Should Freelancers Offer Referral Bonuses?

Refer a friend. You see this kind of program implemented by all kinds of different businesses. If you send a friend our way, we’ll send a happy bonus your way. It’s how it works with banks, realtors, and all kinds of other professional services. Should freelance writing, freelance web design, freelance consulting, and freelance search engine optimization be any different?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that the majority of my freelance writing business is referral-based. That’s why I haven’t applied for a gig in years; the clients come to me and they usually come to me by way of a referral, either directly or indirectly. A colleague of mine might drop my name. They might hear my name via word of mouth. They might see my authorship on another site and become interested in what I can do for them.

Attracting the Right Clients

Whatever the case, I don’t really actively seek clients anymore. They seek me. I get a freelance writing quote about once a week; many of these are just people “kicking the tires,” but there are a few legitimate inquiries in there too. And that got me wondering if it would be worthwhile to attract more legitimate inquiries by offering a referral program of some kind.

The biggest advantage to using a referral program (sometimes referred to as an affiliate program, depending on the circumstances and industry) is that I don’t have to pay out anything until I have secured a new client for a new project.

This is quite unlike conventional advertising and marketing techniques where you spend the money up front and hope to see positive returns. At the same time, there could be a certain level of distrust when the person being referred to me realizes that the person doing the referral is getting a kickback. They’ll wonder why they couldn’t get an equal discount in kind, instead of sending the referral bonus to someone else.

An Informal Program Instead?

And therein lies the double-edged sword of a program that offers referral bonuses. Yes, you may gain some new clients, but you could turn off many others. Sometimes, it’s better to promote the work of others and hope that karma provides the same back to you in kind. A fair less formal referral program between friends and colleagues, where you send work and clients to and from one another, might be more appropriate… but it may or may not be quite as effective.

Networking is big. That’s partly why I attend Dot Com Pho and maintain a reasonably large social media presence. But, at the same time, you’ve got to wonder if more can be done with an official referral program. Money talks and, let’s face it, we all want to listen. What do you think?