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Original Article

Jonathan Kay on Getting Referrals and Freelance Marketing

Do you like to market your freelancing business?

If you’re like many freelancers, your answer to that question is probably “no.” Many freelancers dislike the marketing tasks associated with freelancing.

That’s one reason why we’re presenting this interview with Jonathan Kay. You see, marketing is Jonathan’s job–and he’s good at it. Very good.

Jonathan’s official title is the Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper (a brand that empowers entrepreneurs with a virtual phone system).

In Jonathan’s own words he is, “is extremely passionate about helping / meeting new entrepreneurs and always excited to learn about their unique journey.”

I asked Jonathan to share some of his tips and insights about marketing with us here at Freelance Folder. Specifically, I asked him to address how freelancers can generate referral business. I’m sure that freelancers of all kinds can learn from his advice.

6 Marketing Tips
I asked Jonathan six questions about how freelancers can better generate referrals. Here’s what he shared with us:

1. Most freelancers love what they do, but hate to market their freelance business. Can you suggest any ways to help freelancers dread marketing less?

Jonathan: Have fun with it. I mean just be yourself, and let your personality seep into your marketing. Remember, as a freelancer you don’t have to appeal to the “general public” (whatever that means), or even tens of thousands of people. You need to find your niche and, be as awesome as you can within those bounds.

I’ll give you an example. I met a really fun front end designer a few months back who helped me out with a project I was working on. She took a really creative approach to her website’s “about page,” and as a client of hers I really appreciated that. Here it is–Brimming About Page.

All she did was outline a cute, funny, “hypothetical” client conversation. But for me, it gave me some real insights into her personality, and just generally made me feel more comfortable working with her! It was simple, fun, and she was just herself.

2. I think one of the reasons that most freelancers don’t ask their clients for referrals or leads is because they dread getting a negative response. Are there any tricks to determining whether a client is good candidate for providing a referral?

Jonathan: I would venture to say it’s worse to not have enough business, than it is to get a negative response from a client =). But I know that wasn’t the question! I think the first “trick” would be to note what it is your client does. If word of mouth and referrals are a big part of their business, then they will inherently understand the value and most likely be happy to help (assuming they had a positive experience). I would also take into account a few other things:

  • How much time have you spent “outside of the norm” walking them through things, helping them understand something, etc. (The more you put in, the more fair of an expectation it will be that your client would feel comfortable spreading the word.)
  • Did they get great results from whatever work you did for them? (Stellar results are always a good opportunity to ask for a referral.)
  • Trust your gut. Do you find yourself talking about things outside of your project with your client? Like sports or cooking or your kids? If you feel like you have established a good relationship, then asking the question shouldn’t hurt that (even if they don’t want to refer you).

3. What should you do if a client gives you a referral that doesn’t pan out (the client didn’t really understand your business or the referral can’t afford your services)?

Jonathan: I would simply do whatever I could to help the person they referred to me. Now that doesn’t mean try and offer them services you do not have expertise in. You should connect with them, listen to them, and either see if you can help them or connect them with someone in your network who can. Being the person who makes valuable connections for people goes a long way. It makes you memorable, and when those clients do end up needing a service you offer you will be in the forefront of their minds.

In regards to pricing, that can be a bit trickier. There will surely be exceptions to what I am about to say, and times where you need to “do a favor” just because of your relationship with the referrer. However, as a general statement I think it’s important to decide what your value is, and stick to that. If you are not in the ballpark of the client you are speaking to, simply find a nice way to connect them with someone you know who is more inexpensively priced. I would always, always thank the client who sent the referral regardless of whether it was a direct fit. If someone is consistently (more than 3 times) sending you leads that are not a fit, at that point you could politely correct their expectations. Just remember meeting new people is the best thing you can do for your business, so there is no reason to cut any ties unless it becomes a major time suck.

4. What about sending out a customer satisfaction survey after a job is done? Is this a good way for a freelancer to determine whether a client is really happy?

Jonathan: I think that is a boring, stale, and spammy way to find out if your client is happy. Customer satisfaction surveys are what some phone companies send after you talk with one of their “customer care representatives.”

Why not pick up the phone and call them a few weeks after your project? After all you probably spent multiple weeks if not months working with them, why end it by sending an impersonal email? Even better, you could send them a handwritten note saying you enjoyed working with them, really appreciated the business, and would love if they could provide any feedback. I would venture to say writing a hand written note could increase their likelihood to refer you as well!

5. What other tips would you give to freelancers regarding getting their clients to spread the word about their freelancing business?

Jonathan: Do anything you can to help the people you interact with. Literally anything. I meet a lot of people, and travel a good amount to different entrepreneurial events throughout the US….every person I meet knows someone in their life who is a “connector.” Be that person. Don’t just say you will make that introduction (or send them that link), make a note and when you get home actually do it. That type of follow up, and willingness to help anyone will create an atmosphere around you that will help your business not only grow, but flourish.
6. Do you have any other thoughts to share?

Jonathan: I know asking for referrals can be really awkward. But just think about it for a moment….If you don’t sell your business, who will?

You made the decision to be an entrepreneur, which means you will definitely have to do things from time to time that aren’t in your comfort zone. Referrals and new business is a necessary way for you to grow, make money, and generally survive. By all means, find a way to infuse your own personality into it; but don’t ever think for a minute that referrals are not a necessary part of being a freelancer, because they most certainly are.