#6 figure automated referral system

  • The free source of leads everyone forgets.
  • How to get 6 figure of leads on autopilot
  • Apply the 80/20 rule for more leads
Things I'm grateful for this week

You are sitting on a goldmine of hot leads that you've forgotten about. I'll show you how to tap into it with a fully automated referral system.

Many new freelancers rely on old school word of mouth to get new jobs but…

In the internet age, it has become easier to promote your products and content. This isn’t anything new. The opportunity to reach a vast audience that the internet and content marketing provides cannot be overemphasized. For example, Dollar Shave Club launched its online video campaign on March 6, 2012. In the first 48 hours after their video was released on YouTube, over 12,000 people subscribed to the service. The video only cost $4,500 to create and as of November 2015, it had over 21 million views.

This was in 2012! Since then it’s become easier and easier to run a solo business and drive leads to an offer online.

But I still vividly remember the manic fear of not knowing where the next job was coming from.

I remember the desperate sales calls, the prospects extracting shamefully low prices, and the tumbleweeds of being ghosted.
This rising desperation leads to all sorts of bad decisions like lowering your prices, offering discounts, taking on bad projects, overworking and more.

“Strategy be damned, I just need a client!”

This stage of solopreneuring can be incredibly painful. The lack of stability and predictability is stressful.

I’m fortunate to operate from a position of surplus leads, which allows me to be more selective about whom I work with.

I like to work with purpose-led entrepreneurs who have some kind of vision beyond just “make tha money!”.
I like to work with someone who wants to make some kind of positive impact. I like to work with someone who is organized and driven.

Of course I occasionally still have periods where I start to get that niggling worry that I’m quoting too high and I won’t make quota.
There was even a period last year where I broke my own policy and went below my minimum investment amount.

And bugger me sideways did I immediately regret it.

the goldmine of free leads

Social media is awash with why you want to work with higher paying clients, and it’s true.

They pay more, they are easier to deal with because they are organized. They know what they want because they are driven.
All you have to do is deliver the results.

So now I stick to my guns, even when I’m quiet, and something always shows up.

But you can’t cherry pick your clients if you’re still scraping the bottom of the barrel to survive.

Social media will also tell you to just “raise your prices”. They rarely also point out that you have to raise your results, your sales skills, your offer and the quality of your comms first.

It took me over ten years to reach a point in my business where I felt I could reliably count on decent leads coming in every week.
It will take me ten minutes to show you something it took me ten years to learn.

So I hope you find this useful…

I’m revealing my complete system for referrals on autopilot.

Not only that, I’ll walk you through it step by step.

This video is going to be a super practical, nitty gritty walkthrough of a system I use to bring in over 6 figures in revenue every year for my micro agency Design Hero.
Which generated 6 figures of revenue for me.

I’ll show you how to set it up, and the daily actions to take, to deliver a steady stream of reliable leads from existing customers.

At the end of this article there’s a video walkthrough of the whole thing for you!

🎁 Plus a bonus gift…

blog 7 referral system video thumbnail

Watch my tutorial to set up my fully automated referral system which generates 6 figures of leads on autopilot.

Subscribe for instant access to the video walkthrough of my automated 6 fig referral system.

This article came about after a catchup with an old client…

Catherine is the leading expert in treatments for sufferers of chronic head pain.

Last year I helped Catherine to build a personal brand as a medical professional,
showcase her authority with a new website,
and also coached her to help her refine her service into neatly packaged offers which she could sell on social.

So when we caught up this year I was surprised to find her in a bit of a rut.

When we spoke she felt like little had changed in 6 months.
She wasn’t getting any leads from the site, and wasn’t sure what to do next.

It turns out she already knew WHAT she needed to do,
she just didn’t know HOW,
and so she’d taken no action whatsoever.

I see this a lot.

When tasks seem too big, we don’t start them.
Then we feel guilty for not having achieved anything,
then we feel crap for not getting the results we want.
So I’ve broken down the task into micro steps for her.

