The art of the referral is a huge part of being a successful freelancer and, when done well, can allow you to focus more of your time on completing billable projects rather than drumming up new clients.
In the last post, we discussed the importance of knowing your limitations. A big part of that is being realistic about your skills; understanding when you can do a job to an exceptional level, and when you should refer it to another freelancer. It might seem counter-intuitive, but by giving away projects you can actually increase your own business.
For example: you’re a writer and your client needs a new ad created for a print publication. You’re familiar with photoshop, but it’s not your forte. You could throw something together that looks ok on your screen, but are you sure how it will look in print? Is your client going to get exceptional results for their ad spend? “Good Enough!” is rarely good nor enough.
Instead of taking this on yourself, introduce your client to a graphics expert (that you’ve pre-vetted). You complete the ad copy and let the illustrator take care of the design and layout, leading to a great win-win-win:
- You get part of the project
- Your client gets a better layout for their insertion, helping them look more professional and ideally generating improved results
- Your freelance associate gets a new client
By bringing in another freelancer you open the doors to working on future projects, effectively doubling your marketing efforts, as now there are two of you marketing your services. Alternatively, you could subcontract the graphics person to create the ad, but many freelance contracts specifically prohibit subcontracting. (We’ll discuss subcontracting options in future posts.)
A big caveat: only refer to people who can provide a level of quality similar (or better) to yours.
Some people pay for referrals, and others expect a kickback for sending someone your way. Personally, I find that this is a tricky place to be, as I want people to refer me because I’m good at what I do and not because I offer some sort of incentive, but I still want them to refer me to new clients. When someone does refer a new client to me, I like to say thank you by buying them something they can use. A nice bottle of wine or good chocolates, but nothing overly extravagant. I try and match the gift to the person, as I think the personal touch is important. When I refer to others, my policy is to choose the best person for the job, and I don’t accept any payments/kickback for referral. Small tokens of appreciation are fine, but for items of value, I donate them to a worth cause on behalf of the referrer.
Be open and honest with your clients. If you are getting a financial incentive, it’s imperative that you share this information with your client so they understand you have a financial interest in referring someone to them. It’s much easier (and more comfortable) to give them this information before the referral instead of explaining it after.
Bottom-line, if you’re able to take care of your client’s request at an excellent level, go ahead and do it. If you can’t, refer it. Don’t sacrifice your reputation by trying to do something outside of your skillset. It’s just not worth it.