Are referrals worth the effort?

I don’t know about you, but every time I load up a sales page for a course on lead generation for freelancers/consultants, they start slamming referrals in the first few paragraphs.

Is it that referrals are a terrible option for getting leads? Honestly, it’s that people, on average, do referrals so poorly that they’re an easy target.

But if you invest a little time, attention, and effort, it’s easy to be outstanding with your referrals. Or at least better than (a meager) average!

This is where I usually link to Ramit Sethi’s excellent article The Craigslist Penis Effect, about the impact of being half-decent when everyone else is so horrible, but the article has disappeared from his website! So here’s an link to the article and a pull-quote:

The Craigslist Penis Effect describes situations where everyone else is so horrible that, by being even half-decent, you can dominate everyone else and win. These moron men on Craigslist would be better served writing 5 half-decent responses, testing to see which got the best response, and then sending it out instead of a picture of their generally mediocre manhood.

If you invest a little time and attention and get half-decent at referrals, you’ll start to get more referrals. It is that easy.

Big picture, referrals you receive fall into two buckets:

  • Passive Referrals. This is when a wild referral appears, and someone sends a referral your way. It’s nice when it happens, but it isn’t consistent, repeatable, or scalable. You don’t have a process to follow to get more of these referrals.
  • Intentional Referrals. This is when you have a system and process that makes it easy for you to receive referrals. You know who you want to get referred to you, you know who you want as a referral source, and you get to work letting people know who to refer to you.

Put another way:

  • Passive referrals happen to you
  • Intentional referrals happen based on actions you can take

This all boils down to a riff on ‘Activity-Based Selling.’

To sell more, you need to get intentional about the proactive actions you can take to get more leads and close more deals (e.g., follow-up on that proposal, publish a new case study, outreach to 10 prospects).

To get more referrals, you need to get intentional about the proactive actions you can take to get more referrals (get specific on who you want as a referral, tell people, build assets that make it easy to get referrals). We talked about this on Monday ( and Tuesday ( .

If you’re looking for help getting referrals with your business, Referral Systems ( will teach you how to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk along with a healthy collection of resources and templates as a starting point.

Inside Referral Systems, you’ll receive:

  • 12 Video Lessons on Referrals and Referral Systems (each video between 5 and 10 minutes in length)
  • 11 Resources and Templates to help you get started quickly (Including an ‘Overview and Quickstart Guide,’ lists of Referral Systems and Referral Sources, and a starting point for your /referral/ page or email signature resources)
  • Audio Q&A Recordings to answer your questions about referrals (Including 31 short ~3-5 minute Q&A answers to your questions)

If you’d like to learn how to put your referrals on easy mode (and attract intentional referrals), then please let me refer you to Referral Systems (



I write a high-quality, daily newsletter about marketing, growth, and lead generation for indie consultants, freelancers, and service professionals.

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