In fact, I’ve written a whole article about how to take on big projects in tiny steps

But that’s a whole other issue.
For now, let’s get back to Catherine’s problem.

She wasn’t getting leads from social media.

It only took a few minutes for us both to realize the root cause of Catherine’s problem:
she wasn’t taking any action!

If you want to see the session highlights you can watch here

Don’t worry I’ll still drop the step by step breakdown of the actual system in a video at the end of this article:

Here’s what we talked about:

  • false expectations for social media timelines
  • the importance of consistency
  • referrals as a reliable source of leads
  • setting up a fully automated referral system
  • You’re not asking enough.
  • how to tackle tasks that seem too large
  • the importance of taking small actions
  • how to break it into daily consistency

Most solopreneurs are obsessed with chasing leads from social.
I walked Catherine through some daily actions she could take to tackle social media and develop consistency in her habits.

but more importantly, I also took a step back and asked her WHY she was so concerned with leads from social.
She had assumed social was her only route for leads.

Dead Wrong.

The problem with social marketing

My Instagram builds trust and authority for Design Hero. Linked in is a good source of leads for my coaching business, Life by Design.
But you may be surprised but less than 1% of my leads for my design agency come from social media.

I do use it for Life by Design,
but you’ll notice I do my writing for the newsletter in long form content,
which is repurposed for short form content on social by my VA.

To say I don’t enjoy social media is an understatement.
I have some strong views on social media.
Social media is a great business tool,
but it’s also an addictive distraction, not only from effective work, and a blocker from happiness and life in general.
I’d rather spend my time doing other things that no-one else can do, such as my writing, my thoughts, building systems.

So if you want leads for your design service from social media, I’m the wrong person to ask.
But here’s the issues I regularly see from my students who rely on social media.

💀 Risk

The problem with social media is that you don’t own your audience
It’s a high risk platform, algorithms change all the time and even big creators can find their income has halved overnight!

⌛ Time

Some people get good leads for creative services from social.
But to me it seems like a hell of a lot of hard work.
There’s a full time job just in editing what you do into content that can be consumed in 10 seconds.
Many people spend half their time doing the work, and half their time trying to promote the work on social.
That means no time left for working on growing your business.

😩 Distraction

Unless you have a system and are very organized it can hard to be consistent on social media.
your mind is always drifting to your content so it’s also distracting you from your business.
The quality of the leads that come from social also usually require a lot of nurturing to turn them into customers
(for complex, high ticket qualitive services I mean, this won’t be true for simple products or simple services.)
That’s a lot of stuff you don’t need in your life.

The good news

If your a knowledge worker,
and you’ve been at it for a few years,
and you find yourself stuck in a feast and famine cycle…

You are sitting on a goldmine of hot leads who already trust and value your work.

I’m talking about referrals, of course.

Referrals are high-value leads everyone forgets

Referrals are work that comes from existing customers, or from recommendations within your network.

These are high quality leads who already trust your work, have heard your praise of your results from someone else they trust,
and are ready to work with you, without exploring lots of other options first.

This means reduced time prospecting, nurturing and pitching. You walk into the room already established as the trusted expert.

Eventually, you will reach ‘critical mass” where repeat work and referrals keep you ticking over, and reduce the constant pressure of finding new clients.
This lets you quit the “hand to mouth” stage, and using that reliable income to start investing back into the business.

There is no magic bullet for leads

Don’t believe the gurus.
It takes a long time to build up your network
For me this took ten years or more.

I’m not the most social person, so my network is very small and I don’t do any face to face networking whatsoever.
You might find it’s quicker.
Networking is a skill and requires patience and persistence.

But most people want the quick win, so they go for ads or social marketing.
But if you can play the long game, referrals are best source of leads for conversion.

Some stats about my referrals

I track my enquiries source meticulously.
Here’s a breakdown of my enquiries by source (for Design Hero):

  • 16% referral
  • 78% SEO
  • 2% social
  • 4% other

It’s not just about quantity though. Lead farming is a quality game.
I also keep a record of my close rates.
Referrals tend to close far better and for far higher project values than other forms of leads.

