The One-step Way to Boost Your Referral Success

What I’m reading: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

What I’m listening to: Mr. Hurricane by Beast

question-mark-1236555The week started out good so far. Yesterday I started — and finished — one article assignment and got to work on revisions for another article. The latter is a piece with an editor I’ve not worked with before, so I’m eager to please her. Her edits were smart, too. I like her already.

After a busy, nice weekend that included relaxing and book reading, it was nice to come back to the desk. Today is more of the same as I try to get ahead of a rather long, ongoing article project. I need to provide one profile piece per week through November. The pay is fantastic, so I’m more than happy to do so. So far, I’ve interviewed two people and will interview a third person today. Plus, I’m talking with a new client this afternoon. The contract is signed and we’re about to finalize a schedule.

I was talking with one of my interview subjects when he said something absolutely brilliant. His business — insurance sales — relies on solid referrals. Yet isn’t that the toughest part of the job, even for writers? We ask for referrals, and maybe we’ll get one referral out of the 30 or more times we ask. That one keeps us asking.

But my interviewee has an easy, smart way to get referrals. He asks a pointed question of the clients in front of him, and it’s one that we writers can use, too:

Who did you go to school with?

He does this because he targets people in the medical profession who have just finished grad school. And by asking that way instead of the standard “Do you know anyone who could use my services?” this guy gets a ton of referrals. Good referrals. In fact, he received five referrals from one contact.

Why it’s brilliant:

  • The question focuses on people the person already has a relationship with
  • The question targets people who should have the potential to make money and need his services

Obviously, we freelance writers wouldn’t ask that question verbatim of our clients. However, we can devise our own version of a pointed question that could net similar results.

Let’s use my own background as an example. If I’m working with a company or a client who is in, say, the insurance business, I could take any number of approaches. Let’s assume I’m working with Charlie, who works for a major software provider for the industry.

As Charlie and I wrap up our business, I get him talking about the conferences he goes to. Or I get him talking about his clients. When the opportunity arises, I ask this:

Which clients are the ones you most enjoy working with?

That’s an easy question. Okay, so Charlie may not want to play favorites, but if he’s working with people who are good customers, he might be happy to share that info. Or I could ask him who stopped by his booth at the trade show. Or who his target client companies might be. Then I can ask who’s in charge.

There. I’ve got a name. I might even have more than one. And moreover, the name is someone Charlie knows and likes working with, or someone he’s been itching to work with.

Another possible question that can net solid referrals:

Where did you work before this?

It could be Charlie hated his last position, in which case you may not have any luck. Or it could be Charlie moved on for any number of reasons, but still has strong contacts. And just because they had a bad experience doesn’t mean you will. I’ve worked with two clients (successfully) who didn’t come with stellar recommendations.


Writers, what method do you use now to get referral business? How successful is it?

What question would you pose to your clients to see better results?


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