3 reasons why referrals are key to growing your freelance business (plus how to ask for them)

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March 24, 2021
5 minute read

According to a recent panel of freelancers, a huge majority (as in 89 percent) say client referrals are the best way to bring in qualified leads and new work. It’s clear that tenured freelancers agree on the value of referrals in helping to build long-term sustainable and profitable freelance businesses—they’re a top way to grow your business, even if you're still figuring out how to set your rates for long-term success.

Below, we explain why that is, and provide details and templates to help you cultivate your own referral machine.

Why referrals are key for freelancers

But why are referrals so effective? Turns out, there are a few reasons that explain their impact.

Potential clients trust referrals

This is far and away the biggest reason why referrals are so valuable for freelancers.

When a potential client finds your website from a random Google search or happens upon your LinkedIn profile, they’re coming in totally fresh. They likely don’t know who you are, what you’re capable of, or whether you’re even a legitimate professional. That means, with most other channels for new client acquisition, you start with an uphill climb toward earning their trust.

Referrals, on the other hand, set the starting pin way farther up the hill. When clients are referred to you by your existing clients or even peers in the industry, that referral carries a lot of trust and authority. Potential clients trust referrals from their colleagues, friends, and family—by extension that means they come in with a baseline level of trust in your business, your professionalism, and your skill.

Referred leads are pre-qualified

Most often, referrals are coming from either previous and current clients or colleagues in your industry—people who are familiar with who you are and what you do. They have at least some understanding of the kind of clients you work with and are looking for more of.

That means the leads they refer to you are somewhat qualified—they’re more likely to be a good fit for your business than random leads coming from a job board, for example. You can also control (to some extent) how well qualified referred leads are, too, by cultivating a referral network and communicating your ideal client criteria (as well as any deal breakers) to those most likely to refer you.

Referrals make for easier client acquisition

Outside of referrals, how else do freelancers find new customers? You might develop a robust content marketing strategy to rank for relevant search terms and build a name for yourself in your niche, for example. You may send dozens of cold emails and hope some of them stick. You might spend hours scrolling through freelance job boards and writing up proposals.

Any of those methods can win you great clients, but they also require a lot of time, effort, and sometimes monetary investment.

Referrals don’t require much from you at all. Creating great work for clients and building long-term relationships should already be a huge part of your business—referrals allow you to capitalize on the efforts you’re already putting in.

How to ask your clients to refer you in 5 simple steps

If you’re sold on the value of referrals, great—now how do you ask for them? While some clients may refer you on their own, most of the time, you’ll have to ask for referrals in order to get them. Here’s how:

1. Before you make the ask, ensure you’re doing your part. Delight your clients first—be professional and reliable, create great work for them, and focus on building long-term relationships.

2. Next, follow up upon completion of every project and solicit feedback. Ask how you did and if there’s anything you can do differently to make working with you a total dreamboat. Here’s a template you can modify:

If clients provide positive feedback, don’t be shy about asking for a referral in plain terms. That can be as simple as appending something like this:

4. It’s important to make it easy for clients to refer you, too. Lay out in plain terms the kind of leads you’re looking for and let clients know where to send referrals (i.e. your email, your website or portfolio, your LinkedIn, etc.)

5. Once clients offer a referral, make sure to say ‘thank you.’ If you want, you can also offer a small gift or reward as an additional thank you. A charitable gift card, for example, or a piece of swag from your business.

How to ask for customer reviews and testimonials

The one weakness of client referrals is that they work on a small scale. One client might refer you to a handful of others, but that’s usually the best case scenario. Cultivating a catalog of reviews and testimonials from clients allows you to extend the reach of their referral.

Plus, BrightLocal’s 2020 Consumer Review Survey found a whopping 79 percent of consumers trust reviews online just as much as they trust personal recommendations from colleagues, friends, and family. This means that curating a catalog of reviews can help you increase referrals and expand your potential client network.

You can ask clients for reviews and testimonials in the same way you ask for referrals. To get top notch testimonials, try to lead clients and frame up the kind of review you want them to write. Here’s how freelance writer Kaleigh Moore explains it:

Source: @kaleighf

Once you’ve collected reviews and testimonials from prior clients, you can use them just about everywhere, including:

  • On your portfolio/website
  • In project proposals
  • On your LinkedIn profile
  • Posted to other social media

Wrapping up

Referrals are incredibly powerful for freelancers of every kind. They help you find more best-fit clients, keep work flowing, grow your freelance brand, and build a sustainable freelance business. With the tips and templates above, you’re ready to start asking for referrals and putting your stellar client relationships to work for you.