  • 78% of my enquiries come from SEO
  • but 16% of my SEO enquiries turn into customers


  • 16% of my enquiries come from referrals.
  • but 40% of my referrals turn into customers.

Which means that although referrals deliver less leads,
they turn into customers at a higher rate.
Plus take me no time or money to pursue.

I’ve also noticed they also tend to be better customers,
who work with me for longer, and spend more, and trust my judgement.

So the hottest type of leads you’ll get are also the most overlooked.
If you haven’t considered referrals it’s time to start taking them seriously.

Here’s a secret for you:
It’s x5 easier to sell to previous clients than find new ones.

The goal is to have so many leads that you can cherry pick the best clients,
increase your prices, and turn away more than you take on.

If you’ve been in the game a while hopefully you’ll get referrals.
Of course this means you have to do good work, and more importantly your customers have to have had a good experience.

So you know why referrals are so important.
So how do you get them?

Short answer:
you ask for them

You’re not asking enough.

Most people do referrals by intermittently checking in with their past customers, whenever it occurs to them.
Or ask people they happen to meet at networking.

If you don’t ask you don’t get.
you need to be asking x3 more often than you think.
And you need to remove yourself from the process so it happens whether it occurs to you or not.

But before we can set up a system,
first we have to figure out the system.

When I described this system to Catherine,

she understood the importance of this, and how it would give her the stability she needs to grow the business,
but it seemed like such a big task, she blanched at setting it all up.

Big tasks sometimes seem scary, because they mean getting out of our comfort zone. They can seem so scary that we prefer the familiar, albeit uncomfortable, position that we’re currently in And that’s why some folk never grow past feast and famine.

But don’t worry, it’s actually pretty simple. Here are the steps you need to take to get the result you want.

Micro Actions to set up a referral system

Build a list of prospects
Write down your pitch
reach out to them at set intervals
Automate the process

lets dive into each step

Create a list of prospects

You already have a leads list

Create a database of your prospects.
Prospects can be anyone you know. Create a spreadsheet of your contacts who fit the following.

  • previous clients
  • previous enquiries
  • people with related services.
  • super connectors who know many of your ideal audience

When I say database everyone thinks about complex software, or tools like Mailchimp or Hubspot. But excel will do just fine.
I like to add columns for where I first made contact, what their pain point is, plus notes from our previous contact,
so that I can personalize any communication.

Write down your pitch

Write down what you offer and how it will help them.

Your elevator pitch should be maximum of 3 lines.
you’ll need to tailor it or wing it depending on whom your speaking to, their specific pain points etc.

This is where it helps to understand clearly your

  • your audience
  • their problems
  • the solution (your offer)
  • the value it delivers

If you need help with this, I have a free workbook for creating a pitch for your offer
go to https://lifebydesign.online/free/ and download the “killer offer worksheet”

Here’s some pointers:

  • keep it short
  • inform, never sell
  • highlight the benefit to the referral
  • never ask them if they need it, ask them if they know anyone else who needs it.
  • get used to hearing no a lot without letting it affect your ego (this is a key skill most people never learn)
  • Best time to call is about 20 mins before lunch, or an hour before close of day. (people are bored and seek distraction from work).
  • Never call during busy periods such as mornings or end of day or at lunch when people don’t want to talk.

It’s so important to position yourself during the call as the expert advisor.

Don’t sell, just give them advice, tell them what they need to invest to get the result, and let them take it or leave it.
If you want to steal my system for the perfect sales call, I’ll be writing about that soon

Start dialling

Start reaching out to your prospects.
Don’t overthink it.
Just keep your pitch in front of you, pick up the phone and start dialling.

But if your just starting your solopreneur journey, and your struggling for leads,
then you have more time than money.
So calling works best as you can do all of this at the same time:

  • do something that nobody is doing anymore (calling)
  • build a personal relationship
  • impress them with level of service
  • feel out their pain points
  • refine your pitch

Before you can automate and systemize your referrals,
you need to know what your systemizing.
You need to refine your system and you need to gather data.
So doing lots of calls = many iterations = faster improvement on your pitch
Its pointless spending ages writing your pitch unless you test it and refine it with real people and real reactions.

