When you have a successful writing business, one of the questions people keep asking is how you get work. My answer to that is that most of my work comes from referrals and word-of-mouth. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. When I started my writing business I had no contacts – zip, zilch, zero. Those were the bad old days, when every piece of work was a one-off and not that well paid either. Between you and me, I’m glad those days are behind me.
So what changed?
I’m not going to pretend that I suddenly became the high queen of client relations – I didn’t. The referrals I get today are a direct reflection of the hard work I have put into providing an excellent service for my clients.
Laying the Groundwork for Client Referrals
You see, if people are going to recommend you, you have to do good work. And, false modesty aside, I do. My clients say I have a knack for understanding what they want even when they haven’t clearly explained it, delivering on time or even early and producing work that exceeds their expectations. (That doesn’t mean I do everything they ask, either – giving sound advice is part of the package and building a relationship of trust sometimes means telling them what to avoid.)
Anyway, the point is that by providing a good service for my clients I was putting in the ground work that would lead to future referrals. Here are some examples of how that has worked.
Referral Success Story No. 1
I first met my client CJ more than six years ago when he was running a marketing campaign for a UK gift items firm. I followed a lead and applied to do some writing, which I did for the short term contract it involved. I thought that was that, but a year or so later, CJ needed a writer for his own marketing projects and came to me. I’m still working with him now.
Referral Success Story No. 2
Of course, client referrals also come from other sources. At one time I chatted with a bunch of people on Twitter and elsewhere about the location independent lifestyle. That led to a short gig writing for the Location Independent site and also introduced me to some other people, including Andy Hayes who was also part of that community. Based on our interaction and the posts he’d read, he recommended me to someone else looking for a regular blog writer. That was around five years ago and I’m still working with them now. So interaction on social media, forums and discussion groups can pay off in terms of referrals.
Thinking Strategically about Client Referrals
Both of those situations happened with very little input from me, and I’ve got many other examples, too. In my experience, working with one client often leads to work with another. Publishing posts on Unbounce led to a gig writing for Crazy Egg which has led to gigs writing for other people. As a writer, my published work passively markets my skills and helps clients to find me – referral success story number 3.
However, since I hooked up with Tea Silvestre and the Word Carnival bloggers, I’ve given much more thought to being strategic about working with clients. And there are plenty of tools to help me foster those same relationships.
(As an aside, let me say that whether I’m talking to clients formally or participating in an online group or forum, I don’t have time or energy to be anything but genuine. Nor do I go into any relationship thinking about what I can get out of it. With clients, I want to get paid but I also want to have fun and deliver value.)
Building Relationships with my Clients
Anyhoo, since the system (let me pretend I had one, OK?) I have is already working for me, what I needed to do was find tools that made that process easier. And just to be clear, the process I’m talking about is deepening my relationship with clients so they want to send work my way when the opportunity arises in a totally natural and authentic way – slow marketing rules, y’all! Here are some of the ways I do that:
- Since email is my primary tool for communicating with clients, it makes sense to use Rapportive to get rich profiles of my contacts. This tool brings together all their social media profiles and recent updates so I can see whether I am following them and what they are talking about. If something interests me, I can click to the update from my email window and reply.
- I use Twitter lists and Google+ circles to follow my clients and I check periodically to see what they are saying. It’s also a good way to see if they have shared some of my work so I can thank them, respond, reshare or retweet.
- I write LinkedIn recommendations for my clients and I endorse them too. Nine times out of ten they will return the favor. (I haven’t done it for all of them yet, but I’m working on it.)
- I follow up on work I’ve done for them (especially for new clients) to make sure that they are happy. I also ask for testimonials, let them know when the testimonial has been published on my site and encourage them to refer me to others. (If you don’t ask, you don’t get.)
- I email them a couple of times a year to check in and to let them know what I’m doing. This includes a thanks for your business ecard (which I create myself) which I send to all current/regular clients at the end of each year.
In addition to this, I communicate regularly with my clients during a job. As well as work-related communications, I find it never hurts to send seasonal or holiday wishes or enquire about how weekends or holidays went. That’s just common courtesy and I do it offline too.
So does all of this work? I’d say it does. Sure, I still apply for suitable gigs when they come up, but at least half of the work I’m doing now is as a result of referrals. I’ve even got a few clients who have become such raving fans of my work that they approach me first for anything they want related to writing. That can’t be bad, can it?
How do you encourage client referrals?
Want more small business advice? Check out more posts on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Referrals from the creative and talented Word Carnival bloggers.
Image: Francisco Restivo