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

Word of mouth (also known as referrals) is the easiest way for freelancers to get great clients. Learn what to do to get more referrals.

Word of mouth (also known as referrals) is the #1 source of the best clients for freelancersThe reason word of mouth works so well is simple: Clients want to do business with people they know—or people recommended by people they know.

Just ask Dana L. Randall, MS, PharmD, RD, RPh, CMPP™, MWC®. Since launching her freelance medical writing business in 2014, most of her work has come from word of mouth.

Before starting Intuitive Graphite, Inc., Dana had worked for medical communication agencies for almost 15 years. Now, some of her former employers are keeping her busy with freelance work, and referring her to new clients.

“A couple of former employers hire me repeatedly, and that has helped me maintain steady work, plus I get new clients through word of mouth,” Dana says. Having extensive experience in working for medical communications agencies allows Dana to create high-quality deliverables with minimal oversight. Her clients trust her to work directly with their clients.

And they refer her to new clients. “I’m friendly and flexible, so I think clients find me easy to work with, and I’m a good team player,” she says. Other freelancers and other colleagues also tell people about Dana, and send referrals her way.

Word of mouth is considered the oldest type of marketing—and the most effective.

Word-of-mouth referrals are the main way of attracting new clients for 85 percent of small businesses, says Erin Myers in an article on Duct Tape Marketing . “This should come as no surprise since 92 percent of consumers say they trust the recommendations of friends and family over other forms of advertising,” says Myers.

2 Ways to Get Better Freelance Clients 

Dana’s getting freelance clients through word of mouth by:

  1. Satisfying current clients
  2. Building strong relationships with successful freelancers.

These are the two main ways to get better freelance clients by word of mouth.

Networking, another top source for the best clients, is how you build those strong relationships with colleagues. Dana’s gotten new clients by networking with colleagues through the American Medical Writers Association.

Exceed Client Expectations

Satisfied clients refer you to their colleagues. Those colleagues are very likely to hire you because they trust their colleague’s recommendation.

“Word of mouth is the best marketing, but you have to earn it. Doing great work, being easy to work with, and loving what you do make the difference,” says Genevieve J. Walker PhD, PC, a freelance medical writer and owner of Bridge Health Communications.

Get more referrals by always giving your clients more than they expect. “Deliver a quality product and never, ever, be late or make excuses, because clients remember,” says Genevieve.

Seek Out Referrals

Deb Dulin, owner and creative director at Dulin Design LLC, builds strong relationships through her networking groups: Business Network International and Howard Tech Council. “We take the time to get to know each other on a personal level. That way, the introduction [to a potential client] is likely to be a better fit,” she says.

And Deb isn’t shy about asking for referrals. “I have been proactive in my email newsletters and during conversations that I’m always happy to receive a referral,” she says.

Having clients or colleagues who are connectors has been helpful to Deb, and to me. “Certain clients are ‘connectors’ who naturally seek to introduce people who may have something in common,” says Deb.

Genevieve has been a connector for me. In one issue of her e-newsletter, I read about some interesting work she was doing and asked about it. Genevieve described the work, and offered to refer me to her client. I wasn’t looking for a referral; I was just curious about the work. And at the time, I was too busy to take on any new clients. I thanked Genevieve and we continued to keep in touch.

When my schedule unexpectedly freed up, I asked Genevieve to refer me to her client. Within a week, I was working for the client too.

That’s the power of referrals.

Ask Clients for Referrals

The best referrals, of course, are when clients just tell other clients about us and those other clients hire us. But you can also ask for referrals—even if it doesn’t feel right.

“For many of us, the first few times we ask for a referral are going to feel stilted and cheap. This is especially true if you are not a natural born promoter. But with practice, it gets way easier,” says Neely in Why Word of Mouth Should Be a B2B Marketer’s Top Priority.”

Asking clients for referrals at the right time and in the right way is crucial. The right time is “when the relationship is strong enough to ensure their trust and belief in you,” says Taylor Landis in “3 Best Kept Secrets for Getting Referral Business.

For freelancers, perfect times to ask for referrals are when:

  • You complete a successful project
  • A client compliments your work.

Always be polite and professional, never pushy. For most freelancers, email is the easiest way to ask for a referral. Use a subject line like:

“I really enjoyed working with you on XYZ.”

In the body of the email, mention this again, and say that you’d love to hear about similar freelance opportunities with colleagues in their organization or other organizations. Mentioning that “it’s been great to work with you,” says Neely, compliments your client and helps increase the number of referrals you’ll get.

Network with Colleagues to Boost Word of Mouth

Elizabeth Hanson, a freelance science and medical writer, routinely gets referrals from colleagues—and also gives them referrals. “I have a trusted group of colleagues who are freelancers,” she says. “We all trained in the same science writing program, have known each other for decades, and have confidence in each other’s work. So we routinely pass along each other’s names for projects we can’t take on.”

You don’t need to spend decades building relationships to get referrals from colleagues. But you do need to strategically build your network and focus on helping others.

Giving more than you take most of the time is the key to building strong relationships. When you do this, the people you help want to help you too. Referring freelance work to other freelancers is especially effective.

And when you give other freelancers referrals, you’ll be more comfortable asking for referrals for yourself.

“After you’ve recommended a few of your favorite businesses or professionals to others, asking for a few referrals for yourself seems easier,” says Neely.

Referring freelance work to other freelancers doesn’t mean that there will be less work for you. Having an abundance mindset where you believe there’s plenty of freelance pie (clients and projects) to go around will help you succeed. Because there is plenty of freelance work for everyone—and collaboration always beats competition.

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Other Content

Pam Neely, “Why Word of Mouth Should Be a B2B Marketer’s Top Priority

Erin Myers, “4 Types of Referrals to Benefit Your Business”

Taylor Landis, “3 Best Kept Secrets for Getting Referral Business”