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How to Get More Business Referrals as a Freelancer

Jan 5, 2023
(updated: Jan 4, 2023)
Lesson duration: 5 min

People are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend. This is no different when it comes to referral clients. If someone you have worked for can give you a glowing review, then a new client can take you on with confidence. It's all about word of mouth.

Customer referrals are the best way of growing your client base without constant cold calling and research on your part. What's more, if your loyal customers are sending client referrals your way, then you can be confident you will be working with people you can trust. Now let's take a look at how you can gain referrals and why it’s a huge benefit for you to do so.

Provide excellent service to your clients

A satisfied customer is more likely to refer you. This means you will have to provide outstanding service to your clients. If you do the bare minimum and provide a client with passable work, they may not complain, but client referral is unlikely. Every successful referral comes from a client who has been shown that you are worth taking on. There are a lot of freelancers out there, but not all of them deliver high-quality work on time every time. If you can, then you are sure to get referrals.

If you give the client an excellent customer experience, they will naturally encourage others to work with you. If you comfortably meet deadlines, communicate effectively with them throughout the process, and provide high-quality work at all times, then you will be in a position to make a referral request. If your work is substandard and you give little indication that you value them as a client, there is only likely to be one outcome if you ask them to recommend you!

In order to ensure you are delivering quality work every time, you must pay close attention to what the client is asking for and make sure you deliver on what you promise. At the same time, you need to show them that you can offer something they hadn't even thought of. This is where your own creativity and ideas can come in, but make sure you balance this with giving the client what they want. You can ask questions along the way; doing so shows that you care about getting the work right, but if you constantly ask questions, it indicates that you don't know what you're doing. Above all, make sure you meet the deadline!

Ask for referrals

Asking your existing clients for referrals is one of the most effective ways to gain them. Having said that, you have to carefully pick your moment. The best time to ask is if it naturally comes up in conversation; it's not the kind of thing that would be polite or appropriate to ask out of the blue!

When your current customers are happy with your work but are not in a position to offer you anymore, then you could ask if they can refer you to anyone else. This could also work if you have done what you knew would be a one-off project for them and you know they don't have the budget or the work available to offer you anything else. This doesn't mean the client won't offer you anything in the future. In fact, you should make it clear that working for someone else will not mean the end of your working relationship with them.

You can always send an email to a client asking for a referral. This should not be a direct request, more talking about how you are looking to expand your business, so if they happen to speak to anyone who is looking for a freelancer, maybe they could mention you. Building your customer network is a continual process. Making clients aware that you are looking for more work without directly answering is a great way of gaining referrals.

ask your clients for referrals

Nurture your relationships with clients

Maintaining a strong working relationship and ensuring customer satisfaction makes referrals a lot more likely. Some may have customer referral programs in place already. If you want to benefit from this, you will have to remind clients that you are worth employing.

How can you ensure that a client is happy with your work and is, therefore, more likely to refer you on?

  • Go above and beyond - How can you offer more than you were contracted to? Obviously, this has to be done in small but effective ways as a client will feel obliged to pay you more and think you will expect it if you do a lot of extra work.
  • Show the client that you value them - You can send an email thanking the client for the opportunity, or if there is an opportunity to leave a good review online, this will help them to get more business.
  • Maintain a good level of communication - You are likely to get more client referrals if you keep the channels of communication open. This helps to build trust and shows that you care about getting a task right. Of course, there are limits to this; if you are constantly emailing or calling a client, then it will become a little overbearing. Just get in touch a few times throughout the process to keep them updated, ask a question or two, and ensure they are satisfied.

Referral programs

If you have the resources to do so, it may be worth starting a customer referral program whereby clients can join the scheme and receive a commission for every referral they make. Customer referral agreements can help nurture working relationships between you and your clients, but they can be time-consuming, so there are a few things to consider.

What level of commission can you afford, and how many referrals would be needed for it to be profitable? Would a customer loyalty program like this be seen as network marketing, and might it put people off working with you? Do you need this in order to bring in new customers? The “refer a friend” program is mostly for successful businesses that have spare income and are already established in their industry. Something to consider for the future, perhaps.

get referrals from your clients

Utilize social proof

Consider this for a minute: When looking to try out a new restaurant or contemplating going to see a movie, where do you look for opinions? Do you check out the advertising campaigns which you know are designed to be hype machines? You might have a glance, but you are more likely to look for opinions of friends or online reviews. Someone who has nothing to gain from their opinion is more likely to be honest, so you will get more referrals from reviews and testimonials than you will from your own attempts to talk yourself up.

When a client is happy with your work, you can ask them to write a short review or testimonial, which can then be shared on your website and social media channels. It does not have to be a lengthy essay. In fact, just a short paragraph or two is far more likely to be read. Potential clients are likely to Google you before deciding whether to take you on, and if you have some positive social proof, they will be more inclined to work with you.

Your referral prospects go up when there are powerful testimonials and reviews of your work that clients can show to other service providers. It is all about building your online reputation. If you don't feel confident to ask for a referral from a client, then a positive review can be worth just as much. Perhaps you could email a feedback form after a project is complete and ask if they would mind if you shared some of their answers.

Word-of-mouth recommendations

What all of this is pointing to is that word of mouth is the most effective way to get high-quality referrals. In fact, with successful entrepreneurs who make $100,000 or more per year, around 84% of their work comes from word of mouth! When you regularly exceed expectations, you can expect new referrals just by the fact that people will be talking about you in a positive light.

Over time, a working relationship can become an authentic friendship. This will not always be the case, but if you produce excellent work for a client time and time again, they will think you are pretty swell! Every industry friend you have is someone who will potentially refer you to others who can provide regular work.

It's all about trust. You will not have to spend much time seeking new leads if your work is consistently excellent and you provide your customer base with what they are asking for and more. Every business referral comes from somebody who is happy with the work you have done and trusts you to do an excellent job every time. When you exceed their expectations, they will feel confident referring you to their friends without it coming back to bite them.


Ok, so what are the main points you should take away from what we've talked about?

  • Referrals come about due to excellent customer service - If someone has had a pleasant experience working with you, they are far more likely to recommend you to their friends. Seems like a no-brainer, but every time you work for a client, you should see it not just as an opportunity to gain more work from them but potentially as a chance to work for their friends too. Always ensure you give your all.
  • Don't be afraid to ask, but pick your moment - There is nothing wrong with asking for a referral but make sure it is done in a natural way. If a client tells you they are happy with your work but have none more for you currently, then you can ask if they know anyone else who might be looking for a freelancer. You could also ask them to write a review, as this is a kind of referral.
  • Nurture existing working relationships - It will save you a lot of time and energy looking for clients if you can keep the same customer happy, and they will continue to provide you with work. This has the additional effect of making referrals more likely. Show a customer that they are valued and keep up positive communication, then they will be more likely to recommend you to others.

If you implement the strategies discussed, you are more likely to be given referrals. Customer acquisition can come about in a number of ways, but there is no better way than if someone gives you a recommendation.

Indy has a range of templates to help make the freelancing process easy so you can concentrate on delivering excellent work, which will likely lead to successful referrals from your current clients. Take a look at the range of tools and templates we have on offer.

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