The Design Business Show 134: How to Use Referrals Effectively in Your Business with Maggie Patterson

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | March 17, 2021
Check out episode 134 of The Design Business Show with Maggie Patterson to learn all about using referrals to grow your business!

Maggie Patterson is the editorial director at Scoop Studios and the creator of Small Business Boss. With two decades of experience, Maggie has spent her entire career in client services and has been a successful entrepreneur for 15 years. Today, she works with freelancers and agency owners to help them implement smart strategies for business growth using proven marketing, sales, and client experience tactics. She’s the host of the BS-Free Service Business podcast, has been on stage at events such as New Media Expo, Podcast Movement, and the Conquer Summit, and her work has been featured in leading publications such as, Fast Company and

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

How We Met + Maggie’s Journey (1:10)

  • How we connected through Jessica Kupferman’s podcast and Facebook group
  • Maggie shares that she worked at an agency, became pregnant in 2003 and with everything going on in her life decided not to return after her maternity leave
  • The business plan Maggie wrote when she first started, which said she had four months to make $4,000 CAD ($3,186.32 USD)/month, which seemed unreachable at the time — she reached it in 6 weeks
  • Why Maggie was able to reach her goal in 6 weeks was because she had the extra business skills needed to run a business that most people don’t have
  • Maggie spent time freelancing, doing PR work, then got into content marketing but realized around 2013 and 2014 she wasn’t happy with the clients she was working on, which led her to the online business world where she went from freelancing, to having a team, to building an agency
  • Through her agency journey, Maggie realized she didn’t want to work for online celebrity entrepreneurs anymore so she went back to working with tech and professional services companies
  • Maggie explains that she had a safety net when she started her business, because of her husband and living in Canada which gave them support; and says not a lot of people have that starting out
  • How Maggie had three clients right out of the gate, which helped her surpass her $4,000 CAD/month goal and explains that her hourly rate was $100 CAD ($79.62 USD)/hour, which was a fraction of the cost compared to when she left the agency, where they were charging her out at $250 CAD ($199.06 USD)/hour
  • Maggie shares her personal benefits from the online business world, like learning a lot, approaching a different style of content marketing, and most importantly building connections and friendships
  • How Maggie now mentors other business owners and how she likes helping them create their own path
  • We describe what the online space is, where experts of all sorts take their business online and how Maggie exposes some of the marketing tactics being used in the space today — check out Maggie’s Instagram for more context
  • Maggie explains that there are a lot of good people who may be using tactics that are problematic or questionable because that’s what they’ve been taught and how she’s not saying she’s never done anything she now considers problematic, but explains she’s done the work to unpack that

Approaching Referrals: How to Ask + Keeping Track of Them (17:34)

  • How most of us approach referrals is by waiting for someone to come to us instead of thinking about what we can do on an ongoing basis to let people know we want their business; Maggie explains we need to make the switch from passive to proactive when it comes to referrals
  • As business owners, we make a lot of relationships and connections but we don’t nourish them, which causes people to forget about us down the road
  • Maggie shares a story of how she was able to stay top of mind for a client she had way back in 2003 by putting consistent content out about the recent service they needed, so she thought of Maggie and hired her
  • How we tend to think it’s a bad thing to let people know we need clients, but Maggie explains that people aren’t going to refer clients to you if you act like you’re booked and everything is fine; you don’t need to say you’re struggling, just be clear that you have openings for clients
  • One way Maggie asks for referrals is by letting people she’s already made relationships with know that she has a spot open and by asking them if they know anyone to fill that spot
  • Why it’s important to create an offboarding process where you have the opportunity to ask for referrals and why Maggie would rather ask for a referral over a testimonial in the offboarding process
  • Maggie stresses the importance of being transparent about when your next opening will be if you’re currently fully booked and shares an example of a client who started doing this and was able to book out months in advance without having to shut people down by just saying, I’m booked, sorry!
  • Why Maggie keeps track of referrals she gets, the referrals she gives, and tracks leads because the more information she has, the easier it is to see what’s working and what’s not in her business
  • With everything going on in the world today, it can be hard to know if it’s the right time to ask for referrals — Maggie suggests engaging in a back and forth conversation that allows you to read the room instead of jumping right to it
  • How Maggie has her lead generation data on her dashboard so when she’s looking at revenue, she can also see the lead generation trends and see what kind of action she needs to take in order to get more clients, which is usually through referrals

Shifting the Type of Clients You Work With (34:35)

  • When creating an email list for B2E (business to entrepreneur), Maggie says to think about who your target audience is, think about if they’ll be interested in getting emails, and if they’re the type of people who are going to buy from emails
  • In Maggie’s experience her B2B (business to business) clients are way less likely to download a lead magnet so she stresses knowing your market, knowing if they’re going to engage in your emails and if they aren’t, figuring out an effective tactic to get in front of them
  • Maggie shares that shifting the kind of clients they were working with was a slow process but if you want to make that shift, you have to figure out where these people are hanging out in the online space, see what podcasts are they listening to and make an effort to meet them where they’re already at
  • How cold outreach can be an overlooked tactic but if you move into the B2B world it’s acceptable — Maggie shares that the majority of her new client revenue in 2019 came from cold outreach
  • The bulk of Maggie’s content marketing agency is focusing on content production for clients, and acting as an extension of the client’s team to help them with strategy, write their blog posts, create their case studies, create their white pages, etc.
  • Maggie says one thing that holds us back is thinking we have to know everything about an industry and thinking it has to be perfect when really it’s okay to experiment
  • If you want to transition out of the online space, Maggie’s advice it to take some time to experiment working with other types of clients because it’s really easy to pick a niche, but it’s much harder to truly embrace it and work in it all the time
  • Connect with Maggie on, Instagram, or if you’re a service provider who needs help with pricing, packaging, leads, etc. go to for resources that can help you


Links mentioned:

Connect with Maggie on Instagram

Small Business Boss 

Small Business Boss Vault 


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