How to Get More Referrals So You Get More Work

The key to self promotion, and ultimately getting more work as a creative, lies in getting plenty of referrals.

A referral is when your services are advertised for you through word of mouth through other people. For example, someone might have stumbled on your online portfolio, seen the quality and the professionalism behind your work and told a friend they knew who subsequently hired you.

In the business world, 80% of companies get 70% of their business through word of mouth marketing (Vince Golder). If you provide a service, you are a business and you should view yourself as such and see the importance of referrals. The Internet has enabled word of mouth marketing to be more effective than ever before.

This is why you need to take referrals seriously and why you need to be referrals-oriented as you go about using the Internet.

Make sure you take into consideration the following if you would like to attract more people to refer your work:

1. Have a referral policy in place

This means actively making people aware that you are seeking referrals, publicizing this on your sites and email signatures, and let relevant people know at all opportunities. You might say that you will look for referrals for others in return for the referrals they can get for you.

You’ll be surprised how many people can find work for you, but who don’t because you don’t prompt them. You might even consider giving out awards to those who successfully provide referrals for you.

2. Have a unique selling point

Always be working on an image that sets you apart from the others and makes you memorable. This includes your own style, your website, what you know about and can provide expertise on, even the way you interact with others. Being memorable in this way will attract more referrals.

3. Act as a referrer for others

Going out and finding clients and work for others tends to bring with it good karma in the form of referrals back to you. You’ll find most people will try to reciprocate in finding referrals for you if they know you have helped them initially.

In my view, this is one of the best ways to get work. As Saint Francis of Assisi said: ‘For it is in giving that we receive‘.

4. Be professional

Transmit a professional attitude when coming into proximity with people who are potential referral-givers, especially the clients you work with. Clients who leave with a positive feeling with having worked with someone who acts honestly, maturely, effectively and politely are more likely to refer you.

If you over-deliver on being professional in this way you stand a chance of being memorable, and thus more likely to win a referral.

5. Make your work viral

The Internet has made it possible for news of the services or the work of creatives to spread very quickly. Make sure you provide the means for this to happen by linking up the work you showcase on the web to social media, and introducing your work to places that provide for interaction. These include online forums, discussion boards, blogs, and creative communities like Flickr, and Deviant Art.

By allowing word to spread of the work you do, you are fueling the potential for referrals to come back to you.

6. Work for a target market

By creating work that appeals to a particular market, as opposed to trying to win over everyone, you’re potential referrers are more likely to understand for themselves who it is they can refer to you.

I believe the main problem restricting getting more referrals is that people don’t know who you want as a client. Make sure you transmit an idea of who your ideal client is. You can even put this in writing on your site or when you ask for referrals.

What do people think? Am I giving people some ideas?



  1. This is really useful! Think I might be adding a sentence or two to my site saying I’m available for freelance work! (I don’t know why I haven’t done so already!)

    I was just wondering though, as a student, how can I go about asking people to refer me? Or more to the point, who do I ask to refer me? I’ve asked family and friends etc, and received some work from that, but most of the people I know in my field (Graphic Design) are fellow students who would obviously want to do any available work themselves and therefore wouldn’t refer me.

    Thanks again for the article, some really good tips here!

    • @Alex, regarding your question, referrals can come from anywhere, so don’t discount any potential contact – make sure you mention your interest in being referred by anyone you deem appropriate – and this is most people. Your best bet is gaining referrals through your creative and professional network, which you get through building up relationships with potential clients and friends on social media sites – get engaging, be open about you wanting to be referred, and you should see success.

  2. I enjoyed this post. I thought the readers might appreciate this white paper which describes an interesting customer follow-up strategy which, if done correctly, can generate customer referrals. Below is a direct link to the white paper which bypasses the name and email collection web pages. This link should work until IT decides to change it.

    – Robyn Williams

  3. Alex, this post is totally on-point. Thanks for putting this message out for the benefit of others. May karma bring you good results too!

  4. Love this,,some really good advice that I will be using. Always looking for ways to shout louder and for people to connect with. Also am a massive reader of duty blog , always great stuff to read and be inspired.

  5. I definately enjoyed this article, referrals are sometimes the best way to get new clients and these guidelines are really helpful for someone looking to begin referring within a new market.

    • I agree Kathryn, referrals are really one of the best ways to get more work. People need to be more active about asking for them!

  6. Great article Alex. I find that by being professional in working with a client and over delivering will often times be the impetus for them to tout you to others.
    You do have to ask to be referred. But, it’s nice when it just happens as a result of you doing what you do.

  7. Good information as usual Alex.
    Will put into my plan.
    The aspect of working for a target market is especially important. You don’t have to change your style or work but find a niche that your work fits into.

  8. I’m the Lead Designer of a new startup website called Passing Leads, A great web/mobile application that allows you to generate, track and manage leads for your business. Rewarding users for passing along new leads to your business.

    Please check it out and offer us any suggestions or feedback!

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