My Really Dumb Mistake

In this article, Steve Slaunwhite shares a mistake he made in his freelancing career of underestimating the importance of building relationships with non-competing professionals.

When I started my business 15 years ago, I made a really dumb mistake. I knew I should be spending time building relationships with other non-competing professionals who were targeting the same type of clients I was. But I didn't.

As a result, I missed out on a lot of potential referrals.

Had I put in the effort to get to know these graphic designers, web masters, consultants, and so forth, I suspect at least a few would have recommended me to their clients and other contacts.

But that didn't happen.

As I said, my dumb mistake.

A few years later, I rectified that by starting a program of identifying, meeting, and building relationships with these professionals -- or, as we marketers call them, "referral sources" -- and today a significant percentage of the new business I get comes from these sources.

I was late to the party, but I'm glad I showed up. Had I not made a concerted effort to get to know some of these professionals, I suspect I wouldn't be getting nearly as many referrals as I do today.

Are you making the same mistake I did?

There's a myth among some freelancers and other business owners that referrals just happen. And sometimes they do. But they'll happen much more often if you take the time to introduce yourself to referral sources and build those relationships.

Here are some ideas for doing just that:

1. Commit to introducing yourself to one new referral source each week.

This strategy has worked very well for me over the years.

2. Invite the referral source out for a coffee or lunch.

Meeting a referral source in person will dramatically increase your chances of building that relationship.

3. Focus on their business, not yours.

Don't begin the conversation by talking about you and your business. That's a real turn-off. Instead, ask questions about their business. If you show them you're interested in what they do, they'll naturally ask questions about what you do.

4. Give away a slice of your expertise.

If you're a PR writer, for example, offer to review a couple of press releases for free. Or give them a complimentary copy of a special report ("buzz piece") or book you've authored.

5. Let them know you welcome referrals.

At an appropriate time -- and that might NOT be during the first meeting -- let them know you welcome referrals. You could simply say, "By the way, I welcome referrals. So if you know anyone who would benefit from my PR writing services, please pass along my name. I'd really appreciate it." Studies have shown that merely letting people know you welcome referrals gets you more referrals.

6. Honor the karma of referrals.

You get referrals by giving referrals.

If you reach out to just a couple of potential referral sources per month, within a year, a few of those professionals could be actively recommending you to their clients and contacts.

And isn't that worth the cost of springing for a few lunches?

Your Assignment...

Over the next few days, start building a list of non-competing solo professionals you can start approaching. Aim for at least 10 people. They don't all have to be local professionals, but it helps if you can meet some of them face to face.

Next, commit to reaching out to at least one person from this list by the end of next week. Don't go overboard here. One or two per week is plenty (unless you're trying to make something happen sooner than later, or unless you're currently between projects and have some extra time).

The point is to take action now - and to start doing this consistently. It may take a few months to see results. But when the referrals start coming in, you'll be glad you started this new habit!

Steve Slaunwhite coaches freelancers in how to grow their businesses, so they can enjoy the income and lifestyle they want. Want to schedule a FREE coaching session? Contact Steve at