How to Get Referrals Without Asking: Use This Pro Writer’s Hack

Evan Jensen

Ever wonder how to get referrals to book more freelance writing work?

That would be nice, right? You figure out how to turn on the freelance faucet, and warm leads pour in.

After trading a few emails, phone calls or hosting a Zoom chat, that warm lead turns into a new freelance writing client that puts money in your pocket.

But it doesn’t always work like that, does it?

If you’re struggling with trying to figure out how to generate leads to book more freelance work and assignments, you’re not alone.

So what’s the secret to getting referrals to move up and earn more as a writer?

It’s probably not what you think.

A lot of gurus tell you to ask all your freelance clients and connections for referrals until they cough some up. Or offer a reward, a bounty, or some financial incentive to get people to give you referrals.

But if this style of getting freelance clients makes you feel dead inside or churns your stomach, it’s time to learn a whole new way to do this.


Check out this pro writer’s hack to generate warm leads…WITHOUT asking.

Meet referrals expert Stacey Brown Randall

How to Get Referrals: Stacey Brown Randall

Stacey Brown Randall

When Stacey Brown Randall left corporate America to launch her own  business, she quickly discovered getting clients wasn’t always easy.

But she was determined to figure out a new way of generating business without cold calling, spending a ton on advertising, or hustling all her contacts.

In her first year, she generated 112 referrals and fine-tuned the process. Then she wrote the book: Generating Business Referrals Without Asking: A Simple Five Step Plan to a Referral Explosion.

She’s also a speaker, podcast host, and consultant who helps business owners generate referrals WITHOUT asking, WITHOUT paying or WITHOUT manipulation.

Want to learn how she does it? We interviewed Stacey about her strategy for the Freelance Writers Den podcast.

Q: What’s your definition of a referral?

Stacey: This is how I always explain it…If I told you I had a referral for you, you’d get excited.

Why? You know it means you don’t have to do that much work to get a new prospect that can potentially become a new client basically “dropped into your lap.”

Q: What makes referrals so good for freelance writers?

Stacey: Typically, when you’re dealing with somebody who’s been referred to you, that prospect is typically easier to close.

They’re less price sensitive. They already trust you, because they trust the person who referred them to you.

It makes the whole process of getting a prospect to become a paying client place a lot smoother, and a lot faster, because they’re ready to go.

This is the Holy Grail of how to grow your business. There’s less work involved. And the clients are usually better clients and easier to work with.

Q: What are your two criteria for a referral?

Stacey: There two main key pieces that I use to define a referral:

  • Personal connection. First, there’s always a personal connection. Your referral source is someone who knows you, knows what you do, and they know somebody who needs your help.This is really important because when that connection happens trust is transferred, and your prospect thinks:

“Oh that’s right. I’m supposed to be talking to Stacey. Stacey’s not trying to sell me. It is not going to be an uncomfortable call. I want to talk to Stacey because I trust Jennifer.”

  • Need or pain point. Second, your referral or prospect already has their need identified. They have to recognize that:
    • “Yes, I need a freelance writer for my weekly blog. I need to talk to somebody who can do that for me.”
    • “I’m looking for a ghost writer for my books. I’m ready to talk to somebody who can do that for me.”

When you have these two things in place, having a conversation about their need or problem they’re trying to
solve, is easy because  they’re already in buyer’s mentality mode.

Q: What’s wrong with the old way of getting referrals?

Stacey: We’ve been using four main ways to get referrals for like 50 years. And they’re all crazy, uncomfortable, and icky-feeling, such as:

  • Go ask for it. That’s it. You just ask your clients and connections. Or worse, you ask that prospect who just turned you down, if they know anybody who needs a freelance writer.
  • Pay for referrals. If you Google this topic, you’ll be inundated with advice about paying for referrals, or promising a 10% commission for referrals.
  • Be promotional and gimmicky. There’s other bad advice out there about this topic that suggests you’ve got to be really promotional, gimmicky and borderline cheesy to get referrals…like sending someone a bag of goldfish with a note attached to it that says, “I’m fishing for your referrals.”
  • The signature-line ask. There’s also this idea of putting in your email signature line, “The greatest compliment you can give me is a referral.” Don’t do this, OK. It’s very promotional, and people just don’t pay attention to messages like that. They know when they’re being sold to or being pitched something.

Q: What makes your lead-gen strategy different?

Stacey: If the old way of getting referrals makes you think, “No, thanks. I’m not doing that. That doesn’t work for me.” That’s a good place to start.

If you want to get referrals WITHOUT:

  • Asking
  • Paying
  • Manipulation…

You do it by being truly authentic to who you are, what you do, and how you can help people. Deep down you probably believe that’s how you’re supposed to get referrals.

Q: So who’s really the prospect based on your approach?

Stacey: Here’s the thing you have to recognize. The end-user of you getting more referrals is not the prospect, it’s your referral source. It’s the person who knows you, trusts you, decides to help somebody else out by connecting them with you. Before you talk to a warm prospect:

  • You’re talking to your referral source. That’s your relationship. That’s your connection to the prospect.
  • The referral source knows the prospect, you don’t. You know the referral source.

So when you look at it like this, the whole process is different, and you realize:

“I’m trying to deepen and strengthen a relationship with somebody who trusts me and will send business to me.”

Q: How do you nurture relationships with your referral sources?

Stacey: The worst thing you can do is ask for referrals the old way. You actually damage the relationship with your referral sources. And it’s really hard to build that back.

What you want to be doing is planting seeds to nurture those relationships. Take care of those relationships. Show how thankful you are. Show your gratitude for them.

When you do this consistently, you’re memorable, meaningful, and stay top of mind to your referral sources. And your business will receive more referrals.

Q: When someone sends you a referral, how should you respond?

Stacey: Send a handwritten, thank you note. And use language to plant the seed with that person, how appreciative you are of that referrals. That’s it.

When we can impact how somebody else feels about us, that puts us in a whole different level from everybody else in their lives.

If someone’s taking the time to put their reputation on the line and refer someone to you who’s going to spend money with you, that is the Holy Grail of how you should be running and growing your business.

Q: Can any freelancer use this strategy to get more referrals and clients?

Stacey: Yes. If you do great work, you can get referrals and you ultimately deserve referrals. You do. I do. Everybody does. Everybody who does great work, takes really good care of their clients and referrals sources, and creates value, absolutely deserves referrals.

Nurture your contacts to grow your freelance writing business

If you want to grow your freelance writing business the easy way, nurture your contacts. Stay in touch. Let them know you appreciate them. And when they meet someone who needs a freelance writer, you’ll be the first to know.

Questions about how to get referrals for freelance work? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Evan Jensen is a freelance copywriter and blog editor for Make a Living Writing. He’s also a personal trainer and ultramarathon runner.

Grow Your Writing Income.


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