This is a sample chapter from my book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month, which was an Amazon bestseller in 2014.
For almost my entire career, I’ve resisted asking for testimonials and referrals from my clients because it seemed like too big of an ask. It felt awkward and made me feel small, like I was asking for a favor and putting someone on the spot.
Most of all, though, I had this belief that if I client really and truly valued my work, wouldn’t they just have told me themselves?
An article I read recently made me question that. “When was the last time you referred someone?” it asked. And the truth, embarrassingly enough, was well, never. Have I not worked with anyone spectacular in years? Of course I have. I’ve worked with dozens of people that I would recommend at the drop of a hat, but of course, I haven’t referred them to anyone, haven’t left them testimonials, and haven’t gone out of my way to ensure that they have more work as a result of doing such a fabulous job for me.
I’m not a terrible person and nor are the editors and clients who haven’t referred me. It’s just human nature. We’re inwardly focused. And let’s face it, we’re all stretched pretty thin these days and we flit from project to project, trying to finish something, hire someone for the next, and so on. Sometimes, our editors and clients don’t even have time to stop and take a breath, let alone think about what might make life easy for you.
And so it becomes your job to remind them.
That’s all you’re doing, really. You’re saying, hey, if you enjoyed working with me or found that my services made a difference in your business, would you pass on my name to your colleagues? I’m building my own business and could really use some new clients. Did that sound desperate or pushy? Nope, not at all. In fact, if you make a practice of this, you’ll find that your name not only gets passed on right then, but if that editor or client ever gets asked for a recommendation, you’re top of mind, too.
Remember, we all trust the opinion of people we know over those we don’t. So you could have been recommended on thirty different blogs and never get new work, but one referral from an existing client can be what makes the difference.
Word of mouth. It’s a powerful thing. We freelancers need to learn how to make use of it.
Ask for referrals. It will change your career.
The Right Time to Ask
There’s no right or wrong to this, honestly. The right time to ask for a referral from a client, in my opinion is when you’ve remembered or perhaps when you’ve finally worked up the nerve. I personally don’t think it’s ever too late. But there is, I think, a best time to do this.
And that, as you may have guessed, is right after you’ve finished work for your client that you know he or she is thrilled with. At the risk of stating the obvious, don’t ask for a referral when you’ve finished an assignment that didn’t go quite so well or when you did a half-assed job, or when the client forgot what deadline she gave you and freaked out a week in advance. These are not good times. A good time is when everything has gone stupendously well and your editor or client could not be happier with the work you’ve done. That’s when she’s primed to go singing your praises to her colleagues and therefore a nudge in the right direction can work really well for you.
Another time to ask for referrals that works really well, in my opinion, is when you’re meeting someone face to face.
When you’re just hanging out, talking about your lives, discussing how work is going for you, drinking coffee, making jokes, and just getting to know each other, it’s almost natural to say, “Hey, if you happen to know any other editors who’re looking for a writer specializing in environment issues, I’d love for you to forward my name.” Almost always, the response will be, “Of course!” Then, when you get home, you e-mail your contact to thank her for the lovely coffee and conversation, and remind her that you’d love to be put in touch with anyone she knows who might need your services.
How To Do It
Now that you’ve decided to ask your editor or client for a referral, it’s time to get down to actually doing the deed. How? Here are some best practices.
Automate it: I use Freshbooks for my billing and accounting. If you haven’t heard of Freshbooks before, it’s an invoicing and billing system for small businesses that you can access online. You feed in your list of clients and every time you need to send an invoice, the website generates it for you within seconds. It’s very efficient. But even better, a few months ago they launched a new feature, which is that every time you send an invoice, Freshbooks automatically gives your client the option to give feedback or a testimonial. When you do get that testimonial, e-mail your editor to say thank you and ask for a referral right then and there.
Make it easy for them: Come up with templates that you can e-mail to your clients that they can simply hit forward on so that they don’t have to do the hard work of putting together e-mails, especially if it’s to someone they only vaguely know. I agreed to refer a small freelance firm I’d worked with to some big businesses that I knew.
I wasn’t on a first-name basis with these big businesspeople, but I’d worked with them often enough and I knew that my word meant something. I asked this small freelance firm to send me a referral e-mail with an outline of their services that I could use as a template and the owner e-mailed me saying, “Oh no, Mridu, you have such a unique and wonderful voice, we dare not try and replicate it.”
Well, along with a unique and wonderful voice, I also have a 100-item to-do list, a family, and two crazy pets, and I wasn’t asking the firm to write the actual recommendation, just to give me a brief description of their services that I could forward to my clients. I kept meaning to refer this firm, I really did, but I didn’t get around to it. It was far too much work.
Let them know why it matters: Most people, unless they’ve been entrepreneurs or freelancers themselves, do not realize how important referrals and testimonials can be to a person’s business, so take it upon yourself to explain it to the editors and clients you’re already friendly with. Tell them how much it means to you and what a difference it makes in your career. Make them feel powerful and needed. We’re wired to love that kind of attention, and when we receive it, it helps make it easier for us to do what the other person has asked of us.
Give them an update: When a client does refer you to someone they know, make sure to let them know how it went, whether you ended up working with this new person and what kind of progress you’ve made on projects for them. Many freelancers will simply go quiet once they’ve received a referral and started working with a new client, but I think it’s always a good idea to go back and tell the person who referred you how things went so that they have the satisfaction of knowing that what they did helped. A thank you card can go a long way in doing that.
Look around you: It’s important to remember that while most of your referrals will come from your editors and clients, there are also people in your personal network that may be able to vouch for you. Perhaps your brother-in-law is a newspaper editor or proofreads for a publishing house and could refer you to one of his colleagues. Perhaps your next-door-neighbor works as a designer at an agency and knows they often take work from freelance writers as well. Take a keen interest in what people around you are doing and you’ll be surprised at the many opportunities that may be sitting right under your nose.
So that’s my take on referrals and why you should try and get them when you finish work for any new client. Not only can referrals get you new work (and more money), but it’s a great way to strengthen your relationships as well.
Do you ask your clients for referrals? How do you do it?