10 Tips to Boost Your Referrals

For most freelancers or small businesses, the majority of new clients come from word-of-mouth marketing. It’s the most cost-effective way to market your business: when you find a new paying client, you just have to do incredible work. You get paid to market yourself by providing a standard of work that makes others feel comfortable recommending you to their friends in business.

It’s not just the lack of expenses associated with word-of-mouth marketing that makes it so great. The conversion rates are higher, and you’re less likely to pick up the infamous crazy client.

Wondering how to increase the number of referrals you get? You’re in luck: here are ten tips that’ll boost your word-of-mouth contacts through the roof.

1. Always go above and beyond for your clients.

You get paid to do a job, and it goes without saying that you do it well. That’s a great foundation for getting referrals. But it doesn’t end there. Go one step above what you’re required to do for your clients, whether that’s putting in a couple of extra hours or exceeding quotas.

Things can be tight for freelancers and small businesses, leaving you with little extra time to put in extra hours or provide discounts, but try and locate one area of your business where you can sacrifice a little to keep clients happy and referrals inbound.

Under promise and over deliver.

2. Incentivize referrals.

It’s not uncommon to incentivize referrals and many freelancers and small business owners report marked increases in the number of referrals they receive after implementing one.

Typically, these incentives mean a discount for the client on the next one to six months of service you provide, and go as high as 10% (depending on the size of the contract the business generally deals with).

The incentive program should be developed in a way that makes the new work advantageous to your business even while the discount for the existing client applies — don’t structure things so that you lose money temporarily when you take on new clients through referral.

This works best if you’re not the only contractor of your type a company uses. If you provide all of a company’s web design services, they’ll probably recommend you anyway, but if you’re just one of a few hundred writers for a blog network that discount gives managers a real reason to recommend you.

3. Ask your clients outright.

Having a rough patch or on a drive for new business? Usually referrals are given when someone’s asking for a recommendation, but sometimes if you just ask your clients to let other businesses they’re friendly with know about you they’ll be willing to oblige.

The response rates on random shout outs are low, but because you were recommended by a party the recipient knows your credibility is greater than other cold techniques like direct mail and cold calling.

4. Get those business cards out there.

One of the first things we do when we start a new business is order business cards — it’s like a rite of passage. But for most of us, those cards end up in a drawer, or forgotten in a secret compartment of our wallet.

There’s a reason the business card became such a pillar of business practice. It’s the easiest way to share contact details and ensure there’s a reminder of you and your services in the possession of others who may serendipitously come across your details just when they need you or pass the card on to a more interested party.

The easier you make it for clients to pass on your details, the more they’ll recommend you to others.

5. Catch up with former clients.

Make sure you take time to get in touch with old clients every now and then. Don’t overdo it (once per year is a polite timeline) and be selective with your choices. If the client dropped you because you made some sort of Michael Scott-esque blunder you’re best leaving them off the list.

6. Make it easy to explain what you do.

It’s fine to have niches, but assigning yourself a title that is too niche-specific can be confusing. Never call yourself a social media expert (not even social media experts know what their job is) because those sort of descriptors kill referral opportunities when clients can succinctly explain the role.

Instead, use plain descriptors everyone understands, like Internet marketer, and you can mention that you specialize in social media marketing.

7. Make customer service a pillar of your business strategy.

Between equally matched professionals, the thing that sets businesses apart the most is customer service. Freelancers and small businesses looking to beat the competition can often make the most effective gains by focusing on this aspect.

While the freedom to work anywhere is one of the draws of a freelance life, the isolation can sometimes lead to viewing the client as the enemy — that pestering entity that always wants things changed at the last minute or looks for problems that aren’t really there.

A dedication to great customer service doesn’t just help you get referrals. It helps you stay sane by viewing your clients with a positive outlook and viewing great service to them as part of the package you sell. And cultivating sanity and a good, positive attitude to your work may be the greatest thing you can do for your referral rates.

8. Get feedback after project completion.

At the end of every project, gather feedback from the client. How happy were they with the result and your customer service throughout the process?

You can do this with a form through Wufoo or Formspring or an informal email. Either way, keep your questions brief — you don’t want to use up too much of your clients’ time, but you do want to find out where you could make changes that your client would notice and appreciate the most.

9. Identify your unique selling point and make it known.

Don’t be just another run of the mill writer or designer. Know what it is that sets you and your business apart from others — perhaps its your talent for writing case studies or your incredible mobile app interface design skills. Make it a part of your marketing message and include it in your pitches, on your website, and everywhere else so that those who recommend you know which strong points to talk up.

Many professionals fear that specializing in a niche will reduce the business they get, but if you do some reading you’ll find anyone who markets to a well-chosen niche does better than their generalist counterparts.

10. Spend time developing your professional networks.

Most of these ideas are tried and true methods that don’t require the use of any particular technology. But this tip is more important than ever, as more referrals are occurring online and via services like LinkedIn or even Facebook than ever before.

Spend time developing your professionally-oriented social network presences. Make sure you have one on LinkedIn that you regularly maintain. Facebook and Twitter are generally considered mandatory, but for most service businesses LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to start.

Don’t just keep your own details up to date. Share things that you find interesting even if they’re not from your site or blog, and participate in the ecosystem that makes sites like LinkedIn work by leaving recommendations for those you’ve worked with.

With these ten tips, you’re well prepared to increase referral rates and take on more business than ever before. But never forget that amazing work and great service is at the core of word-of-mouth marketing!

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