Pitching is the foundation of a successful freelance business. However, once you get the gears in motion, there’s a simpler way to generate leads. You can get new clients through referrals for your freelance business.
I’ve been freelancing for over 20 years. And while I still prospect for clients and send pitches regularly, it’s true that most of my work comes from referrals now. You, too, can get to this point in your career by capitalizing on the three places referrals typically originate:
- Previous clients who refer you to their colleagues.
- Previous colleagues who refer you to their clients or company.
- Recruiters who help companies find freelancers.
(Technically, recruiters aren’t referrals since they are being paid to find people like you. But I’m including them here because it’s a reasonably passive way to generate leads.)
Getting Referrals for Your Freelance Business from Previous Clients
The best way—actually, the only way—to secure this type of referral is to get clients and do amazing work for them!
The major work here is at the front-end as you prospect, pitch, close the sale, and complete the project. You’ll have to clearly explain why your work is valuable, and describe how you’re uniquely qualified to do it.
And once you land the work, you need to do a great job!
Business leaders know other business leaders. So when you delight one person, they are primed to pass your name along to others.
If you feel comfortable, you can tell your client that you are still taking on clients (if that’s the case) and to feel free to pass your name along.
Getting Referrals for Your Freelance Business from Previous Colleagues
You may be dreaming of having a 100% freelance career, and that’s an admirable goal! But if you’re not there yet, consider the positives: you know people who can vouch for your work.
Reach out to people you’re working with now or have worked with in the past. Let them know about your business, and ask them to connect you with potential clients.
Even when your business is off the ground, I actually recommend incorporating an in-office position into your career trajectory. Being on staff for a period of time, or accepting a short-term contract role can help you expand your network.
And your network—your colleagues—are a source of potential referrals for your freelance business.
The longer you remain in touch with past colleagues (which we highly recommend!), the more opportunities to connect with more companies and expand your network even further. For example, one of our team members has stayed in touch with a colleague she’s had since 2010. That colleague has gone on to work for 3 different companies in that time. And our team member has freelanced with all 3 of those companies becuase of that 1 connection!
Getting Referrals for Your Freelance Business from Recruiters
Working with recruiters has both upsides and downsides. The good news is that it’s their job to find people like you! The not-so-good news is that they don’t really have *your* best interests at heart.
Recruiters work for companies, not for freelancers. For this reason, you cannot rely on them as your main source of referrals. And you definitely can’t depend on them for the bulk of your income!
Even if it feels like a recruiter’s job is to “find you work,” in fact they are helping a company to fill its open positions.
Being pursued by a recruiter feels great. However, they will drop you in a heartbeat if it turns out you’re not a fit for their client. Recruiters are not particularly interested in helping you build your business.
At the same time, they can be a source of excellent referrals for your freelance business if your skill set matches what the company is looking for.
The best way to attract recruiters is to develop a great portfolio. Work with a variety of clients on a variety of projects in a variety of industries. (Avoid the niche trap when you’re first starting out!)
You will stand out from the crowd by working hard and becoming an exceptional candidate who can fill the role. Your portfolio will help you prove yourself to recruiters.
Explore All of These Opportunities
While it might be tempting to focus on just one of these referral sources, it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. Search for referrals in multiple places, and don’t ever stop pitching!
The best thing about referrals for your freelance business is that it eventually comes naturally. Make good choices in your career, keep in touch with colleagues and clients, and opportunities will present themselves in each of these categories.
Your turn! What are your biggest questions about referrals? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on December 21, 2022 by Craig Galo