Getting Leads from Your Network and Referrals

The one time we tried to use an online babysitting service we got a girl who liked to take half naked pictures with the kids and post them to Facebook.

After our initial interview we got a follow up text from her stating “she really needed the gig because she had bills to pay.” Which left my wife mortified that she knew where we lived.

Why share that story with you?

Every person that has watched our kids since then have come from a referral.

Brennan Dunn ( and Steli Efti (founder of once did a podcast on referrals discussing the difference between content and credibility during a sales conversation.

Remember, to sell well you have to understand your client’s pain points and offer a solution that will provide value to them.

But it’s one thing to say “Here’s what you need.” And another to say “I’m the person to provide it.” This is where I used to struggle.

It feels pushy, or manipulative or whatever negative word you want to fill in.

There are two tools that can help those of us that see sales as an ugly plaid jacket and bow tie, and both of them are actually a type of referral.

Referrals through networks

Too frequently the first thing freelancers think about networking is Gross ! The thought of dressing up to shake hands with entrepreneurs and recruiters sounds exhausting.

It’s only slightly better than hearing your mom tell someone “Ryan knows about computers. You should call him.”

The question always lurks – if you did add them to your “network” would they really have your best interest at heart? Or will you only regret that they know how to find you?

The strength of a business network is that you are known by your work among people that understand what you do.

A network isn’t that complicated. A network is simply a group of interconnected people.

So when thinking about a lead-generating network, you need to find the people connected to your industry, your skill set and your potential market.

The best way to do that?

Fill your network with peers.

Every lead I’ve had for the last several years have either come from peers/friends in my Slack group or those I’ve met at meet ups and conferences.

Why do we want peers in our network?

Peers are people who know your skill set and will know when you’re the best fix for a particular problem.

Then when they see a need you can fill, they’re ready to pass the word along. Just like you’d do for them.

Referrals through clients

The other source of referrals is through clients.

Who better than our clients to recommend us to others that might need our services?

If that feels awkward, like you’re asking if you can cheat on your client, I found some simple scripts by Shaun Nestor that can help you figure out how to have that actual conversation.

You don’t need to demand (you should NEVER demand), cajole or wheedle. Just make it a natural part of your process.

(Perspective shift: when you understand the client’s resources, constraints, and end goal and have the ability to meet them, it’s only natural to proceed with “I can help.” It’s service, not just sales.)

In the podcast I mentioned above, Steli actually recommends asking for a referral as soon as you’ve signed a new client.

Our instinct is often to wait until we’ve done the work so they have something to assess but he makes a strong case for asking right away. suggests that there’s a right time and a wrong time to ask for referrals but ultimately you need to decide which approach fits your style best. Whether in person or as a follow-up web form, those satisfied customers can be one of the best possible resources you have.


Referrals let you automatically clear the first hurdle.

In sales, often the biggest challenge in a cold call approach is the problem of trust. The client’s biggest question may not be “What is the solution to my problem?” but “Why are you the right person to solve my problem?”

A referral acts as an introduction, an indication that you are, at some level, trustworthy and capable of addressing the client’s challenge. Like knowing you won’t be posting photos of their kids on social media.

Remember, though, that every referral requires the same process as a new lead. You have to know the scope of the project, the deadlines, the budget, and the ultimate end goal.

You never want to get caught in a problematic situation where not only your business but the reputation of the person that referred you can be on the line.

Don’t forget a good follow-through

Mom may not be the best referral but she is good for business. Why’s that?

“Remember to say ‘thank you’!”

Ah, that.

The last benefit of a good referral is that opportunity it creates for goodwill for everyone involved. Remember to thank the person that made the referral (then live up to their expectation).

Express your appreciation for that person to your customer (they’ll know you’ll do the same if they make a referral).

Thank the new customer for considering making a referral of their own.

We’re all in this together.

Good referrals are gold. Working those referral requests into a part of your regular customer service may be the smoothest marketing you have at your disposal.