Why referral marketing is the best marketing

As a freelancer, one of the best ways of marketing your business is through referral marketing relationships with complementary services or products. The key here is to do your research and make sure you partner with like-minded people.

As a freelance writer – business writing, copywriting and the odd journalistic article – I often work closely with designers, web developers, trademark lawyers, internet marketers, social media marketers and so on. Sometimes, a client will come to me with no idea where to start and I need to be able to help them in a broader way than my talents allow.

And that’s where my handy referral partners come in.

I have set up a great network of professionals who I can rely on – and trust to give the best service to my clients. In fact, setting this up was one of the earliest things I did to help my biz (and, in turn, my clients).

But – and here’s the tip to help other freelancers – it wasn’t all out of the goodness of my heart.  This network (which grows fairly organically) easily provides more than 50 per cent of my work through referrals. It’s like being handed a client on a platter, with minimal marketing time or dollar spent.

It’s taken several years – and lots of coffee, as well as kissing a few frogs. But my mistakes along the way have all been a learning experience, which I am happy to share.

There are three ways to set up referral relationships with like-minded businesses:

Informal, casual referrals: This is just a case of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. There is no deal, no contract and no promises. It’s a great way to test a new relationship to see if it really is a good fit. This accounts for more than half the referral deals I have in place.

Referral fees: This is where someone agrees to pay you a certain amount or percentage for each referral. It’s part of a marketing budget – instead of budgeting $500 for advertising, for example, you spend that money on direct referrals (usually around 10-15 per cent of the total project budget). There needs to be solid agreements in place for this to work properly.

Outsourcing: Unlike the casual or the fee option, in this one, you don’t hand the client over to another company. Instead, the client remains with you and you become the client of, say, the designer, or the web developer. All client interactions are with you and you take on a project management role. It is usual in this scenario for the partner company to offer you a discount on their rate, you add a little bit of commission to cover the project management, and the client is no worse off in the end – without having to do the legwork.

One thing to remember is you are likely to need more than one preferred partner for each service, as not all clients or customers fit all businesses. Not to mention it covers you should one of your partners be too busy to assist, or go out of business.

The best way to find these partners is simple – network, network, network! Be seen online and off, chatting to prospects, handing out business cards and generally being sociable. And don’t leave it at that. When you are back in the office, check them out – Google them, have a look at their social media profiles – and send out a “Great to meet you” email. Depending on the tone of their response – or if they respond at all – you will know whether they are worth pursuing.

It really is that simple.

After all, every freelancer is in the same boat. We all have to find more clients on a limited marketing budget , and referrals are simply one of the best marketing weapons we have in our arsenal.

Till next time



About the author: Nicole Leedham

nicole leedham

Nicole is the Word Barista at Black Coffee Communication. With more than 20 years in the communications game, she has developed some strong opinions on grammar, punctuation, copywriting and, well, pretty much everything. When she is not sharing these opinions – for the benefit of her clients, of course – she enjoys relaxing with a good book and a good red. Her young children, however, have a different agenda.

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