Referrals: The Best Way for Freelancers to Get More Clients

We recently spoke with a number of WordPress freelancers about their first and best clients. Across all those interviews, we saw a clear theme: the best clients come from relationships and referrals.

Client Referrals

So how can freelancers generate referrals and form solid relationships with clients?

We went back to those WordPress freelancers to find out. Here’s what we learned about generating referrals:

Treat Clients Right

“Treat people well and do good work and you’ll have a customer for life.” -Carrie Dils

One of the most common responses was simply to treat customers right.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that if you treat someone right they will treat you right,” says Brad Williams of WebDevStudios. “This holds true for clients as well. Working closely with a client through their project, helping them understand the process, overall project development and how you can help them succeed is a very important part of our overall process. Forming this strong relationship with our clients is a big reason we see so many client referrals.”

It’s a pretty basic idea, but sometimes we’re too busy looking for gimmicks and tricks. Don’t. Just do the right thing.

  • Brad Williams: “We don’t set out to ‘be nice’ to a client in the hopes that they refer us to their friends, family and colleagues. We set out to be nice to the client because that’s what they deserve. When you are nice to people, good things will happen.”
  • “Everyone, even clients,  just want to feel like they matter, like they are cared for, valued and appreciated. If you can make your clients feel like that, you’ll have no problem attracting new clients and referrals.”
  • Carrie Dils: “Be genuine. Be helpful. Be courteous. I know those sound trite, but those are foundational for any relationship, not just customer relationships. I wrote an article on customer service skills a while back, but the same principles still hold true. Treat people well and do good work and you’ll have a customer for life.”

“When you are nice to people, good things will happen.” -Brad Williams

Notice a trend there? Treating clients right is important, but part of treating them right is delivering good work.

Which leads us to the next way to encourage referrals.

Do Good Work

“Great work speaks for itself, and a great experience makes referring new business to you a no brainer.” -Jennifer Bourn

Yes, more of the obvious: Generate referrals by doing good work.

“The best thing is to do good work and be professional while doing it,” says freelancer Jared Atchison. “This provides clients with a great working experience and builds a strong relationship, which are both key to generating referrals.”

Yep, obvious. It’s not rocket science. The single greatest thing you can do to bring in referrals is be amazing at your job.

“Simply do great work.” -Bill Erickson

Again, there are no shortcuts.

“Honestly I don’t have any specific systems in place for encouraging referrals,” says freelancer Bill Erickson. “I’ve found the best approach is to simply do great work, so that when they or a friend needs a new website, you’re the first person they think of.”

And no gimmicks:

“So many people focus on tricks and gimmicks and marketing tactics to get referrals, and I think they often forget that if you do amazing work, the referrals will come naturally,” says Jennifer Bourn of Bourn Creative. “Great work speaks for itself, and a great experience makes referring new business to you a no brainer.”

Look Out for Your Clients

“Clients value my expertise and don’t want a ‘yes man.’” -Jared Atchison

Part of doing good work and treating clients well is looking out for your clients’ interests. This should be a standard part of your service.

“Always look out for clients from the beginning,” says Jared Atchison. “If the client is on the verge of making what I think is a bad decision, I’ll at least give them my opinion. I don’t just take their money and run. Regardless of money, if I think a feature requested isn’t cost effective or needs to be rethought, I’ll speak up. Clients value my expertise and don’t want a ‘yes man.’”

“Referrals happen when you’re top of mind,” -Carrie Dils

But looking out for your clients doesn’t end when the job does. A huge way to build credibility and respect with a client is to continue to connect with them, and look after them long after they’ve paid the final invoice.

“The key to building long-lasting client relationships is to stay in touch with them and show them you value the relationship,” says Jennifer Bourn. “This could be as simple as reaching out to past clients to let them know a WordPress update was released and that they need to back up their site before updating.”

More Ways to Get Referrals

“When you specialize and become known for doing one thing amazingly, referrals increase because people know exactly what type of business to send your way.” -Jennifer Bourn

Here are several ideas you can implement to encourage referrals:

  • Be connected: Send your clients media mentions or like/follow/retweet them on social media. “Let them know you’re looking out for them, and that you’re paying attention,” says Jennifer Bourn.
  • Share the love: “I send work to friends (like Andrew Norcross) that fit them better than it fits me,” says freelancer Curtis McHale. “There is plenty of work to go around, so I just try to focus on the clients that best fit me.”
  • Refer to your clients: Sharing the love can go both ways. “Refer others to your clients when they need the services or products your client provides,” says Jennifer Bourn. “When appropriate make a personal introduction.”
  • Say thanks: “At minimum, thank those who refer business to you with a handwritten thank you note,” says Jennifer Bourn. “Depending on the size of the referral, you may also want to send them a personal thank you gift. Our family has an organic Satsuma Mandarin Orchard, so each year, we send boxes of hand-picked mandarins to all of our clients to say thank you for choosing us.”
  • Walk in their shoes: “Try to put yourself in their place,” says iThemes developer Aaron Campbell. “What would you want? How would you want to be treated? What things would you like to know ahead of time? These things will be different from client to client, but understanding your client is the only place to start.
  • Create a system: “I use Contactually to remind me to follow up with client leads as well as colleagues,” says Curtis McHale.
  • Specialize: “When you do a little bit of everything or too many things, people don’t know what to refer people to you for, because they aren’t sure which thing you are the best at,” says Jennifer Bourn. “When you specialize and become known for doing one thing amazingly, referrals increase because people know exactly what type of business to send your way.”

“Understanding your client is the only place to start.” -Aaron Campbell

“Referrals happen when you’re top of mind,” says freelancer Carrie Dils. “Even if I’m not actively engaged in work for a customer, I stay in touch via social media and email, doing things like promoting their business or sending them relevant articles. Those small gestures help me maintain an ongoing relationship with clients, which means that when they think ‘web services,’ they’ll likely think of me.”

Just Ask

“The best way I’ve found to generate referrals is to simply ask.” -Curtis McHale

When you’re trying to get referrals, sometimes it’s best to just ask.

“Ask your best, happiest and most favorite clients for referrals,” says Jennifer Bourn. “They will love to help you out, and often will be happy you asked.”

Curtis McHale sends clients an email that looks something like this:

Hey $ client, thanks for an awesome project. I very much enjoyed it.

As I’m sure you know referrals are very powerful in bringing in new business. A big help to my business would be if you would provide a referral to anyone you know that could use my services.

Would you be willing to send a short introduction to me and one (or two) of your colleagues that you think could benefit from working with me.

“The best way I’ve found to generate referrals is to simply ask,” says Curtis McHale.

Referrals: All About Relationships

In the end, generating referrals is pretty simple. It all comes down to relationships.

“Referrals and relationships go hand-in-hand,” says Carrie Dils. “When you have good relationships with customers and consistently deliver for them, they’ll refer you to others.”

More:

Read further interviews with our WordPress freelance experts for more insights on their first and best clients:

Your Brain at WorkGet the Book: The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Web Design Business
Whether you build websites as a hobby or already have a few clients, this book is the ultimate resource for starting a freelance web design business. We’ve combined the wisdom of successful freelance web designers into one go-to reference book.

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