Why and How Freelance Writers Should Ask for Referrals

by Anne Wayman

referralsReferrals can be either the lifeblood of your business, or the gravy. Some find they can run almost their entire freelance writing business on referrals.

Ease of generating new business is the primary reason you should make a habit of asking for referrals.

Why to writers hesitate to ask for referrals?

It’s surprising how often we freelance writers fail to ask for referrals. Note I’m including myself. Here’s how I talk myself out of asking:

  • I put it off. Yet asking when the writing project is going well is the exact time we should ask.
  • I don’t want to bother them. Yet most people are happy to help if we only ask them.
  • I’m afraid they may say ‘no.’ Which, come to think of it is an opportunity to find out why and maybe turn an unhappy client into a raving fan.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Do great work

The first key to getting referrals is to do great work. You want your client to be happy about referring you to colleagues and friends. If you always remember you’re in a service business and you’re hired to solve someone’s problem, you’ll probably do just fine.

On the other hand, if you know you need some improvement in your writing, get it. Perhaps a class would help, or hiring a writing coach, or simply paying more attention to your writing and editing. There’s always something to learn about writing.

When to ask for referrals

You want to ask for referrals when you know the client is happy with your work. If you don’t know, ask.

A simple question like, ‘is my writing working for you?’ let’s the client know you’re open for feedback. Listen carefully. If the client is happy, this might be a good time to ask if they have any referrals for you; if they aren’t happy, find out what needs improving and do it.

Of course, if you’re doing a short piece for the client, the obvious time to ask is when the project is finished. On longer works, it makes sense to ask when you’re two-thirds or so complete.

How to say it

Asking for referrals is best done during a face-to-face meeting or over the phone. Although it’s super easy for you to email the request, it’s just as easy for your client to ignore it. Don’t give them the chance.

Here’s one way to ask:

[name], I want to ask you a favor… and I want you to know it’s perfectly okay if you refuse, is that okay?

Pause to let them say yes or no. If they say ‘no,’ thank them for being honest wtih you. Assuming they say ‘yes,’ continue:

Great. You may not realize it but getting referrals from satisfied customers is one of the most important ways I can grow my business. The favor I want to ask is if you’ll take about 20 seconds right now and think of three or four people who might be able to use my services and you’d be happy with me using your name when I call them. Would that be okay?

Pause and let them either agree or start naming people or ask you to wait until some other time.

When you actually getting the names make sure you get their full name, proper spelling, where they work, why your client thinks they make a great referral and, of course, their phone number.

Always thank your client and it’s a good idea to followup with at least an email if not a snail mailed thank you card. Snail mail cards are so rare they always create a good impression. Give it a shot and see how well it works.

In a couple of days I’ll post about how to use the referral to your best advantage.

What’s been your experience with referrals?

Write well and often,


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob February 10, 2017 at 3:02 am

great article again ๐Ÿ™‚ I just landed on your blog and became addicted to your insightful articles ๐Ÿ™‚


John Soares February 7, 2017 at 10:17 am

Excellent advice, Anne!

I’ve sustained much of my freelance writing career by asking for referrals, especially when an editor is leaving her position and I ask her to specifically recommend me to her replacement.
John Soares recently posted..Secrets of Successful Meetings with Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile


Anne Wayman February 7, 2017 at 10:21 am

Ah, yes… great idea – to ask her to recommend you to her replacement. And if the ed is going elsewhere you might get another referral… thanks.


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