Most referrals for freelance work come by word of mouth. In fact, freelance word-of-mouth referral is the most effective way to build a client rotation that stands the test of time.
The numbers don’t lie: a recent survey featured in the Harvard Business Review revealed that solopreneurs making $100,000 or more per year get 84% of their work through word-of-mouth. In another survey, 90% of freelancers reported word of mouth as their top source of work.
Prospects trust word-of-mouth referrals because they come from people they trust. When you build strong client and colleague relationships in your industry, you establish a built-in trust that will carry forward to your new referral clients.
So what’s the secret to breaking into the ranks of the highly recommended?
In Short: Do Exceptional Work, Every Time, On Time
There’s nothing more important in your freelance journey than turning in exceptional work on time. Make your quality of work your top priority.
Although the market may seem saturated, it’s saturated with freelancers who don’t meet their clients’ expectations. I can’t count how many clients have hired me after having a bad experience with another writer. They come in skeptical, and it’s my job to deliver copy that hits the mark and delights the client.
To do quality work for your clients:
- Pay close attention to what they’re asking for
- Follow their instructions
- Ask clarifying questions and keep following up as needed
- Take time to study any examples or inspiration pieces they provide
- Create a quality product with intention and care
- Turn the product in by the deadline
It’s a smaller world than you think; business owners and managers in every industry talk about the freelancers they hire. If your name is going to come up, do everything in your power to make sure it’s associated with high-quality work and a satisfying customer experience.
This is the first and most important tip to follow if you’re looking to become highly recommended via word of mouth. However, the following points will help a lot too.
Cultivate Strong Friendships with Colleagues and Other Professionals in Your Industry
I don’t like to think of networking as “networking.” Instead, it’s all about building authentic friendships. Cultivating strong friendships with colleagues and other industry professionals will give you a leg up in terms of getting word-of-mouth referrals. That’s because you will have built your relationships on a foundation of shared interests and rapport, rather than as a means to an end.
You won’t always be able to predict where work referrals will come from, so you can’t necessarily build relationships with an end goal in mind. When referrals do come, they’ll come organically–and they’ll come because your friends will see the kind of work you do, and they’ll be happy to recommend you.
Connect in Real Life
There is incredible value in connecting face-to-face with your current colleagues and clients, as well as making new connections in real life. Attending conferences, networking events, launch parties, professional development, and even traveling to your clients’ headquarters from time to time is a valuable way to strengthen your relationships and establish new ones along the way.
Making it a point to travel to my friends has strengthened my referral network tremendously. For example, I volunteered at a major marketing conference in 2017. I not only ended up working with some of the people I met there; I’m still getting freelance word-of-mouth referrals from it almost three years later.
Build Partnerships with Other Business Owners
Once you’ve established trust and rapport with some of the freelancers and business owners in your circle, you’ll have a greater chance of creating mutually beneficial partnerships that lead to more work. This can happen in multiple ways.
For example, you can partner with another busy freelancer who can refer work to you. I’m in a great partnership with another writer who specializes in content marketing and ad strategy. When she receives requests for website copy, she’ll refer those clients to me. I have picked up a few steady word-of-mouth clients this way, simply because my writing partner understands where her expertise is, and she’s not afraid to refer work to someone she trusts.
Another way you can partner with a colleague is by providing a service they need. I work with agency owners who call on me to provide copywriting expertise on an as-needed basis. It’s also common to establish monthly retainer agreements with agency owners.
As I mentioned above, freelancers who turn in top-quality work can be hard to come by, especially for business owners in a pinch. When you build fantastic partnerships with colleagues and business owners, you’re more likely to get your name passed on via word of mouth.
Keep an Open Line of Communication
Staying in regular contact with colleagues and former clients naturally keeps you top-of-mind. When they need additional work–or if one of their contacts is looking for someone who does what you do–they’ll be more likely to pass your name along.
Communication doesn’t have to look like a regular email or call, although those are nice to have. Instead, it can be as simple as engaging on social media or sending over a private message.
If you’re seeking freelance word-of-mouth work, it doesn’t hurt to put feelers out and let your contacts know you’re looking, but try not to let a long time go by without communicating. You’ll be much more likely to see a response if you’ve stayed in touch on a regular basis.
Build Your Personal Brand on Trust
Cultivating a professional, friendly personal brand and actively contributing to your community will help keep you top-of-mind for many potential clients.
Share valuable, actionable information that will educate and help potential clients. Simply sharing content you’ve created could get you noticed by friends or family who have strong networks.
Request Referrals from Satisfied Clients
Make it a regular practice to request referrals from your satisfied clients. They can provide freelance word-of-mouth referrals in a number of ways:
- Providing a testimonial for your website
- Leaving a positive review on Facebook or Google
- Telling their colleagues about you
- Recommending you on social media, in posts or in networking groups
- Leaving a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile
A great time to request referrals from your clients is after you’ve turned over a finished product they’re happy with. If your work has made them happy, then they’ll be glad to pass your name along to someone else via word of mouth.
You can also offer incentives in exchange for referrals. For example, offer your regular clients a 10% discount on their next service with you if they refer a new client to you.
Word-of-mouth referrals can be a strong lifeline for your business. Let’s recap several ways you can keep clients coming by word-of-mouth:
- Do exceptional work
- Cultivate strong friendships with colleagues
- Connect in real life
- Build partnerships with other business owners
- Keep communications open with former clients and colleagues
- Build your personal brand on trust
- Request referrals from satisfied clients
Keep in mind that word-of-mouth shouldn’t be your only strategy for acquiring clients. Word-of-mouth has limits, so it’s important to market yourself with a combination of cold and warm pitching, applying for jobs, running ads, email marketing, content marketing, and social media marketing.
Do you get many clients through word-of-mouth? Let us know how this style of client referral works for your business!
Image by VectorMine / shutterstock.com.