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Freelance Articles – 2010 to 2020

How to generate powerful referrals easily

Brainleaf Blog. Published in 2017.

When I was in freelance copywriting, every referral was a ray of hope – the best kind of lead I could ever have. I always thanked each referrer with my book or a notecard. So, besides our undying gratitude, how do we help along that process… without seeming pushy?

Creating a solid freelance business takes time, but one of the most economical and quick ways is to encourage word-of-mouth business.

Sometimes, when networking (offline), I noticed that if you lend an ear to someone who needs to vent, you build esteem in that person’s mind.  All you do afterwards is mention what you do and give a card, and after a quick email to ensure that their issue was resolved—you more often than not receive a referral (or a direct project).

This can also work to some degree on Facebook, if you participate in a business group that allows for honest conversations. Usually, you will need to build on that initial contact though because online we are not using our full spectrum of body language, tone of voice, and empathic sounds… so the person may still feel that they don’t know you very well. Perhaps invite them to a local business event or have a coffee, so they can get to know you and you can see if your target market and theirs are aligned.

Building a business is a lonely enterprise, and so lending a friendly ear and giving a short tidbit of advice is undoubtedly one of the best ways to gain someone’s trust.

Give First

Buying a peer’s product is often worth five times its value in karma. What do I mean? Well, I went to a free workshop by a mind-set coach. Towards the end, the speaker said about her book and CDs. I gladly bought her book as it seemed of interest (and people love it when you buy their book). Later, I posted a positive Amazon review for it. She had my card and knew what I did, but she had never even read a word of mine. About one month later, she gave me a solid referral to another author who wanted help with an ebook and a biography.

By buying a person’s book or app personally and giving a fair review, you have created what is called a “reciprocal gap”. The principle of reciprocation is invoked because you have just done two things for them. Thus they feel a strong urge to redress the balance. This is the passive method, and it works, but not 100% of the time.

Alternatively, if you have downloaded a free ebook of theirs, you might send a quick review which they can then add to their own landing page for it.

Proactively Set Up for a Referral 

The second method can work for any freelancer. On finalising each project, I tend to ask for written feedback (the testimonial).

If the feedback was 99% positive, then phone, thank them, and ask for anyone they know who might “need a more modern web design” or “better web copy that makes their goods sell”.

This mentioning the end result of what you can achieve is very specific – unlike just asking for a referral – which is often met with “ah… I can’t think of anyone right now”. Being specific may trigger their memory of, say, a business contact who has a terrible-looking website that they really should change.

Of course, there are many other ways to encourage referrals and gain trust. That said, in a support type business, listening techniques seem to work better than discount coupons and so on. Try it and see.


Jennifer Lancaster is an author, editor and author coach. Spending a decade in the freelancing world has enabled her to guide others with basic start-up steps, in her short book ‘How to Start a Freelance Business’.

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