Do you consider referral marketing to be real marketing? Where do some of your best clients come from? I’d be willing to guess that many of them come directly from referrals.  

A lot of the freelance creatives that I talk to are a little bit sheepish and embarrassed to admit that most of their clients come from referrals. It’s almost like there’s some kind of shame in the fact that they get their clients from referrals. Like referrals aren’t ‘real marketing’.

I’m here to tell you that if you have a marketing strategy or a marketing system that includes referrals, where you have a step by step process for asking for referrals, and for getting them consistently, then I believe that referrals are real marketing. 

Where referral marketing falls down is when you’re not intentional or you don’t have a system or a process for asking for referrals in a powerful way.

Let’s take some time today to look at how to make your referral marketing more intentional (and effective). 

Who do you ask for referrals and when? 

You can ask anybody for a referral

First of all, you can ask anybody for a referral. 

Most of the time we think about asking our past clients for referrals and they can be great resources for us because they have a personal experience of working with us. They can speak to the benefit that our services provide for them. They can tell personal stories about what working with you is actually like.

Asking past clients for referrals

Past clients are one of the best sources for referrals. Generally, people think about asking for them when they send the deliverables or after they send the invoice. 

You might think about asking for a referral as soon as your client is happy, like when they’re the most excited about their logo or photos regardless of if you’ve fully completed the project. 

Or if it’s been a while since you’ve connected with your past clients, you can always go back to them and check in and say something like:  How’s that design working out for you?  or… What’s been changing in your life or business since you’ve gotten those photographs? Would you be willing to offer a referral or a testimonial?

Don’t be afraid to go back and ask your past clients for referrals and feedback.  

Partnering for referral marketing 

A lot of times you will be working in partnership with other service based businesses. Maybe you work with a print shop. Maybe you work with event venues or planners, or meeting planners. 

Vendors and suppliers can also make great referral partnersAll of those people know you from being in the industry and seeing how you participate with your clients and maybe even have some experience with your work directly…they can be great referral partners. 

And it’s awesome for them because they get to be able to offer their clients extra service. “Hey, I know you came to me for printing, but if you need some help with your design, I know a great graphic designer.”

 There are lots of ways that vendors and other suppliers can support you. 

Ask friends and family to support you with referrals

Friends and family are great for referral marketingI know that some of you are thinking that getting referrals from friends and family doesn’t ‘count’ as marketing. And again, it probably doesn’t feel like marketing because you haven’t been doing it with a strategy or plan. 

A lot of your friends and family may not be your ideal clients or even prospects for hiring you. But probably if they’re friends and family, they care about you and they may want to be able to support you in some other way rather than hiring you directly. Invite them to support you by offering you a referral. 

Peers and colleagues are great for referral marketing

Most of you will probably consider these competitors. But what if you thought of them as peers or colleagues instead.

In our freelance world many of you are participating in the same industry and one of the reasons why that works is that we each bring something different to the marketplace.

working with other creative freelancers in cross-referralsIf you get an inquiry where a prospect is asking you for a service that you don’t really do, or maybe you’re already at capacity and can’t take on another client, you could refer them out to another photographer or designer out there. 

The same thing is possible for you to be the recipient of those referrals. You could have other photographers and designers, other creatives in your same industry, refer work to you. 

They still get to be able to say yes to their inquiries. They get to say “Yes, I can give you a solution. I’m not going to provide you the solution, but I can give you access to getting your problem solved.” 

That client is likely to go back to them again the next time. There’s lots of reasons why our peers, colleagues, and yes, even sometimes competitors might want to refer to you. 

Who can you ask for a referral?

  • You can ask your past clients.
  • You can ask vendors and suppliers.
  • You can ask friends and family, and even your followers.
  • You can ask peers, colleagues, and competitors.
  • Pretty much anybody in your community you can ask for a referral. 

The key to asking for and getting powerful referrals is being very clear in how you ask.

There are three specific steps to asking for referrals.