If you’re just learning how to run a consulting business, know that the old adage is still true: It’s about who you know. Respondents to this year’s Benchmark Report made one thing abundantly clear: When it comes to new business, referrals rule. An impressive 48% of responding freelancers listed referrals from existing clients as the most effective way to win new business. (The next closest, at 14%, was networking—a topic we’ll return to later).
There are, of course, different kinds of referrals, and the numbers were revealing here as well: When we asked freelancers what types of referrals they found most effective, a much smaller group cited referrals from agencies and fellow freelancers (5%), referrals from a partner program (3%), or from vendors (1%). Agencies reported similar numbers: Like freelancers, 48% said client referrals were the most effective, while referrals from other vendors (7%), other agencies and freelancers (5%), and from partner programs (4%) saw less support.
In other words, if you aren’t getting referrals from existing clients, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity to sell your services. To get the referrals machine working for you, consider developing a cohesive plan that you can test, tweak, and repeat with all your clients. Be selective about who you ask, request the referral when things are going well, and take no for an answer—you may end up losing a good client rather than winning a new one if you push too hard.