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This is the final part of a three-part series on how to grow your client base with referrals.

Underpromise & Overdeliver
This is good advice no matter what type of work you do. It’s always important to manage client expectations. It can be tempting to promise the moon during a pitch but good luck delivering on it. You don’t want to end up in that situation. Be realistic and open about the scope and timeline. You may need to work longer hours sometimes but always take opportunities to overdeliver. I’m not saying add in a bunch of free work but if you can get something done a bit faster or add on some extras that don’t take a lot of time, it goes a long way with your clients.

Do Favors for People Often

I’m not saying you should do free work necessarily but there’s a difference between doing a favor for someone and being someone’s indentured servant. Help people out when you can. It may mean nothing to you but can mean the world to someone else. Through the course of conducting business, you’ll encounter times when people are seeking a bit of advice, quick work or help. You shouldn’t turn it down. It may seem like you’re being taken advantage of but the other person appreciates your help and will be more inclined and probably a bit obligated to return the favor in the future. It also encourages them to pass your name along to clients or when they encounter a paid job in future. It’s a bit of a gamble to give away services for free but you can look at it as an investment for future work. The amount of work you do should be commensurate with the likelihood/amount of landing paid work from that person in the future. If they keep asking for favors without providing anything helpful in return you should probably send them your rates for future work.

Follow the Work

Your successful career probably won’t take the course you planned. The industry is constantly changing and demand for certain skills and jobs will change as well. Pay attention to what type of work your contacts and clients are looking for. Don’t be afraid to teach yourself new skills or learn on the job in order to get more work. If you specialize you’ll have to really work hard to establish yourself as an expert. This is especially true if your skillset is in a saturated market. More competition means you’ll have to either be better, faster, or cheaper than your competition and a race to the bottom always sucks.

Just Get Your Foot in the Door

Many working relationships have started with one tiny job. Either because that’s all the client has. Or they want to test you out before signing you up for big work. Don’t be afraid of small jobs because it’s a great way to get introduced to a new client and plant a seed for future work.

Do a Bit of Everything

Being capable is becoming a luxury these days as it becomes difficult to find competent people. Just showing up and being consistent is 90% of most jobs. If you are competent at a task or competent at learning new tasks then never say no to work that is outside your normal offering. Either do the work yourself or bring on a freelancer to help you. Expanding your offering is a great way to grow your reach with new clients and existing clients. For example if you’re an illustrator, you may find a lot of people asking for presentation design. This type of work can use your illustration skills and you can either expand into presentation design or bring on help to do the design part. The big caveat here is to not bullshit. If you truly can’t do the work then don’t sell yourself as such. That’s a great way to ruin a client relationship and create a bad name for yourself by taking on work you can’t do. See the above section on underpromise/overdeliver. 

Form A Business

Some companies prefer to hire freelancers who have their own business and have an EIN. You might be more likely to land a gig or contract because the company can pay you as a contractor rather than an employee and have to file more paperwork and pay more taxes. There are also added benefits for doing work as an LLC in terms of liability protection. 

Incentives/Bonuses

Sometimes a simple referral request isn’t enough so you can try motivating your network to refer you with some kind of bonus, gift, or finder’s fee. Sometimes people need a bit of personal gain in order to refer someone. You can offer a percentage of the contract as a finders fee for any future work, you can offer free work to those that refer you, etc. Whatever makes it a win-win for both parties. This is basically how headhunters work. One staffing agency I worked for paid a $1 bonus for every hour a successful referral worked. I would always refer friends but this gave me the extra motivation to jump through a few hoops to fill out referral applications. It helped out my friends looking for work and I got paid when they got hired. Win-win!

Manage Expectations

It’s crucial when quoting a client to manage expectations and be crystal clear about their needs and what you are delivering. A descriptive scope of work and tight contract will spare you future headaches. The trick is to not get lazy about scoping the project and sending contracts. You can’t guarantee that you and your client will always see things exactly the same. Especially with a new client. A tiny change that the client is asking for might mean a ton of work for you and in the reverse, something that will take you 2 minutes to do might seem like moving mountains for your client. Managing your clients expectations will spare you from awkward conversations about final deliverables and when exactly a project is completed. Done properly, you won’t have any issues mitigating scope creep and turn extra client requests into billable work. 

2 Minute Magic

There are always times during a project to go the extra mile and wow your client. It’s usually a very simple task like retrieving a file or resending graphics. Some agencies try to take advantage of these times as an opportunity to upcharge the client or bill for more time than the task really takes. Don’t do this. First of all it’s dishonest but also if you nickel and dime your clients, they’ll know and they won’t think very highly of you. Flexibility is always appreciated. Just make sure you know where to draw the line if this becomes too frequent of an occurrence with specific clients. 

Work For Free
This is another tricky and controversial piece of advice. There are many people out there willing to take advantage of freelancers with empty promises of exposure and other bologna. But, sometimes a bit of free work can help you get your foot in the door to make a connection. Whether it’s for a friend or random connection, be very strategic about offering any bit of free work. Sometimes it can be a great incentive for a referral as a thank you for example or a way to get your talents in front of a new audience. Just make sure you have a plan and don’t get taken advantage of.

Pro Bono/Volunteer/Charity Work
Charity work on the other hand allows you to do free work for a good cause. There’s no reason why doing a good deed can’t also have positive side effects if all sides win. You can volunteer your skills for a good cause and hopefully get in front of new set of potential connections who had a positive experience working with you and appreciating your work.

Conclusion

I hope this series is helpful to you in some way. Working for yourself is often challenging and lonely. Let me know if I missed anything or you want me to expand on any of these topics. And as always don’t be afraid to reach out and chat!

Thanks for reading. 

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