How to increase referrals by using your network

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March 24, 2021
5 minute read

Almost all people (92%) trust recommendations and referrals the most when making purchase decisions. Further, 85% of small businesses find clients through referrals. That means increasing referrals isn’t just about increasing your freelance revenue. It’s also about being available in the way people buy. One of the best ways freelancers can get more business referrals is through their networks. But it still takes work to get those referrals coming in—here’s what you need to do.

Step 1: Become someone worth referring

You need to make it easy for people to understand what tasks you do, outcomes you produce, and problems you solve. To become someone worth referring, you need to:

  • Make your offerings clear so people know what you do.
  • Have a clean, professional website.
  • Be professional online and on social media so people looking you up can easily find you.
  • Make it easy for potential clients to contact you and learn more about your offerings and pricing structure for your services.

The more clear you are on your offerings, the more likely it is someone will remember you when someone puts out a call for help.

Step 2: Make it easy for people to refer clients to you

Once you have a professional foundation, you have to make it easy for people to send business your way.

  • Be active online to stay top of mind for people that know you.
  • Have a basic introduction template you can send to people who tell you they want to make an introduction.
  • Have a clear one-liner that is easy to remember and easy to repeat.

You should also make sure you have a seamless invoicing and payments platform set up in advance so you can deliver an easy experience for any referrals you get.

Step 3: Let the world know you’re open to referrals

The key is not just to make the process easy, but also make your network aware that you’re open to referrals.

Share your availability: You can share that you’re open to referrals with current customers, vendors you work with, previous customers (if you’re on good terms and stayed in touch), friends, and anyone else in your network.

Act on positive feedback: Whenever a client gives you good feedback, leverage that as a moment to remind them you are open to referrals. Phrase this casually—thank them for the feedback and mention that if they know anyone else that might need your services, you’re happy to chat with them.

Think about joining referral networks: Some agencies (or even other freelancers) keep rosters of freelancers to refer work to. If you’re looking for more referral sources, think about joining these networks. There are a wide range of freelance job websites that allow you to set up a personal profile, get matched with potential clients, and curate reviews from previous clients.

“Build in public”: Consider “building in public,” meaning talking about your ups, downs, and business journey. Keep all client information strictly confidential, but talk about the process of freelancing and share your successes. This gives you a natural stage to talk about being open to referrals.

Step 4: Consider incentives

If you want to offer incentives, consider offering cash to other freelancers and value-adds to existing clients. That way you don’t get into an uncomfortable situation of clients asking for discounts or cash back. You may also want to only trigger a referral payout when a project is completed. That way people will think more consciously about who they refer to you.

Regardless, if you choose to offer incentives, be careful: offering referral incentives could overwhelm you with bad-fit clients as people refer anyone they can just to get a commission. Make sure you are 100% clear on what kind of clients you want people to send your way.

Step 5: Provide an amazing experience to everyone

Some freelancers make the mistake of offering premium service to referred-in prospects but not offering that to anyone else. Not only does this create a risk of being labelled as two-faced, you never know where a referral may come from.

Make sure all clients and prospects get:

  • A prompt response to reach outs.
  • Your undivided attention on calls.
  • High quality work.

Give everyone the same awesome treatment and it will come back to you down the line.

Step 6: Express gratitude

If someone puts their neck out to refer a client to you, thank them and keep them updated. Even if it doesn’t work out, share that and thank them for the introduction anway. On the flip side, show gratitude by helping others. Whenever you can, make a referral to another freelancer. Or, if you’re in a position to help someone who made a referral to you, do it: recommend their services, make a connection, or help them with a problem.

When you pay it back (and pay it forward) with no immediate expectation of results, you build a lot of good will in the world. More often than not, that good will translates into additional referrals down the line.

Referrals are earned, not given

Referrals are a great source of growth, but no one is entitled to them. If you want more referrals from your network, make sure you’re someone worth referring and make it easy for people to send you business. From there, make sure you deliver a fantastic experience and express gratitude.

When someone makes a referral, they are using some of their social capital on your behalf. Even if you are the best at what you do, someone making a referral for you is still doing you a favor. Never take that for granted.