Getting referred as a freelancer: the why, when and how

Tired of hunting for clients? Have them come to you instead!
As we mentioned in our article on getting your first client, word of mouth and referrals have a great power in attracting clients due to the strength of established trust and having social proof of your skills. Leveraging your network and contacts to source clients will open the doors to unexpected projects and many new contacts.

So here are a few more tips about expanding your sphere of influence and convincing people you are the right person for the job, shared with us by Katrina Cobb from NOMAWO during her talk during our Freelance Business Month.
Why referrals?
Isn't it easier to just scour Upwork and find clients directly? Well, maybe, but referrals have some benefits which make them the tool of choice for most experienced freelancers – here are a few reasons why.

1. Referrals are the most cost-effective way to grow your business. You are not spending money on ads and funnels, but are relying on your soft skills. Essentially, referrals are free.

2. Referrals include trust – as a freelancer, you don't have the luxury of spending years getting to know the person you work with, so trust is important.

3. Expose you to "hidden work opportunities". Setting up a job position in hard work – yes, platforms like Gigged.Ai and Topcoder make it very straightforward to source quality freelancers in a few steps, but many clients would still prefer to skip this altogether and find a person by referral.
How to become referable
Sitting on your laurels and waiting for clients to come to you is not a winning strategy. Instead, you need to be active to get people to recognize your skills and come to you. Here is how to build a strong referral business:

✅ Build a reputation for excellence and reliability – only by proving that you can do the job will people feel comfortable referring you. You wouldn't share the details of the Uber driver who was on TikTok while driving, would you? Do your job well and people will notice.

✅ Make yourself and your business memorable – you want to be the first thing your referees think about when someone mentions your area of business. You can do this by being the best at what you do, by developing a warm relationship with the person or by always sending cat GIFs. Whatever is the most effective.

✅Share the message that you are open to new business – people need to know you are looking for work, so just let your network know! Don't be the best-kept secret in your industry.

✅Become easy to refer: people don't know how to refer your business unless you tell them, so you need to do 99% of the work for your referrer. All that's left is for them to make the connection.

See Katina's full talk below:
Who to ask for referrals?
The more specific you are with the people you are reaching out to, the better, so you need to ask the right person. So who to ask?

Current and past clients – People you have a working relationship with. Yes, you can even ask your current clients for referrals.

Other freelancers in your network - Independent professionals know the importance of mutual support and will be more than welcome to help you get referred. To get in touch with more engaged freelancers, join Nomawo at or join our private Slack community here In the Freelance Business Community, we have the iamlookingfor channel, in which members share gigs and opportunities they need help for. You are free to get in touch, and even recommend people from your own network.

Friends and family – you'd be surprised to learn how many useful contacts your friends and family have. Let them know what you do and that you are open to helping others.

People who decided not to hire you – just because you are not the right fit for one position doesn't mean you wouldn't be great at another. Kindly ask people who've rejected you in the past if they wouldn't mind keeping connecting you to others.
How to get a great referral?
Do you want to get referred for something that you don't actually do? Of course you don't! Here is how to get quality referrals.

Know WHY you're asking a person to refer you. Be relevant – why are they the right person to refer you? Be personal and share how you can help their network.

State WHAT problems you solve. You want to be helpful – realise what others are struggling with and make the connection with how you can help.

Describe WHO is your perfect connection/client – spoiler – it ISN'T everybody. The more specific you can be, the better. Think of where you want to go and what businesses can help you get there.

Specify HOW best to refer you. People aren't great at refering – you need to direct them. Tell them where potential clients can reach you (email, LinkedIn) and maybe even share a template.
When is the best time to open the door and ask for a referral?
In an engaging professional conversation – this can be a friendly catch-up, a discovery call, a networking event, a random meet-up – just mention that you'd like to help more people!

At regular intervals with current and past clients – if you have just reached a milestone and the vibe is great, that's a great time to ask for a referral.

As a condition of doing business when the work concludes – simply let the clients know that you'd like to help as many people as possible – so ask them to get you in touch with others!
To wrap up...
⭐️ Remember to refer others! Referrals go both ways – don't only expect to be referred. Make sure to refer others in your network too. They will remember it!

⭐️ Build genuine relationships. It may take years of you knowing someone before they refer you to a project. Don't stop communicating with people just because they haven't referred you yet.

⭐️ Even if you do a one-off project with a client, stay in touch. They can be a great source of work.

⭐️ Setting up a referral network can sound difficult and complicated, but it boils down to simple communication. Talk to people and let them know you are ready to help. The rest is persistence.

With all of these tips, you should be well on your way to getting new opportunities and finding great projects. We'd like to thank Katrina for sharing her experience: if you'd like to learn more about how NOMAWO can help you in your freelance journey, go here!
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