Creative work is difficult when you're simultaneously an artist and a service provider. You want to let your work speak for itself, but you also need to get paid for it. Creative freelancers around the world generate most of their new business through word of mouth, and this type of viral marketing always makes for the best leads.
Referral marketing is the single most effective way to generate more word-of-mouth activity that leads to being hired (and paid) for your creative skills.
By asking for referrals from the right people at the right time and in the right way, freelancers can get new work based on their existing track record. The challenge for most creatives is that they don't have a referral strategy, or they feel weird asking for referrals. But people are always looking for creative talent they can trust. You just need to learn how to make it easy for your contacts to recommend you.
Following are six straightforward you-can-do-this tips that will help you to increase word-of-mouth activity that brings you more work.
Tip 1: Be More Referable
Asking for referrals feels impossible when projects don't go the way you (or the client) hoped. By gaining a reputation as an exceptional start-to-finish vendor, you'll create more organic referrals along the way—even without asking. How can you earn a reputation for being "exceptional"? Start by taking every opportunity to go the extra mile, showing your clients just how important they are to you. Make them see that their project is your project. Clients take notice when you care as deeply as they do about getting it right.
Tip 2: Talk About Referrals from the Beginning
When you first engage with a client, mention that your business works by referral. State that you hope, when you've done a great job for them, your clients will be willing to refer you to three new people. Be upfront about expecting their recommendations, and they'll be able to think during the project time about those referrals. Then, when you get close to wrapping up that project, you can request referrals without surprising the client.
Tip 3: Turn a Compliment into a Request
Whether online or in person, when people compliment your work, thank them and request a short and friendly referral. People feel good when they compliment someone. Taking their praise a step further is an appropriate request.
Tip 4: Suggest an Introduction
Asking to be introduced to someone is easy if your request is simple and specific. The best way to do this is to email your contact, mention that you'd like to connect with so-and-so, and briefly state why you think that connection would be a good fit. Suggest that, if your contact agrees, he or she should simply reply to your message, add the new contact in the To: line, and in the message agree with your remarks. You take it from there.
Tip 5: Request a Personal Recommendation
You've already requested connections to specific people. This step is a little more complex: Ask your contact to support your creative work by reaching out to other people whose names you don't know.
Yes, it's a big request. To make it easy, your email should include something that your contact can pass along, such as a blurb from your most recent blog post or a short description of a portfolio (including associated web link). Ask your contact to share this message with three other people they think might find it interesting.
Tip 6: Share the Credit
The best referrals come from people who are proud of having you as their vendor. We all want to look good among our peers. When someone gives you a referral, use it as an opportunity to build up that person's reputation as well. Your creative work helped to solve their problem, but you provided only part of the solution. Your clients are also heroes—speak well of them and be their champion.
When trusted people sing your praises, good things happen. The credibility that comes from other people speaking well of you and your work creates a strong foundation for building a creative career.