In an ideal world, how would you like to get new clients?
Cold outreach..? Maybe Fiverr or Upwork?
What about inbound inquiries?
Out of those three options, I’m assuming you’d rather have potential clients reach out to you. However, there’s one form of introduction that converts more clients than the rest:
A warm referral from a happy client
There’s no better salesman than a satisfied customer. They can speak to the problems your services solve better than you can and someone's more likely to trust a friend than a freelancer pitching themselves.
I’ve made over $50,000 from freelancing in my first year with more than half coming from referrals. These are a few things I’ve learned about being more referrable that you can apply to your freelance business:
Almost all “problems” stem from a lack of communication. If something within a project is going to be delayed, be proactive & let your client know. Think about how you would feel in their position. If they’ve worked with freelancers before and they didn’t have the best communication, you’ll feel like a breath of fresh air to them.
Even if you’re delivering not-so-great news, they’d rather know about it than be surprised when deadlines are missed.
On the flip side, you can be proactive with things that are positive as well.
For example, I ghostwrite a newsletter each month for a financial advisor. Before the end of the month, I reach out with ideas I have for the newsletter and ask if there’s anything he’d like specifically included (proactive communication). Within a few days, I could easily deliver a well-researched body of text that summarizes what he’d like to communicate to his clients.
But I take it a step further.
Within the Google Doc, I also include a Subject Line for the broadcast email as well as a blurb for the Preview Text section. I thought it’d be helpful and make the newsletter-sending process a little bit easier for the client, and I was right.
I saw this tweet the other day that expanded on this idea even further:
✅ Be empathetic and think about what type of customer service would “wow” you if you were on the receiving end
Setting expectations not only helps prevent scope creep, it helps the client understand what service is being provided.
By doing this, you’re also giving yourself an opportunity to exceed expectations and stand out in the client’s mind.
For example, with the ghostwritten newsletter client above, I also created a custom signature graphic to include in the emails. That wasn’t apart of the project’s scope. But I thought it’d be valuable, it took me 10 minutes, and the client was very appreciative.
The expectation was that I’d write one newsletter per month. But simply making the newsletter better with a custom graphic stood out to them.
Eventually, the client requested that my retainer fee be raised for the value that I’d provided so far.
Let’s imagine two different freelance writers:
Flo is everything to everyone and Jo provides a specific value to a specific group of people. After working with a few clients, which writer do you think would get more referrals?
This is a completely made-up example so I don’t know 🤷🏻♂️ but I’d assume Jo.
I say this because it’s exactly how my freelance journey has gone so far.
My freelance writing & web design niche is newly-launching, independent RIAs (financial planning firms). Most people don’t know what independent RIA means and that’s okay. Within my niche, it’s crystal-clear and it’s unique.
Because I’ve provided a specific service to a specific group of people, anytime a financial advisor inevitably talks to another advisor who’s starting their own business, they’re more likely to mention me because I’ve repeatedly shown that I specialize and have done good work in that area.
You may not know your exact niche right away (and it can evolve over time), but you can work towards being known for a certain thing or having deep knowledge around a certain industry. That'll drastically increase your chances of getting referrals and inbound inquiries.
This is surprisingly the easiest way to stand out.
So many people don’t take their freelance business seriously - it’s kind of sad. They probably don’t consider it a business which is part of the reason, but at the end of the day, we’re all here to make money to fund whatever lifestyle we have.
Meeting project deadlines should be the standard and by turning in work ahead of time (within reason), you’ll leave a lasting impression on your clients.
If the due date is the 25th, try to send the work early in the day as well - it’s not college homework where we’re clicking “submit” at 11:59pm.
This is a great way to not only get more referrals, but to make way more money as a freelancer.
A lot of freelancers treat themselves as a service-provider. They’re told by the client to write two blogs per month, they’re given certain topics, and they turn in those assignments. There’s nothing wrong with this approach.
But when you begin to position yourself as an expert and a strategist, you become an invaluable resource to your client’s business.
They’re not only getting an end-product, they’re getting someone who can help them grow their business without paying a full-time employee.
This is also why you need to charge appropriately and ensure that your rates account for things like insurance costs, taxes, etc
As an expert, you can charge more for what you do and if you deliver results, your clients will be more than happy to talk about what you do to other business owners.
It’s hard for someone to hire you if they don’t know what your work looks like. This is why every freelancer should have a portfolio. It doesn’t have to be complex or costly - it can be as simple as a one-page Carrd site for $19/year.
Having a portfolio makes it easy to show an inbound lead your body of work. It also makes it easy for a client to share your work with potential referrals.
Here’s an example of my web design portfolio:
It’s not great, but it’s done a good job for me so far.
The biggest mistake I made was only grabbing a screenshot of the client’s hero section and then linking directly to their URL to see the full project. This is an issue because almost every site has been slightly changed since I handed it off and they don’t represent changes I would make myself to a website. I’m still learning how to be a better freelancer, so now I know to document the design process and save my full, final designs rather than just linking to the client’s website.
But overall, having a portfolio is borderline essential if you want to get more referrals.
If you’ve done good work for someone, ask for a referral. It’s not a sin. It’s a regular business practice.
When doing so, be specific. Don’t say something like “do you know anyone would you benefit from my services?”
Instead say something to the sound of, “It was great working together. As a small business owner, I’m trying to keep growing and work with more clients like you - do you know any other (insert their role) that would find value in (the exact service you provided)? “
If asking for a referral feels too direct, a review or testimonial can be just as helpful.
You may ask them via email, or if you’re connected on social media, they may post about your work and share with their network which gives you even more visibility. Then, you can take those quotes and put together a testimonial section on your portfolio site for social proof and to further show the value you provide.
This may not directly increase your chances of a referral, but it definitely helps for inbound lead flow.
It’s sad to say this, but kindness is a super power in today’s world. It feels like everyone’s always on edge or upset about something outside of their control.
As a freelancer, being kind will take you far. Clients will inevitably have some sort of negative feedback during your time working together. Rather than matching their tone, offer a friendly solution.
At the end of the day, we’re problem-solvers.
Clients hire us to deliver a result—sometimes you have to bend a little bit to accommodate their needs.
Communicating with kindness is the best way to keep clients happy and who knows, they may even refer others your way because of the quality customer service.
Building your network of freelance friends can take your career in directions you could never imagine.
Experienced freelancers tend to get offered more work than they can take on, so if they have trusted friends to send the work to, they generally do.
Simply by making friends and connecting with other freelancers, you could have roles offered to you that you wouldn’t have normally received.
If you want to increase your inbound referrals, at the core of it, you need to think about how you can make your client’s lives better and easier.
If you can “wow” them, you’ll have a higher chance that they remember you & your services. There are many ways to go about this, but the biggest factors for me have been:
• Quick, proactive communication
• Exceeding expectations
• Being an expert, not a service-provider
Getting referrals may feel like an insurmountable task, but I promise that doing good work and implementing a few things mentioned in this article will drastically increase the odds of past clients referring you new business.