The Way We Work
February 28, 2012 by Amy Sept

“You don’t have to know everything. You just have to know people who do.”
— Pamela Slim, business coach and author

“Build a team” and “connect with other contractors” — you have likely heard this advice before. For a solo contractor, there are a lot of reasons to connect with your peers, like

You know there are limits to what you can do on your own: Having a referral network can help you extend your capacity. It is not something you create overnight, but chances are you have one already — even if you may not realize it. What are referrals, and how can you define your network?

A referral is when you connect someone you know to another resource for information or help — in this case, connecting your clients or peers to others within your network who have the skills they are looking for.

While referral networks can be formalized with finder’s fees or commissions, many referrals — just like word-of-mouth marketing — do not have money attached to them: The objective is to connect people to the service they need, whether you are the provider or someone else you trust. Choose the professionals in your referral network carefully so you can feel confident when sending people their way.

Create a network of professional connections

Who do you already have in your professional network? Your clients, classmates, colleagues from work, and people you have connected with through social networks are just a few examples. Networking can feel like a challenge, but you likely already have a lot of different connections.

Sales author C.J. Haydon recommends these tips to start planning your network:

  • Create a list of 10 different job types that would support your business. (Hint: Also include roles with skills similar to your own!)
  • Set a goal to connect with 10 people in each job type. This could be online or offline, but make a point of getting to know them, their particular skills, and the type of clients they prefer to work with.
  • When you find someone who may be interested in doing referral business with you, add them to your list!

How to give good referrals

Call it “good karma” if you like, but part of encouraging people within your network to send referrals your way is making an effort to give good referrals. Knowing your contacts well enough to send your own clients to them helps build relationships and is part of providing good customer service. Pamela Slim, business coach and author, explained in this post that there are a few key elements for good referrals:

  • Make sure you understand your client’s problem, and the skills or services they need.
  • Identify your own strengths, so you know what work you want to do and what you are good at.
  • Focus on doing the work you love and refer the rest to others.
  • Follow up on referrals you make — were both parties happy with the result? If not, find out why and fine-tune future referrals accordingly.

Finally, remember to acknowledge people who send you referrals with some form of thank-you recognition!

Do referrals bring your business a lot of work? What do you do to encourage them?

Amy Sept

Managing Editor and Contractor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies, and small business owners.