I used to work at a real estate association (two, in fact). One thing I learned by working with real estate professionals was their drive to succeed. Their success depended on making clients happy. If their clients were happy, the agents got referrals.
At first glance, it would seem that writers don’t have a lot in common with real estate agents. But the two share more in common than one would think. Both are self-employed as independent contractors. Both take pride in providing timely and efficient service to their clients. Both thrive on referral and repeat business from clients. But while real estate professionals understand the importance of asking for referrals, many freelance writers are not as versed on this practice.
As any sales person can tell you, the simplest, most straight forward strategy for getting referrals — and often the most overlooked – is to ask for them. Many people either forget to ask or are uncomfortable about asking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear desperate, or they’re too shy and overly modest, or they fear they will be rejected.
One real estate professional I once interviewed for a magazine article said he often shied away from asking for referrals, despite being in the business for 15 years. But a follow up phone call to a former client changed that for good. After inviting his former client to attend one of his sponsored events, he asked if she knew anyone who needed a real estate agent. His timing was perfect. She referred him to a friend who listed his home with him, a home that was worth a significant sum of money.
You never know what kind of business you’ll get if you don’t ask.
If you want to build a repeat and referral-based writing business, you need to be proactive. You need to ask for referrals. You’d be surprised at how much business can come your way simply because you had the courage to ask.
Here are a few tips for asking for referrals.
1. Spread the word. Word of mouth communication is still the most reliable and effective way to ask for referrals because you can usually get an immediate response from the client. But timing is important too. Real estate experts suggest asking for referrals at three critical points in your relationship – a model that writers can follow for their own business.
* At the end of the project. The client naturally feels good about the project you’ve just completed for them. An opportune time to ask for a referral is when the client is in a positive frame of mind.
* During a follow-up call. In the real estate business, it is customary for agents to follow up with clients two to four weeks after closing on the home. During the follow up call, they ask how the client’s move went and if there is anything they can do for them. Then they ask for a referral.
Likewise, writers can follow up with clients several weeks after the project ends and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. Most important, ask “If you are pleased with my work, do you know anyone else who needs a freelance writer?” Another good time to ask for a referral is when the article you wrote is finally published.
* After you have received a referral. When you get a referral, thank the person who gave it to you and keep them updated on the progress of the project. “I really appreciate your referring Joe Client to me. I’m just about to finish the project for them. Do you know anyone else who needs a writer?”
2. Ask for referrals via marketing materials. Real estate agents often add a request for referrals on all their marketing materials. Remember to ask for referrals on all your print and web materials, such as business cards, emails and website. For example, at the bottom of all your emails, you might write: “The highest compliment my clients give me is a recommendation to someone else. I appreciate your referrals!”
3. Ask for testimonials. Another way clients can express satisfaction with your service is with testimonials. Some real estate agents invite clients to prepare a testimonial in the form of a written letter, a video, or a comment on their LinkedIn profile page. Testimonials can sometimes be more persuasive than other types of communication because they come from someone who has direct experience of your services.
4. Act like a pro. Real estate pros get rewarded with referrals when they’ve done a good job for a client. Writers can get rewarded the same way. Do good work, write great articles and meet your deadlines, says freelance writer Linda Formichelli in her eBook The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing. When you work with integrity, the editor will be impressed. After you know the editor better or you’ve worked with them for some time, ask them to introduce you to other editors they may know.
Building a referral-based business takes time, persistence and self-discipline, and you may not see results right away. The hardest part of the process is simply getting started. Formichelli says it can take up to a year before a referral pays off. That means you need to be consistent and persistent with your communications, without being a pest. Following up with clients every couple of months is okay. Following up with them every day – not so much.
Hopefully implementing these basic strategies can position you for long-term success and help you achieve your freelancing goals.