The Referral Engine: 7 Steps to Marketing Yourself as a Freelance Editor

editorial business topics

I read a ton of business books (roughly 22 a year, according to my StoryGraph metrics). Many of them overlap; most are ho-hum. But every now and then, I come across a book that challenges me to redefine my approach to my freelance editorial business.

John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself did just that when I was a new freelance editor. I used it to reshape my marketing strategy to great success, and I reread it every few years as a refresher. 

The Referral Engine focuses on how word-of-mouth referrals, strategic partners, and content marketing are the new drivers of successful businesses.

Here are Jantsch’s seven steps to winning new clients, exceeding their expectations, and creating long-lasting relationships with them. If you’re a freelance editor like me, hopefully this quick summary will leave you with some exciting new ideas on how to market your services.


First, Jantsch writes, it’s critical to define your ideal client:

  • What makes them happy?
  • What is their biggest source of stress?
  • What challenge are they facing?
  • What are their goals?

The easiest way to get started with this is to think of your best client of all time. Pull up their picture and put it next to the above answers.

Next, figure out where this client looks for information, and cultivate a presence there. For example, are they active on Facebook? Do they read the local newspaper? Find ways to get in front of this specific person, because it’s likely that your other ideal clients will be hanging out there too.

Goal: Know your ideal customer, and get them to notice you by meeting them where they already are.


Once your ideal clients are aware of you, make sure you have plenty of content for them to explore online, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media content
  • eBooks
  • Email newsletter
  • Guest blog posts (preferably on blogs that target your ideal clients)

Make sure that you write with your ideal client in mind!

Goal: Collect email addresses to add to your list.


Once a client gives you their email address, send them high-value learning tools and content via email to further build trust in your brand. This type of content can include:

  • Free how-to checklists
  • Testimonials
  • Printable tip sheets
  • Information-rich eBooks
  • Recorded webinars or links to podcast episodes

Be clear about when and how often you’ll be emailing them so they know what to expect from you and don’t feel bombarded.

Goal: Get the customer to trust your brand enough that they want to try out your services.

4. TRY

Instead of going straight from the sales pitch to a signed contract, it’s important to make sure the client is a good match for you. The best way to do this is by:

  • Offering them a free or paid sample or trial run

Goal: Get to know the potential client, and only accept the customers who will be a perfect fit for you.

5. BUY

Success! You landed a great new client. Now it’s time to make sure they’re “onboarded” (marketing lingo at its finest) seamlessly. You can do this by:

  • Creating a client orientation packet that includes:
    • What they can expect (your process and how you work)
    • What you need from them to get started
    • A full list of your services

Goal: Meet—and exceed—client expectations so they will refer other great customers to you.


This is the second-to-last step before (hopefully) moving clients to the stage where they will actively refer new business to you. To get to the final stage, you need to ensure that the client has everything they need to be successful. You can do this by:

  • Following up with customers to ensure that they got everything they needed
  • Creating an exit survey that asks for a testimonial and introductions to two people who could benefit from your services
  • Offering free training
  • Throwing in an unexpected add-on or gift (for example, 100 free promotional bookmarks for first-time authors)

Goal: Offer additional help to ensure that clients get the most out of your services and will want to refer others.


The end goal is that customers become your “cheerleaders” and actively refer business to you. To further strengthen your client relationships, try:

  • Regularly holding networking events for clients
  • Developing educational seminars for current and past clients
  • Referring other professionals to clients as needed (graphic designers, lawyers, etc.)

Goal: Give more valuable information to customers and actively provide ways for them to connect and refer people to you (the biggest mistake you can make is not asking for referrals!).

Which steps are you already doing? Which are missing from your current marketing "engine"? Take a closer look and borrow some of the tips from this list to boost your editorial business—starting today.

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