I’ve worked with scores of freelance writers in my editing career. Guess how many have asked me to refer them to other clients? One.
Yup, just one. Oh, I’ve provided plenty of references and the occasional testimonial, but as for anyone flat-out asking me for names of those who could benefit from their writing services? Just the one. I remember it not only because it was the sole request of its kind, but because I was happy to oblige it. But more on that later.
If you’re not asking for referrals, you’re losing a big opportunity to grow your client base and make more money.
Clearing Up Confusion
Before I get into how to ask for referrals, let’s go over the differences between testimonials, references, and referrals.
Testimonials. Emotive and “sound bite-y” by nature, testimonials are, for our purposes here, the one-to-two-liners you put on your freelance writer website that boost your credibility. They’re the don’t take my word for it, these people think I’m fabulous, too portion of your site. Testimonials are intended to dazzle potential clients early in the game.
References. References come in a little later, usually when you’re close to sealing a deal with a potential client. When you ask Mr. or Ms. Satisfied Client for a reference, you’re asking them to either write a letter or have a phone conversation with someone who is considering hiring you, so they can attest to the fact that yes, you freelanced for them and yes, you were fabulous.
Referrals. These are the most proactive and, dare I say, profitable of these types of recommendations. When you ask a happy client for a referral, you’re asking them to pass your name on to people/companies that could use your freelance writing services or give you that contact information. Either way, referrals hold significant weight, because the giver attaches their name to the request.
When you think about it, what is a referral, really? It’s B2B word-of-mouth marketing. And isn’t WOM marketing supposed to be the most effective? Indeed — in fact, in a Nielsen survey about trust in advertising, 84 percent of respondents said they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends. Those are pretty good numbers.
Referrals are Valuable
Referrals are typically more receptive to hiring you because they’ve been primed by a mutual professional connection. They’re warmer than your average lead, and they also tend to spend more money right out of the gate.
When to Ask
The best time to ask for a referral upon successful completion of a freelance project. Do it when the warm-and-fuzzy factor is at its highest, and skip it if there were any significant troubles with the project, such as missed deadlines or multiple revisions. You may ruin a later opportunity to ask for one if you ask at an inopportune time. You could also go through your client list and ask for referrals in a more “cold call” style (i.e., not when you’re wrapping up a project).
How to Ask
You can do it by phone, in person, via your social channels — but I recommend doing it via email. Don’t send a mass email, however; make it a direct, personal effort. And with the exception of submitting your invoice, don’t piggyback your request along with anything else. Make it the only matter at hand.
What to Say
Be concise and explicit. Get to the point up top. Don’t ask if they know “anyone” who could use your writing services; narrow it down for them, based on who you believe would make a good client. Ask, for example, if they know any small- to medium-sized real estate businesses that are ramping up content production for their blog. Or if they have any agency contacts that need lifestyle articles written for clients. Let them know specifically who and what you’re looking for.
Most importantly, let them know why their referral is so important. Remind them that as a freelancer, referrals are an important way of growing your business.
Dear Happy Client,
As a freelance writer, my business depends on two things: writing high-quality copy and referrals from satisfied clients. That’s why I’m writing you today: to ask for a referral.
Do you know of any editors or content marketers who need business/finance content written for their blog or website? If so, would you pass along my name, website and a few kind words to them? Or, simply send me their contact info, and I’ll be happy to reach out myself.
I love writing, and I love creating great content for businesses. Thank you for helping me grow and thrive in my freelance writing business.
People Like to Help
Remember I said I was happy to oblige the writer who asked me for a referral? Well, keep that in mind as you ask for your own referrals. People like to help, and they like to feel needed. I was happy to refer the writer because she made my life easier by consistently turning in good copy on time. If I could make her life a little easier in return, then why not? Appeal to this desire.
Say Thank You & Follow Up
Of course, you should thank your client for the referral, but don’t just let it go at that. If you get work out of it, follow up with a brief email and let them know that their referral turned into a real, live gig for you. Not only is it just nice to hear, it also puts the Ben Franklin effect into operation. Franklin said, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
Another favor? Great. You’ll take it.
About the Author: Megan Krause is managing editor at ClearVoice, where she helps brands create great content and manage the content creation process. She also writes a regular writing and grammar column titled Dear Megan – ask her your burning questions @ClearVoice using #DearMegan, and follow her on Twitter.