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I’ve been doing freelance work for over a decade. When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing. The only work-ethic I had to speak of was what was instilled in me from my middle-class, mid-western family. There were some growing pains and hard lessons I learned along the way.

Fast-forward 10 years and I’m the project manager and web developer for a number of firms around the United States. And nearly all of my work these days comes from referrals.

Earning work through referrals can seem like a daunting task, but it can be broken down into a simple sentence. To earn referrals it is important to manage your customers’ expectations, respect their timeline and budget, and be personable!

Why Do You Want Referrals?

This may be an obvious question, but I thought I should cover it briefly. You want referrals because, in my opinion, they are simply the best form of advertisement. Not only are referrals free marketing, but the people that are being referred to you already also have something in common with you: the referrer. This gives you a common ground before you ever say your introductions.

Be Honest About Limitations

Because of my upbringing, one of the easiest things for me to learn was that I needed to be honest about my limitations. I learned at a young age that lying caused nothing but trouble.

In fact, the first job I ever got in freelancing I remember saying that I barely knew HTML or CSS and that I had no idea what Javascript was. But I explained that was willing to learn and stick to the estimated time no matter how many extra hours it took me.

This mindset landed me in some pretty rough waters the first couple of years when I was really learning the business, but ultimately helped me hone my true skill: Googling it.

If it’s a good fit, it’ll work out!

Your customer may like to hear that you’re an expert in the field, you know everything about everything, and that you can absolutely build their project in your sleep… but if any or all of that isn’t 100% true, then you just blew your credibility. I’ve seen many peer freelancers come and go over the years because of this exact issue.

Alternatively, if you’re just honest about what you can and cannot do, then even if you end up not winning the project, you’ll still have your credibility for future projects with that customer.

Often times, even if I don’t win a project immediately, that prospect will recommend me to a colleague because of my honesty and professionalism.

Be Willing To Learn From Customers

Remember that you’re a freelancer in your field. Your expertise is specific to creating solutions for your customers. You’re not an expert in their field though.

Your customers know their business better than you do. That isn’t to say you don’t know how to market it better. But the hard facts about their day-to-day can only truly come from your customers themselves.

So be willing to learn about their day-to-day. Be willing to learn what it looks like for them to have a good or a bad day. Learn as much about their business as you can so you can have a better idea of how to best assist them.

Be Personable

This is a bit of a hard one, right? Your customers aren’t going to recommend you to their peers if they didn’t actually enjoy working with you. And your customers aren’t going to enjoy working with you unless they actually liked you during the process.

The ultimate results of your customers’ projects are what matter most, but the experience to get them shouldn’t be a difficult one.

And for me, I’ve found that I actually enjoy working on the projects more if I know more about the company and the people that make it. As you work with these people, you’ll start to learn more about their business and their business goals, but also about them personally and their personal goals.

aziz-acharki-alANOC4E8iM-unsplash
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Define a project scope

This was a difficult one for me because I initially would just take on projects and do everything a customer asked for without ever truly defining the project’s scope. Not only is that mindset not sustainable, but it doesn’t help the customer or myself.

What would happen in situations like this is the customer and I would have different ideas about what the final project would be… and that never ended well.

That isn’t to say that either of us would end the project disappointed. It’s just that the projects sometimes would take longer than expected because the scope, and therefore the timeline, were never truly defined.

Understand Your Customers’ Budget!

Sometimes as a freelancer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to sell the most expensive item. If you do that, you will fail quickly. Your customers are not dummies and their money is meaningful. They are going to be very conscious of how long it will take for them to see a return on the investment, and so should you.

With that in mind, I recommend solutions for their problems, not dollars for my account. Sometimes the best solution for the problem is not the most expensive one. In fact, that’s often the case.

Respect That Budget!

And now that you’ve identified how to solve the problem and how much it should cost – make that estimate rigid. In my field, if you defined the scope, timeline, and budget correctly then there is no reason the final invoice should ever be higher than the estimate. The only time the final invoice should ever be different from the initial estimate is if the scope changes mid-project.

Respect the timeline!!!

This comes down to just doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. If you say that a project can be done by a certain date, then it’s incredibly important for you to make sure the project is done by that date. If you have many other projects that come up around the same time, as we often do, then you need to either plan accordingly or work longer hours.

Being late isn’t an option if you want your current customer to promote you to their friends and peers.

In conclusion

When running your own business, be it freelance online web development like we do here at Zealous Sites, or anything else, it is paramount that you treat your customers with courtesy and respect. If you provide a product or service, and a great experience, then it’s likely that they’ll recommend you to their friends and peers!

If you or your friends need a website, reach out to us here at Zealous Sites! We’d love to have you be our next customer and then our next referer. :) If you’re not convinced by our portfolio, take a look at our testimonials!

Was this article was helpful? Let me know in the comments below! Do you have your own suggestions? Feel free to mention them in your comment too!

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TL;DR

Referrals are free marketing by your customers. To earn referrals it is important to manage your customers’ expectations, respect their timeline and budget, and be personable!

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If this article was helpful let me know in the comments below! If you have your own suggestions, feel free to mention them in your comment too!

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