Corwin Hiebert - Finding New Clients - Business Action Planner

No matter one’s geographic market, genre, or niche, the cliché saying, “It’s not how good you are but who you know,” is a lot more true than most emerging creatives would like to admit. I’ve heard a lot of whining over the years about how some guy got some gig just because he knew some dude. Well of course he did! The buyer felt that they could trust that relationship enough to move forward. Welcome to the ‘land of the real’ my friend (yep, that’s a Matrix movie reference 🙂

Creative freelancers gain more quality leads and better client engagements through referrals than through any other form of marketing wizardry. I’ve seen it time and time again, and the interviews I included in the Business Action Planner guidebook reinforced this notion, that the process of securing new business is primarily a result of developing and serving the relationships within one’s sphere of influence. Sure there’s got to be a fit when it comes to talent, offering, and value, but creatives who are successful all have something in common: they have built a legacy of trust and that’s what inspires the endorsement of others.

Relationships are everything.

It probably goes without say but I’ll say it anyway, the signal-to-noise ratio is increasing and online networking is shifting, taking a back seat even, in favour of personal connections. Facebook is bloated, Twitter demands too much attention, LinkedIn is awkward, Google+ is like show-n-tell on crack, and Instagram is holding its own… for now. Networking happened long before the Internet showed up, it might be time to think more analog about your business development. FYI – I think the rotary phone is making a comeback, I’ll email Apple some ideas right now.

So… enough dancing around, it’s time to get down to business. As you think about your own freelance career, consider these three (3) questions:

  1. In the last six months how often have you successfully referred other people and companies?
  2. Whom do you know that could benefit from a company or provider from within your network?
  3. When was the last time you asked someone to refer you to someone they knew?

Making referrals is a deeply satisfying way to connect with others,” Jantsch writes in his book The Referral Engine. “Asking for referrals is just the other side of the same phenomenon.”

Gut check time. What if your business isn’t very referable?

Buyers buy because they have faith in the transaction, they have enough trust in the person providing the work that they’re willing to move forward. When there’s mystery associated with the process, the deliverables, or the execution, the relationship will be subject to more scrutiny and if there’s a seed of doubt or confusion about who you are and what you do then you’re not an easy referral.

Do things that build trust.

When trusted people sing your praises, good things happen. This is the kind of “viral” marketing I would encourage you to pursue. The credibility that comes from other people speaking well of you and your work creates a foundation of rapport that will stand the test of time. A referral isn’t a marketing tactic as much as it is a reflection of your character. Referrals come from those people within your sphere of influence who are proud of the work you do, and they want to make themselves look good by making a meaningful connection. They look good to their friends and colleagues when they’re perceived as problem solvers or supporters in a time of need. When your creative work is the answer that’s being pursued, then it’s a win-win situation.

Here are a few ideas and action steps to help you foster a healthy referral network and inspire your contacts to generate leads on your behalf:

  1. Over-deliver. Exceed your clients’ expectations whenever possible.
  2. Do things that make your clients’ work and life easier.
  3. Be extremely organized with the tasks and deliverables you’re responsible for.
  4. Be early for every meeting and be more prepared than anyone in the room.
  5. Deliver the goods early and be excited to guide them through the review and revision process.
  6. Find creative ways to convey results and buyer benefits of your past projects.

Throughout my career as a business manager to creative talent, I’ve witnessed the inverse and also a huge piece of the puzzle—reciprocating that trust and helping connect people and business together as much, if not more so, than those who endorse and introduce them.

The degree to which you’re willing to endorse those you trust is equal to how likely you are to receive a valuable referral for a colleague or peer. As an active referrer you are showing those around you that you’re a problem solver, that you’re there to help, and that you are willing to put your credibility on the line. When you endorse others you draw attention to your professionalism.

So in the end, my advice is to take a look at your network, and your sales process, a think about how you could do it differently. Your goal should be to put your character on the line so that you have the opportunity to grow professionally.

Rock on! – Corwin

This article was originally published in Issue 1 of Corwin’s free PDF mini-magazine MEMO 2 FREELANCERS. Get exclusive business and marketing insights, Q&As with creative freelancers and a shot of inspiration by subscribing to this awesome publication (also available at

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