🐧 5 strategies for getting client referrals

INSIDE: My Consulting Client Sources, Leveraging Scarcity, Lead Magnets, Promoters, Templates, Incentives
May 12, 2024

Today, in 10 minutes or less, you'll learn:

  • My Consulting Client Sources 💼
  • Strategy #1: Limit your capacity to show scarcity ⌛️
  • Strategy #2: Using lead magnets to build trust 🧲
  • Strategy #3: Tap Promoters 🎤
  • Strategy #4: Make it as easy as possible for people to promote you 💫
  • Strategy #5: Design referral incentives 💰️


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📣 5 strategies for getting client referrals

Recently, I was asked, “How do I start getting clients without a social media presence?”

But that’s the wrong question. Most consultants, fractionals, and advisors I know aren’t getting their clients from social media (at least, this isn’t their only channel).

Here’s their secret weapon for getting clients:

High-quality referrals.

Yes, I know getting clients is now starting to sound a bit like a job search.

There’s some truth to it. But the strategies are also different. Bear with me.

In this newsletter, I’m going to share my actual client sources, why referrals, and strategies for getting your first client referrals.

First, I’ll share a few data points from my own experience:

My Consulting Client Sources 💼 

Here’s the breakdown of where I sourced my first few consulting clients:

  • Client #1: Referral from a VC friend
  • Client #2: Referral from a colleague
  • Client #3: Direct network; founder friend expressed interest
  • Client #4: Inbound; founder contacted me via personal website

While this is obviously a limited data set, my direct network and referrals played a huge role in helping me land my first few clients.

And I’m not the only one. Many independent consultants and fractionals I speak with got started by leveraging their network.

Let me explain why referrals are an essential part of your growth toolkit:

Why Referrals? 🤔 

  1. Good for those who avoid the public spotlight - If you hate putting yourself out there online, I have good news for you. You don’t even need to have a social media presence, but still get clients by leveraging referrals!
  2. Immediate vs long-term - Linkedin also got me inbound leads, but those took more time to generate. On the other hand, referrals got me started quickly. Social media takes months to build up, whereas you can tap referrals in a matter of days.
  3. Referrals have high conversion - You’re typically getting a referral from an existing relationship who can vouch for you. This goes a long way to build trust.

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits, let’s jump into action.

Here are 5 strategies for how to leverage referrals:

Strategy #1: Limit your capacity to show scarcity ⌛️ 

Many consultants I see starting out will market themselves like:

“I’m looking for consulting clients.”

This is OK. But you can generate even more interest by communicating your finite capacity:

“I have capacity for 1 more consulting client.”

For example, if you have 10 hours/week for your consulting side hustle, then you might have room for:

  • 1 consulting client
  • 1-3 advisory clients

By communicating this limit, you’ll likely drive more interest. There’s deep psychological reasons why this works (more FOMO/urgency effect).

Strategy #2: Using lead magnets to build trust 🧲 

These are free things you can offer to build trust with your clients regarding your capabilities and service.

I would break this down into a few different types:

  • Free Consultation: Discovery calls, advice calls, strategy feedback (”Fractional CTO Discovery Call”)
  • Self-Serve Lead Magnet: Downloadable templates, guides, video recordings (”PLG Growth Audit”)
  • Speaking: Fireside chats, team presentations, conference speaking (“Lessons Learned from Building X Product”)

For example, I’ve personally tapped Free Consultations and Speaking successfully to generate interest in consulting engagements (not always the intention, but as a side-effect).

Strategy #3: Tap Promoters 🎤 

In your network, there are two types of people:

  • Potential Clients - these are people who you can serve directly
  • Promoters - these are people who spend a lot of time with your potential clients (e.g. community leaders, investors, superconnectors)

While most new consultants will scan their network for Potential Clients, they miss the opportunity to tap Promoters.

For example, if you’re looking to work with seed-stage startup clients, then early-stage angel investors might be superconnectors in that particular community.

By making it really easy (and motivating) for them to share your message, you stand to spread awareness of your services much further than you could by yourself.

Strategy #4: Make it as easy as possible for people to promote you 💫 

Reduce the friction as much as possible for Promoters.

Prepare simple email templates that they can forward to people who might be good leads for your services in under 1 minute.

  • Include details like who you are, what your services are, and who would be a good fit
  • Write a call-to-action to contact you to learn more and share your contact information


“I’m Sam, and I’m a fractional CFO. I have 15+ years of experience in leading the finance function at early-stage SaaS startups like X, Y, Z. I help early-stage SaaS founders who need a finance lead to help guide their fundraising, financial reporting, projections, budgeting, and accounting. Recently, I freed up enough capacity to take on 1 more client. If this sounds interesting, email me at sam@acmecorp.com or visit my booking page to setup a discovery call.”

You can even create a DM version, so your Promoter can copy-paste your message on Linkedin or Twitter DMs.

By making this process as quick as possible (But if this isn’t enough to convince a Promoter, you can also use incentives:

Strategy #5: Design referral incentives 💰️ 

Promoters often get tons of requests to make referrals.

So it makes sense to provide additional benefits like an incentive.

How do you structure the incentive?

There’s two types of incentives:

  • Fixed ($1,000 upon the contract being paid)
  • Variable (10% of the contract value, capped at $5,000)

My general rule of thumb is to cap the referral at no more than 20% of the deal.

Otherwise you’re probably giving away too much value.

In Summary 🙏 

So there you have it.

Why I think referrals are the greatest thing since Cookie Dough ice cream.

And 5 strategies you can use to start incorporating referrals into your own consulting side hustle or business today.

Reply and let me know what you think about using referrals.

🌐 Beyond your borders

🇨🇳 China extends visa-free entry for 11 European countries until the end of 2025 (link)

🇸🇬 78% of Singapore small businesses have lost business due to stringent emissions reporting compliance (link)

🇺🇸 More Americans Are Taking On Side Hustles In 2024, Including Self-Employed Gigs (link)

🥜 The Sweet Side Hustle She Started in an Old CVS Made $800,000 in One Year (link)

🛠️ r/Entrepreneur - People who make $10k+ per month working for themselves… What do you do? (link)

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📆 How I can help

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, a website and newsletter on building wealth for global professionals. Over the last 10 years, he's been a product leader, product manager, consultant and coach at companies like Dropbox, Xendit, and growth-stage startups across the US, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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