How to create more client referrals and repeat work

By Rob Williams

I’ve written a lot about how to write emails that win you clients the past couple of years.

Even though all my advice has been soaked in experience (and tested by my customers), late last year I started to feel like a phony. I was giving advice I wasn’t using myself. I wasn’t walking the walk.

Because I’m not taking on freelance work anymore, I assumed I coudn’t contact the clients I was sending my customers. That meant I wasn’t personally feeling the turmoil of cold email outreach that my customers did.

So I decided to change that.

I decided to contact every freelance project lead I was sending to my customers

I knew there was a way I could use my cold email super powers. I just wasn’t sure how. I wanted to feel the pain my customers felt and prove getting a response back regularly was totally possible.

I decided on trying to sell clients a premium job post on my job board Folyo. If I could get clients to buy a job post from me and allow myself to feel the trial and tribulation my customers felt, I thought that would make it a huge win all around.

Then I didn’t get many responses… 🤔

Despite my pre-eminence in cold email writing — I too had trouble getting a response at first. I know I sound cocky — but I’ve literally spent years studying a very specific topic: cold email outreach.

I should have been getting better results than this. So I decided to go through my past advice on the subject and apply it.

  • Where was I not putting myself in the client’s shoes?
  • How could I make it easier for clients to reply?
  • How could I provide something of value to them for free?

The problem was my offer wasn’t providing value at all.

Pitching clients who had just posted a job post — on buying another job post — it turns out is extremely dumb.

I had made a huge mistake: I wasn’t taking into account the person I was contacting at all. I was completely tone-deaf when it came to where they were in at this moment in their life.

In fact, they were decidedly passed the “buying a job post” stage. They didn’t need another job post. They now needed to find the right person for their project.

This was a common mistake I had seen among freelancers I worked with in the past: pitching clients on things they didn’t care about and not seeing results. Yet I had fallen into the same trap. So I decided to switch up my offer.

I made a switch in my email to instead provide value

What does someone who just bought a job post need? To find the right person for the project.

That’s where my offer began to formulate. I had a list of 100 of the top-freelancers in the world in Folyo. I could help clients connect with one of them.

So what if I simply offered to do that for free? Would I hear back?

It would create more value for my customers in Folyo because they would get leads that they could benefit from in new ways:

  • Getting more info on a project not available anywhere else.
  • Being introduced 1-on-1, so that it felt really personal and increased their chances of winning the project.
  • Not having to do anything besides replying to my introduction email to get value from the service. These warm lead intros meant Workshop members could just sit back and get value.

I sent out the new email and in days I had an inbox full of responses

Clients immediately responded to my new value-focused email. Instead of trying to sell them something, I was simply offering to put them in contact with someone who was perfect for their project — no strings attached.

When you hit on a email strategy that works like this one, you will know. Overnight I had a handful of great projects I was in charge of referring to Folyo members.

It continued for the next few weeks…

Next, I had to automate this process for myself

Soon sending this email out one-by-one became a burden. Originally, I had tried automating the process using Quickmail, but I found that to be overkill. Instead, I coded an outreach email to be sent my self inside my existing rails app. This took me a couple days because I am a newb, but continued to get results.

Note: This is also something I discovered is more important than I originally thought. Had I not done this project, I would still be wary of creating more spam in the world — but after it I’ve come to realize that I trust my customers. Doing outreach by hand is fatiguing. I now hope to assist automation for my customers more.

I’ve now sent out 60+ referrals just this year alone

It’s become part of my daily process. Each morning I wake up to 2–3 clients in my inbox waiting for me to refer them someone great for their project.

Folyo members get these regular introductions on top of the cold leads I send them daily. My next step is to see how many of these types of leads have converted, and how it’s affecting things like churn, customer revenue, and more.

And if you want to start doing this yourself, you can.

In fact, I’ve put together a short course on how to find clients, even if you don’t have a portfolio or strong network. It’s the same system I use daily

Read it for free

While you’re there, also check out my free client generator plugin download!

About Rob Williams...

I run Folyo which can help your remote company find the right designer in the next 7 days. I also host Freelance, a podcast about how you can be more effective at independent work featuring remote companies like Basecamp, Converkit, Highrise and more. If you're a designer looking for clients, you can also get a free 14-day trial of my referral newsletter today.

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