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Client Hunting: How to Get Referrals from Your Professional Network

Asking for referrals has helped me grow both the writing and VA sides of my business. And asking for introductions is easily the most cost-effective and enjoyable way to get quality clients. Yet many freelancers are too embarrassed to ask for referrals – and the rest never even think about it.

But how exactly do you go about getting referrals from your clients? David Carroll stops by today to share how he’s made it work in his freelance writing business (and how you can too!).

So you’ve been freelancing for a while now, and you’re the master of your own destiny. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

No doubt about it, the jubilation of not having to commute to work and (politely) telling your boss to shove it tends to linger for a while. But early on in your freelancing career, you’ll encounter an entirely different—and equally taxing—challenge: finding new clients.

I get it—you’ve been trawling the job boards and Craigslist, sending out dozens of emails and blind-pitching your ideal clients only to get one or two hits a week, if even that.

Stop what you’re doing for a second and answer this question:

“Have you considered asking your existing clients for referrals?”

It might sound counterintuitive, but the clients you’re working for are, hands down, one of the best sources of new prospects for your business. Yet many freelancers completely overlook them as a route to consistent growth.

Most leave it to chance, and hope that a highly satisfied client will occasionally drop their name to a friend or colleague. And indeed, this might bring them the occasional referral. But why not push the envelope a little and leverage the goodwill you’ve created through your work to reach out and actually ask for those introductions?

Chances are, the client will gladly help because they’ll be delighted with the results you’ve gotten for them. The worst you’ll get is a flat “no,” but it can’t hurt to try, right?

Look at it this way: when you ask satisfied clients for introductions and referrals, you are actually extending a high-quality service to the people they care about. It’s a win-win-win situation, which is an awesome situation to be in!

And to make it as easy (and unscary) as possible,  below are a few pointers to show you how.

1. Popping the Question

Here’s the magic bullet:

Ask your clients if they know of anyone who might benefit from your service.

Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that, but I want you to remember that all you’re doing is reaching out to people and asking for their help. Don’t be shy—as long as you’re providing an excellent service and plenty of value (you are, right?) there shouldn’t be any friction on their end.

If the client can’t come up with a name on the spot, tell them to have a think about it, and that you’ll ask them again down the road.

If they do think of someone, ask them if anyone else comes to mind while you’re at it. With their memory jogged, they might be able to rattle off two or three more names on the spot. You’ll have just doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled the number of prospects gleaned from a single interaction!

You should make a point of asking for introductions during your regular meetings with clients. Just make sure you don’t overdo it by being too pushy—wait til the end of a meeting or conversation and then casually drop the question as an aside.

2. Moving Things Along

Once you have a name, politely ask for the prospect’s contact details—preferably an email address or phone number. Probe them a little to find out about the prospect’s business so you can have a plan about what you might want to say when you pitch them.

If you’re comfortable enough with the client, you could even ask them to give the prospect a quick heads-up to let them know you’ll be in touch. In this case, you should let your client know that you’ll be following up immediately (and then actually do it).

Why? Because they’ve just played the role of matchmaker, and it will be pretty awkward if the prospect were to call them asking “so what’s the story with that VA you were telling me about?” You don’t want to come across as unprofessional or do anything to sour the relationship with your existing client, so make the call ASAP!

3. Making First Contact

For the initial conversation with the prospect, keep things light and breezy. Briefly introduce yourself and describe your services, then offer to schedule a second, more in-depth discussion about the prospect’s needs.

Make sure to mention the person that connected the two of you and the results you’ve already gotten for them, and explain how they thought the prospect could benefit from meeting with you. Here’s how all that might look like in an email:

Hi Susan,

I hope this email finds you well!

My name is David Carroll and I’m a freelance writer and virtual assistant catering to financial services entrepreneurs and professionals.

I’m currently doing some research and content management work for our mutual friend Joe Bloggs, who thought you might also benefit from my services. I’ve been helping Joe for 3 months now, and he’s been experiencing exponential growth in terms of traffic and email subscribers since I came on board.

I’d love to have the opportunity to discuss how I can relieve some of your workload and help you grow your business.

If you’re interested, all of my contact details are below—let me know if you’d like to schedule a meeting!

Kind regards,

David Carroll

If they accept your offer, schedule a specific date and time to meet up or get in touch. And let them know what you’ll be discussing so they have time to prepare in advance.

If they’re not sure or give you a “maybe,” reiterate the value you’ve provided for their friend and let them know that you’re not looking for them to commit to a booking yet—you just want to schedule a followup meeting.

If they give you a flat out “no,” politely thank them for their time and ask that they bear your name in mind for future projects, then move on to the next prospect.

Some people prefer not to respond to cold calls (even if the two of you already have a mutual associate), and others may already have a collaborator that they’re perfectly happy with. In either case, you do neither yourself nor your prospects any favors by trying to force the issue.

4. Tidying Up

Now that you got the introduction and made first contact with the prospect, you’re well on your way to securing a new client! You’ve got your foot in the door, but don’t forget about the person that helped you get there.

Call or email the original client and thank them again for making the introduction. A brief, personal thank-you note only takes a minute to write and send, but it makes all the difference when it comes to cementing your relationship and your reputation.

The client will also likely be curious about the results of their matchmaking, so let them know how things worked out (remembering to protect the prospect’s confidentiality, of course).

And that’s all there is to it!

When it comes to marketing yourself, asking existing clients for introductions and referrals is about as simple as it gets. Make it a feature of your regular meetings and watch your client base rapidly grow, then remember to show appreciation for their assistance.

It’s all part of creating happy, harmonious and profitable working relationships!

Have you been asking clients for referrals? If so, how’s it been working out for you? If not, why? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

How to get referralsDavid Carroll is a freelance writer, self-published author, and chief health-nut at thepaleotoolkit.com. Outside of work, he loves hurling (an amazing Irish sport), playing video games and hanging out with his dogs.

Gina Horkey

Gina Horkey


Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook and loves helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.

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