If you’ve been freelance teaching for any length of time, you have already likely heard how important it is to ask for referrals from your students. If you haven’t heard how important this step is, then count yourself informed as of now! Referrals are one of your most important tools to grow your business. But the question is, are you really taking advantage of them?
When I first got started, many of my students came from referrals. Some referrals I looked for, and others came through friends who just wanted to help me out. In fact, when I moved from freelancing to being a small business owner (employing other teachers to work with me) it was because of a referral.
Here are a few things I learned about getting referrals that will help you grow your freelance business:
Earn it. Do work that is worthy of people connecting you to their friends and contacts. Just because you show up and give a class doesn’t mean your students are automatically ready to refer you. The best way I know to have your students love your service enough to tell someone else about you is to provide value each and every class. But the secret sauce to value is this: value is determined by your students, not you. Are you planning and delivering classes that your students deem valuable? If you are giving classes that YOU think are of value, you may be missing a deep need your student is hoping you’ll fill with your work which will lead to them being wide open to telling others about you! Find out what THEY need to do in English so THEY can be successful, then make sure your lessons meet this need.
Ask for it. After a few classes, you should know if you’ve built up enough good will between you and your students to be able to ask for a referral from them. Signs of strong ‘good will equity’ include: you actually have fun in class. If you are having fun, you can bet your students are too. (And vice versa! Not having fun? Hmm. I bet your students aren’t either.) Does it feel like your class time evaporates? Are you getting comments like: “I really enjoy your class!” Or something similar? Are they giving you great feedback? ( Yes, after each class, you should ask if what you’re doing together is valuable for them…). When you are sure you are adding value, and you are sure your students are happy with your work, you should feel free to ask them for help in connecting you with someone they know who could use your services. But I’ve learned the hard way: when you ask, most students say yes, and they mean it. But very few follow through the first time because they get busy and totally forget.
Your ask should have a followup. The same day you ask, consider sending your student a friendly e-mail later in the day with a reminder. Let them know how much you appreciate their help, and make sure they have your basic contact info to pass along to their friend(s). (Add your basic contact info to the e-mail.)
In the next class, it is perefectly fine to bring it up again. I’ve simply said: “Any luck connecting with your friend?”
Reward it. Maybe… We once got an entire corporate account when a student of mine referred our company to her sister who worked on the human resource team of a large pharmacuitical company. The referral came because we offered a really cool dictionary for English learners to anyone in the class who connected us with another client. I’m not sure if she referred us for the dictionary, or if it was just because she wanted to help. You need to be careful with this. A happy student may refer you simply because they like you, and may feel put off by a reward. I actually had a student tell me once: I don’t need any commission for connecting you with my friends. I like helping you.
Over to you! What have you done to bring in more referrals?