Generate Referrals for Your Freelance Business

Want to create a business that generates its own referrals like a well-oiled machine? Follow these tips to start getting everyone talking about what you have to offer!

Have you ever heard from other freelancers that seem to effortlessly get referrals? It can be frustrating to hear that others don't seem to have to work hard to get clients-instead the clients come to them. The truth is that once you know how to generate referrals, the clients will come to you. And it's easier than you think.

Although referrals do come in when you do superior work, you also have to exert yourself in order to produce buzz about your business and get people talking.  Once you get established in your practices and your services, it's time to start putting your business to work for you. Here are some tips to help you start getting word-of-mouth clients.

1. Know and Understand Your Existing Clients

It's important to know who your clients are and understand what drove them to you in the first place. That way, you can target those in similar situations and focus on what lead generation methods work-and stop wasting time on those that do not. Once you are aware of what you are doing and what works, you can stick to it. Then you can apply some new techniques to add to the breadth of your referral engine.

As the owner of my own copywriting business, I tend to get most of my clients online whether they find my website and contact me, or I reach out to them via email. Whenever I publish a direct mail piece, I don't get results as good as when I simply plug in. So for getting clients, the Internet is my best friend.

2. Become a Converged Business

In his book, The Referral Engine, author John Jantsch discusses two business models: One that's high-tech and the other that's high-touch. The first refers to an enterprise that generally uses the Internet (email marketing, online networking, content development, etc.) to market itself, while the latter uses more face-to-face interaction and in-person networking to sell its products.

Both are viable ways to earn business, but being a "converged" business is your best bet because it incorporates both, Jantsch says. The theory is that not all customers are techy, so if you're only using email marketing to reach out, you can be missing a huge pool of clients that could benefit from, say, an actual sales letter. Integrate your approaches when marketing your business. Once you are reaching out with multiple avenues, you can generate more business-and generate more referrals. So for someone like me who relies on technology to get clients, it's important for me to connect personally during and after the project is complete.
3. Use Personal Touches

Even if you deliver outstanding services, it's not enough to be truly buzz-worthy and start getting clients to recommend you to others. What do you do to go above and beyond? Sometimes, the littlest things can help you nurture client relationships, which will produce those sought-after referrals.

I like using personal touches. That means sending a thank you letter or email. Or offering to make a few more tweaks to the collateral I write. For some clients, I send a small holiday gift or card. You can also follow up after projects are done to check in and see how clients are-I like to pass along an article that may interest them.

Another way to connect is to immediately add new contacts to your LinkedIn database-and personalize the request message. This lets them know that you want to connect, and that you've gone the extra mile to write a custom note. Let a contact know it was nice to meet them or you are looking forward to working together again depending on your circumstances. Then you create a roster of leads and you give the personal touch. Plus, you're right there in their list of contacts when they are looking for referrals. Harness the power of this social media site by giving a client a recommendation, and you will probably get a "reciprocal recommendation- as well-¦something that strengthens your reputation and your brand. It's a win-win.

4. Create an Automatic Referral-Generating Biz

Your business obviously needs to be buzz-worthy for people to start telling others about. So you have to make it really strong before you even solicit a referral. In doing so, you will automatically generate referrals once you are in business for a while. Referral-building takes time because not all clients will recommend you and those that do may not do so right away.

Making sure that you exceed expectations and offer something truly unique with defined advantages (Why should they choose you? There are a bazillion other freelancers out there?) will help you stick out in a positive way. Get the prospect to know about your business, then like it and trust it,ultimately they will try your services and purchase them. If they have a good experience, they are likely to tell others about it. As freelancers, we typically work with only a few clients at a time, so it can take several months and years to build up your referral pipeline.

5. Trigger Referrals

If your business is resilient and if you offer out-of-this world services and customer service, that will help you get automatic referrals. But is there anything else you can do to forge them?

Many people think that simply asking for a referral is the best way to get them,and that may be true. But consider this alternative: Instead of asking your customers if they know anyone who needs a good copywriter, for example, why not ask if they know anyone who hates writing, hasn't put out a piece of marketing collateral since the 90s or doesn't have a Web presence? Then you're teaching your clients to think about the kind of people that can use your services. Otherwise, how do they know who can use what you have to offer? They don't know what another company is planning to do (if they are planning a new marketing campaign), but they may, just from being familiar with other companies, be able to pinpoint one with obvious gaps that your services can fill.

So if you're not comfortable flat-out asking for referrals (who is, really?) you may like this approach. Simply state something like, "Hey, if you know anyone that doesn't have marketing collateral, tell them to give me a buzz," instead.

Again, referral-building takes time, so give it time. In the meantime, do all you can to make sure your business is desirable and distinctive.

TAKEAWAY: Make your business referral-worthy.

This means not just being good at what you're doing, but doing it at an extremely high level. Do business intelligently and ethically-once your business is established as reputable it will sell itself. You have to use high-tech and high-touch approaches to diversify the way you outreach for clients and generate leads. You must incorporating solid marketing and branding strategies, know your business and your prospects as well as clients, and then let prospects and existing customers know what you have to offer-and what you can offer people they know.

Being referral-worthy also involves going above and beyond to ensure client satisfaction, using a lot of personal interaction throughout the project and following up afterward. You can also talk to clients about referrals by asking if they know clients that would need your services. Once you have a solid business worth talking about, and you take the initiative to interact with clients, you should be generating referrals on a steady basis.

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter living at the Jersey Shore. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), and the author of Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs. Find out more by visiting www.kristenfischer.com today.