Why You Need to Say Thank You to Get More Referrals

One day as I was working in my home office, my doorbell rang. Waiting for me on the doorstep was the UPS guy, with a large package. I do order lots of things online, but hadn’t placed any orders recently. So I wasn’t expecting anything. My puzzlement turned to sheer delight as I opened the plain brown box. Inside I found a lovely gift basket with gourmet chocolate, cookies, cheese, crackers, and olives, and a bottle of good wine.

The Gift that Dazzled Me

The gift basket was from a colleague who I had spent some time with at a recent conference. Let’s call her A. A and I had “met” online and I had given her some advice about marketing for her new freelance business.

When I found out A was going to the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) annual conference, I invited her to join me for lunch one day. I did this because I remember what it was like when I went to my first conference and didn’t know anybody. Although members of AMWA are very friendly, I figured that meeting me in person would make A feel more comfortable. And I’d be able to share tips on conference networking and answer her questions.

I enjoyed the treats in my gift basket, especially the chocolate. But it wasn’t the gift itself that touched me. It was the sincere thank you behind it.

When I told my husband, who spent his career in a Fortune 500 company, about who sent me the gift and why, he replied, “She’s going to be very successful.”

I agree. The first thing I did when I went back to my office was send A an email to thank her for the gift—and to ask her about the type of work that she was looking for. A had gone to the top of my referral list.

What Too Few Freelancers Say

Have you figured out the 2 most important words in freelance success yet?

Thank you.

Thanking colleagues and clients when they refer or give you work or do something nice for you drives referrals, also known as word of mouth advertising. Referrals are the #1 source of the best clients for freelancers, according to How Freelancers 
Market their Services: 2019 Survey.

Too few freelancers take the time to say thank you these days. Maybe that’s why when one does, it makes such a strong impression.

Michael J. Katz was impressed when one of his students sent him a gift basket as a thank-you for a referral that worked out. He even included this story in The Likeable Expert: 121 Insights to Start Your Day and Grow Your Business.

Katz says that word of mouth is a leading way to get new clients and that freelancers should have a “thank you process” to “make sure there are more mouths involved on your behalf.” As founder and “chief penguin” at Blue Penguin Development, Inc., Katz helps solos (another name for freelancers) and small professional service firms get more of the clients and work they want.

The Perfect Thank You

Does this mean that you need to spend a lot of money on gifts every time someone does something nice for you? Absolutely not.

Most of the time, a card with a handwritten note makes a perfect thank you.

I send a gift when a colleague or client gives me a referral that turns into freelance work. Usually, I send an Amazon gift certificate, because then the person can order whatever she/he likes best.

Recipients are always surprised by the gift, and they usually tell me that it’s not necessary. But I just have to show my gratitude. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s a nice thing to do. If the referral doesn’t work out, I send a thank-you card with a personal note.

A card has more impact than an email, because it takes effort to send a card with a personal note, and it stands out from the sea of emails we all get everyday.

Another of Katz’s 121 insights is about a note he sent to thank a client for speaking with another client. When Katz’s client received the card, she thanked him with an “enthusiastic” email. He then asks readers whether:

  • The client would have responded in the same way if he had simply thanked her in an email
  • He helped his business by taking the time to thank his client.

Show Gratitude

Saying thank you is a “stupidly simple way to get referrals,” says Cherese Cobb in “The Stupidly Simple Way for Freelancers to Get Referrals.” Cherese is a professional writer and multimedia artist.

Cherese likes to send “old-fashion” thank you cards to new clients after the first assignment, and to new sources after interviews. “Why? In today’s digital world, it’s unexpected, uncommon, and sets me apart from other writers,” she says. This strategy has gotten her more freelance work.

I like to send my new clients a thank you card after a successful first project too. At the holidays, I send cards to all clients and gifts to my biggest clients. I also send cards to key colleagues, including those who have referred work to me.

Be Sincere

Expressing your gratitude is a sound business strategy that should be a routine part of your business. But it’s not about “using” thank yous to get referrals. If you aren’t sincere about your gratitude, it will show.

“I don’t ever send a thank-you message expecting something in return from a client, prospect, or contact. I do it because it’s polite. It’s like spreading a confetti of kindness that can have a positive impact on others. And I know it works to build relationships, get referrals, and land more freelance writing jobs,” says Cherese.

I send thank you gifts and cards for a “stupidly simple” reason: it’s the right thing to do. It makes me feel good and it makes the person I’m thanking feel good. Growing my freelance business by saying thank you is a bonus.

Most freelancers get their best clients through referrals because clients want to do business with people they know—or people recommended by people they know.

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Learn More About Referrals

From The Mighty Marketer

How Freelancers Market their Services: 2019 Survey

What You Need to Know About Gratitude and Freelancing

Word of Mouth: The Best Way to Get Better Freelance Work

Other Resources

The Likeable Expert: 121 Insights to Start Your Day and Grow Your Business.

The Stupidly Simple Way for Freelancers to Get Referrals