You need to be asking far more often than you think.
once a quarter is enough, without being annoying.

Remember we want consistency over giant one-off efforts.
The first time is hardest.

“Call someone and speak to them on the phone? 🤯

It’s like working out.
At first it seems impossible.
But anyone can do one situp once a day.

So build that muscle.
Work this habit into your schedule.
Everyone’s situation is different:

  • You might say you’re going to do calls for 1 hour a day.
  • You can commit to “I’m going to call x1 client on my lunchbreak”
  • You might beast mode x5 calls a day for a month.

It doesn’t matter.
But whatever you decide, schedule it, and stick to it.

Automate your followups

If you have x10 existing clients, calling isn’t a massive burden.

But as you grow, you’ll have more prospects.
You’ll be so busy that you won’t have time to call new leads (I hope)
or have the luxury of time to do phone calls…

So now it’s time to systemize what you’ve learned and switch to an automated emails or DM system.
Doing this manually is too haphazard.
You need a system to track and manage you referrals.

Here’s the automated referal system

I use Clickup for almost everything in my business.
The platform for your system doesn’t matter.
You could recreate this on Notion or Mailchimp, or ManyChat.

Don’t worry I’m going to walk you through it all in a video soon!
But first you have to understand it .

On Clickup I create a task for each prospect.
I use custom fields for the client name and email address
I create statuses for each referral contact stage.
I create a view with swimlanes for each status.
Prospects move from colum to column through the swimlanes.
Each time they move swimlane, they get an automated email checking in.

  • sometimes it’s a general checkin to see how they’re doing.
  • Sometimes its asking if they need me for anything,
  • Sometimes it’s asking if they know anyone else that needs me.

In Clickup, the emails come directly from my email account, not via MailChimp or Convertkit.
This is a personal email, not a marketing message.
I personalize the email with their name, business name via the custom fields.
I send a request about every 3 months (one a quarter).
This is often enough without being annoying.
Once they reach the final column they move back to the start.
But remember it’s not just previous clients you can ask…

Other prospects you may not have thought about:

Failed enquiries

I also plug previous enquiries back into this system.
You wouldn’t believe how many enquiries have passed on a proposal, gone with someone cheaper, or had a bad experience with another agency.
3 months later, I send that checkin, BOOM! I’m back in the game.


Who can connect you with many of your ideal customers?
These are called “super connectors”

  • Agencies
  • Influencers
  • Related service providers
  • Networkers
  • Group owners

These need a personal touch. It may be worth a call .

Video Walkthrough of a 6 figure referral system

Here’s the video walkthrough I promised you, plus….
🎁 I also included a sneak peak at my email sequence which I use to nurture previous clients, at the end of the video

blog 7 referral system video thumbnail

Watch my tutorial to set up my fully automated referral system which generates 6 figures of leads on autopilot.

Subscribe for instant access to the video walkthrough of my automated 6 fig referral system.

Watch my tutorial to set up my fully automated referral system which generates 6 figures of leads on autopilot.
subscribe for instant access.

🔑 Key Takeaways

There is no silver bullet for leads. Leads don’t happen by magic.
You have to analyse, plan and then take action.
But take action consistently, not when you’re short of work.
If you want to avoid feast and famine, build a system which delivers consistent leads.
Apply the 80/20 rule: find what source of leads works best for your business, and double down on it.
Create daily actions which delivers those kind of leads, work those actions into your schedule and repeat.
Consistency is more powerful than grand gestures.

🛎️ Daily Reminder for Solopreneurs

It’s x5 easier to sell to existing customers,
than to chase new clients.

💥 How to take action

Knowledge without action is only potential. Here's something you can do right now to improve the way you live & work...

Create a spreadsheet of your contacts. Start pitching them with your offer, or with your referral incentive.

  • people you know in your niche
  • previous clients
  • previous enquiries
  • super connectors who know your ideal audience


Nicholas Robb

Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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