Prospecting is an important way to build your business. But there’s another way that, once you get the right plans in motion, is so much simpler. Referral work is work that comes to you through little to no effort of your own. Sounds nice, eh? Let’s talk about how to build your referral system.
Today’s question is from Juliana P., who asks, “I think I read somewhere that you now get a lot of your work through referrals. How did you make that happen.”
It’s true: Referrals do make up the vast majority of my business now. Don’t get me wrong: I spend plenty of time prospecting for clients, but after being in business for so long (15+ years) it’s certainly referral work that drives most of my days.
Referrals come from three places: 1) from a previous client who refers you to a colleague 2) from a previous colleague who refers you to his/her client or company and 3) through recruiters.
I know: Technically speaking, recruiters aren’t really referrals — they’re not passing your info along out of the kindness of their hearts. But, aside from passing along your portfolio and pointing out a few samples, working with recruiters is relatively passive.
Now that we’ve got that down, let’s talk about how to nurture these channels.
How to Nurture Past Client Referrals
The easiest — nay, only way — to nurture past client referrals is to get clients and to do great work for them.
You have to put in the work to prospect for new clients (new clients don’t just come to you out of the blue) and you have to put in the work to explain to them exactly why your work is beneficial and you are unique and valuable as a professional.
And then, of course, once you land the work, you have to do great copywriting work and be a pleasure to do business with. Business owners know other business owners. When you delight one with your work, he/she is likely to pass your information along.
How to Nurture Past Colleague Referrals
Past colleagues come from past work. I know that seems obvious, but bear with me. If you don’t do any kinds of work wherein you have colleagues, you won’t have past colleagues, and you can’t get referrals from them.
So yes, prospecting for clients is very important. But if you at all have any ability to actually get into an office as a copywriter and work with people do it. I have colleagues 13 years ago who still look me up and send me work.
I know that many people are chasing the “dream” of being 100% freelance. (And that’s certainly a worthy pursuit.) But it’s actually so much easier to become a full-time freelancer if you’re willing to go into an office for some time first.
And I don’t mean that you have to be on-staff, either. (If that’s what you want, though, go for it.) You could work as a contractor, and still get the benefits of working with and getting to know new colleagues, while still getting an element of freedom. Also, you may be able to move more easily from one company to the next.
How to Nurture Recruiter Relationships
I’ve written a decent amount about recruiters before (here and here), so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say, working with recruiters can be great, and it can be not-so-great.
But one thing I want to be sure to bring up is that you can’t rely on recruiters for your main sources of referrals and, far less, for your main sources of income.
A recruiter’s job isn’t to “find you work” (even though it kind of feels like it is). A recruiter’s job is to fill open positions at a company. Their allegiance is not to you.
So even if a recruiter is pursuing you like crazy, they can instantly drop you if you’re not exactly what a company needs. A recruiter isn’t interested in your life goals — or they are, but only in so much as they want them to match up with the company they’re pitching you to.
A recruiter is looking for a great candidate with a great portfolio.
Now that we’ve got that covered, how do you become more attractive to a recruiter? Well…become a great candidate with a great portfolio. Do a lot of different kinds of work (across all different media, from emails to direct mails to banner ads to magazine ads) and do it for a lot of different kinds of companies. No matter what you’ve read elsewhere, do not fall into the niche trap when you’re just starting out.
Work hard to make yourself a talented, multifaceted candidate and work hard to make your portfolio full of exceptionally good work.
Before I wrap up today, one warning: Don’t let yourself rely on any one of these to the exclusion of the others. And, even more so, until you’ve been in the business for many, many years and have referrals coming in constantly, don’t refer entirely on referrals at all.
Keep your nose to the grindstone and keep prospecting and working. Referrals will come naturally as long as you make smart choices in your career that will let you build referral opportunities in these three different areas.
Your turn! What are your biggest questions about referrals? Let us know in the comments below!