Make Yourself Ridiculously Referrable
This post was originally published on the 15 Minute Freelancer Podcast. It is republished with permission.
Tell me, is there any better feeling as a freelancer than getting that little ping in your inbox from someone saying they need someone who provides your services, and they heard from someone else that you were the number one person to ask? I don’t think so. I love getting referrals. And actually, they’re probably my main source of new work.
When a client comes to you via a referral, most of the legwork is already done. They’re already keen to work with you, they’ve been reassured that you will be a great person to work with. They hopefully know what services and pricing you offer. So when it comes to figuring out if you want to work together, they’re already pretty warmed up. And you didn’t have to do anything to get that lovely lead.
Or did you? Because the truth is referrals don’t happen by accident, do they? People refer you because they know someone who needs a freelancer that does what you do, and you are the name that pops into their head. And how do you become that name that they think of? Well, that’s what we’re going to get into today. And it’s good news because it means we don’t have to be passive and just wait for those leads to come in. We can take action to generate referrals.
I’m going to break it into two parts. Firstly, in this scenario that I just mentioned, when someone refers you without you making a direct ask, and secondly, when you put yourself forward for a referral. Let’s start with the second one actually.
When You Put Yourself Forward
Let’s say someone posts on LinkedIn or Twitter or in a Slack group or whatever it is, that someone they know is looking for someone who provides a particular service and they want to send on some names. Maybe a potential client has reached out to them but they can’t take on the job for whatever reason. So they’re putting out feelers in their network, and what do you know! the service they’re looking for is exactly what you do. You know you’d be a great fit, and you want to throw your hat in the ring. But the only problem is, so do 100 other people. So how do you stand out? How do you get this person to pass on your name?
I quite often pass on work in this way, if it’s not a great fit for what I do, or I don’t have capacity within the timeframe that they need it. And I’m often struck by how many people respond with, yes, I’d like a referral, or yeah, I’d be happy to take this on. And I’m like, I know you’d be happy to take this on, who wouldn’t, but you’re not really doing me a favour here if I have to go to your website and do all that legwork to pass on your name.
What I’m getting at here is that you have to make it easy for people to refer you. Make it easy for them to pass on your name and your details. If you see someone looking to make a referral for a project, don’t just drop them a one-line message. Imagine how many messages they have in their inbox. You should anticipate the information that they’re going to need, and then just give it to them. Give them a one-sentence summary of your relevant experience, a link to your website or portfolio, and your contact information. You could have this already written and saved in a note somewhere, so you’re just copying and pasting it every time you see a relevant referral opportunity coming up.
This means that the person you’re giving it to can also just copy and paste your information. If the person is referring you because they don’t have the time to take on the project, then they’re definitely not going to have time to Google you and get your details. So if you don’t make it easy for them, you’re gonna miss out on your name being put forward, which is a shame. Even if you’ve given them your details before, just give them the message that they can pass on to the client without having to go back through messages or emails to get your contact details.
People are, and yes, I think this is a scientific fact, 100 times more likely to pass on the names of people who take the time to send them a message saying yes, I’d love to do this project, I’ve worked with XYZ clients before, I have experience doing ABC. Here’s my website, here’s my email address, I’m available from this date, my prices are whatever. Other people might have the same experience or even more experience. But if they just write, yeah, I’d love to find out more, they’re probably going to get skipped over, especially if there’s no relationship there already.
Be Sure What Information They Need
The other thing to remember here is to pay attention to what they’ve asked for in the post.
Recently, I posted on LinkedIn that I was looking for someone to outsource some work to and it was quite interesting to be on the other side of this. In the post, I asked for people to send me a direct message on LinkedIn, to give their message a specific title, and to include some specific pieces of information in their message.
This was not just me being high maintenance and demanding. I know that LinkedIn tends to generate lots of responses and I didn’t want my email inbox to fill up with messages. I wanted to keep them in one place, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss any, because I wanted to make sure that I took the time to reply to everyone. And yes, it did help to filter out people who didn’t follow the instructions.
So the lesson from this is, if you’re responding to a similar request, always take time to read the instructions and provide the exact information that the person is looking for in the format that they’ve requested.
When Someone Refers You
Of course, like I mentioned earlier, the holy grail when we’re talking about referrals, is for people to mention your name without you needing to prompt them, without you having to reply to these messages and reach out yourself.
A while back, I was looking for someone to outsource some other work to and I got loads of responses. And about 50% of them were people all mentioning the same person. So of course, I wanted to work with that person. They had obviously done such a good job of being known as the person for this particular work, that when I asked for someone that does that kind of work, people instantly thought of them. That social proof from people that I trusted meant that I felt confident about getting in touch.
How do you make it easy for people to remember you and refer you? I think there are five ways that you can do that.
- You have to do great work. You have to make sure that your work is of a quality that people are going to want to recommend to their friends and peers.
- You have to be easy to work with. That means meeting deadlines, communicating, always following up, always doing what you say you’re going to do, connecting them with the relevant experts, offering advice to help the client get the most out of the work and so on.
- Be reliable. So kind of just building on that, because trust is so important and people don’t like to refer someone that makes them look bad. They want to refer people who do great work so they get the karma points. You know, I think people like to be helpful, they like to appear in the know, they like to be seen to have a strong network, and part of that is recommending people who make them look good, so you want to get your name in the mix there.
- Be visible. This is about consistently being present online. Having your name popping up time and time again so that people keep seeing it, and you’re going to be top of mind next time they need someone. And having a niche, I would just add it as an aside, is quite handy here. In my experience, being visible as a particular service provider for a particular industry or client can be really useful. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be constantly visible online, but just consistent enough to keep your name out there in relevant circles.
- Make it easy for people to see what you do, and to see how to hire you. Have that snappy one-liner, have all the info on your website that tells people what your process is like and how they can work with you.
Asking for Referrals
You can also prompt people to refer you for projects. You can make the ask even if they’ve not specifically mentioned something. If you find yourself with a bit more capacity for extra work, or you’re on the lookout for clients, one effective way to drum up new business is to get in touch with previous clients and ask for a referral.
You could say something like, “I really enjoyed working with you on the project we did last year, I’d love to work with more clients like you. If you know anyone who might be on the lookout, I’d really appreciate it if you passed on my name.” You can also do this at the end of a project when you’re making a request for a testimonial. Just ask them at the same time if they know anyone else who might be interested in this kind of work and ask them if they can refer you.
Similarly, you can do the same in online forums or on social media to say that you’re available and you’re looking for referrals for this kind of work. I would be a little bit cautious about how you frame this publicly, though. As I mentioned earlier, social proof is really powerful, and the reverse is also true, I think. You don’t want to appear as though you have a completely empty diary, because people will wonder why that is. While it’s great to be honest and transparent, I think it’s useful to be not so transparent that people are put off working with you.
So be mindful about how you present that capacity for new work. Maybe you could say something like, “I am looking to fill two spots over the next few weeks and months.” That could be true without implying that you’ve got nothing else on, and without implying that you have got work on that you don’t. It’s not creating false scarcity, you’re just saying that you’re on the lookout for a particular kind of client.
About the Author
Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter at The Copy Prescription and host of the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast. 15 Minute Freelancer is your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. This podcast brings you practical strategies and behind-the-scenes stories, so you can create a freelance business that works for you.