers on a winner, it makes them look good and they earn kudos with their friend or acquaintance. If you can prove yourself to be a success story then you are going to get more referrals. You can do this by:

  • Doing High Quality Work Every Time
    Producing the goods not only for the person who might refer you, but also throughout your portfolio makes you a lot more referable.
  • Being Really Reliable
    If you answer every email within a few hours, pick up the phone when it rings, show up to meetings and deliver when you say you will, you'll find your refer-ability will skyrocket.
  • Price Yourself Right
    There is a place for really high prices, consistent referrals is not it. If you are aiming to be referred over and over you will either need reasonable prices combined with quality or reliability, OR low enough prices that you're a steal even if you don't produce the best work around.
  • Be Likable
    Clients don't need to love you, but they do need to find you pleasant and easy to deal with. Most people don't want to refer a freelancer who is patronizing, rude or just offensive. I'd like to say this is probably a life lesson, but if not for everyone, at least curb it for your clients!

Nothing to Lose

Giving your referrers the minimum possible risk means they are unlikely to look like a goat for telling their friends to actually *pay* you money. Here's how you can mitigate the risk:

  • Give a Guarantee
    Let me say straight off the bat, that you should only do this if you are an *experienced* freelancer. Guaranteeing your work either with a money-back promise or endless revisions is not for the faint of heart. It can however be the clincher that means people feel safe referring you on. Use with caution.
  • Make Service Your Middle Name
    If you are all about service and keeping clients happy, then your referrers will know that even when things go wrong their referrals are in good hands and are unlikely to become upset with the freelancer and in turn with them.
  • Free Consultations
    If you provide a no-obligation, free consultation then your referrer can tell people about you knowing that there is no immediate financial obligation on their referrals. This takes the pressure and onus off them and places it on your shoulders instead, where it should be.

Encouraging Referrals

There are only three reasons someone will refer work your way:

(1) They want to help you
(2) They want to help the person they are referring
(3) They want to help themselves

If you want more referrals you need to both encourage these motivations and make it EASY to refer you. Here's how:


A gift, a commission or a reduction on their own bill, can all work as incentives for clients to help themselves. Adding an incentive alone is not generally enough, since whatever you offer is unlikely to make up for the possible risk involved. Think of incentives more as the carrot to push a referrer from 'thinking about referring you' to 'actually referring you'.

If you do offer incentives, it's really important to do it with tact and care. This is because you don't want your clients to feel you are trying to buy them and neither do you want their referrals to think they were referred for some other reason than you are an awesome freelancer.

Ask and you shall receive

Yes it sucks, but if you want more referrals, then just asking for them is likely to spur them on. Personally I hate this sort of thing, so what I found to work for me was to do this after a client told me I'd done a good job. At this point I figured it was a reasonable request and made it feel less awkward.

If you don't like asking in person, why not send an email to your recent clients or include a business card with your next invoice?

Make sure they have the tools they need

Ensuring your referrers have an easy point of contact - whether it's a website or just a business card to give out - means you are removing one more obstacle to getting those referrals. And of course make sure that the phone gets answered, emails get responses and you follow up on those referral leads. Don't let them go to waste or you are unlikely to get referred again by that person.

Refer Us

And on that note, if you enjoyed this article, why not refer Tuts+ on to more and more people! On the other hand you might want to hide this article away and get the edge on those other freelancers :-)

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