The Link Between Day Labor and Referrals

case of the day laborer / a little creative

If you’ve never been to Southern California, a Home Depot, a lumberyard, or any similar type of construction supply store, you might not be familiar with the term “day laborer.”

According to Merriam-Webster, a day laborer is defined simply as:

one who works for daily wages especially as an unskilled laborer

Where I live, many of these day laborers are illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America (usually Guatemala), who otherwise can’t get work due to employment regulations. So because they cannot work by legal means, they typically gather at well-known public locations (Home Depot), and wait for building contractors, landscapers, home owners or similar store patrons to offer them work.

Now, if you read the subject line of this email, you might be wondering, “What the hell does day labor have to do with referrals?”

Everything, actually.

Getting work from referrals is great. When it works out. Which it doesn’t always do, in my experience; especially if you are looking to work with a specific type of customer, at a specific price point. Word of mouth can be very strong and having people speak positively about you and recommend your work is the bee’s knees. But with this model there is very little ongoing effort on your behalf and you essentially are lying in wait, banking on referrals—and work—to come in. Basically, you are a day laborer.

Aside from the immigration debate that is a pretty heated topic where I live, I often find myself in a quandry over these day laborers. Other than who can run to the oncoming cars faster, what sets them apart from one another and what makes someone hire one over another? I’m pretty sure they don’t have a group representative out there distributing referrals on their behalf.

Every morning when I walk my dog, I pass by the local Home Depot. On a recent walk I noticed the usual cluster of day laborers out front, coming off the bus, shaking hands, getting prepared for the day. However, this day, one of them stood out from the rest. Most of them are usually dressed in casual attire; jeans and a loose fitting t-shirt or button down, sneakers and sometimes a hat—cowboy or baseball. But on this day, one man was dressed for the job, as if in uniform. He had on construction boots, ones I assumed to be steel-toed, a well-fitted shirt—tucked in with a belt, an orange construction vest AND a hard hat! Now, he could have been a member of the Village People, but I doubt it.

This guy was clearly taking a risk and making an attempt at creating his own unique selling proposition, his purple cow if you will. I know I certainly would have picked him out of the crowd, if for nothing more than his appearance at readiness.

So when we think about this in relation to referrals and garnering work from them, how can we make them stronger? Referrals can be a really great source of income, but they do take a level of salesmanship, which many people are uncomfortable with. For many, selling = smarmy. However, there are ways to do it and have it feel more natural because essentially, what you’re really selling is YOU. Your personality, your quirks, your strengths, and all the awesomeness that you bring to the table.

So rather than thinking about a making that sale, think about making a connection and through that, make a sale. Because more often than not, we buy from people we trust.

I don’t want to be sold just as much as the next guy. Nor do I want anyone to feel like I’m used car salesman-ing them. So here’s a few ideas I came up with to make the whole process less icky and more awesome.

Don’t lie in wait. 

Simply put, if you want quality referrals, you need to explicitly ask for them. Family, friends, past clients, potential clients, colleagues, social media peeps—these can all be sources of great referrals, but you need to make them that way. People aren’t mind readers and they may not know a) that you are actively seeking new business, or b) what kind of business you’re after.

TIP 1: Rather than putting out a mass exodus message to the world, be selective and be personal. Call or email these people directly and tell them what you dig about them and why you would appreciate it specifically from them. 

Provide a wealth of information.

Simply asking (or hell, just expecting) people to refer you is akin to having your mother set you up on a date. You’re likely to end up with someone that they like and value, not necessarily your ideal match. Asking for referrals is a must, but they can’t be asked for in a vacuum. You need to provide some parameters so that those who are doing the referring know who and what to look for.

TIP 2: Try putting together a brief document that lists your services, packages and/or price points. Give a small stack of business cards to your people (or better yet, your previous clients) and ask them to hand them out. Verbally sharing names is great, but let’s be honest, it’s also forgettable. Make sure people can remember you!

Offer an incentive.

People like to get shit, plain and simple. However small, most people, somewhere inside, people want to know: “What’s in it for me?” So show your gratitude and reward them. Nice begets nice.

TIP 3: Is there something you really don’t like doing or aren’t really good at? Find someone who is and work a referral exchange with them. You’ll send them people who need what you lack and vice versa. Your competitors are sometimes your greatest allies in disguise!

TIP 4: be specific with your incentive. In that email you send to people (see Tip 1), offer them something tangible for anyone who signs a paying contract with you. And rather than saying, “I’ll send you something really nice,” tell them exactly what you’ll send them. Bonus points if it’s money. Check out these adorable referral cards.

Be grateful.

Sure, providing incentive shows you’re thankful. But what about to the people who’ve referred clients that haven’t taken the leap to sign a contract? They need to be recognized for their efforts as well. It may be obvious to some, but many people overlook it.

TIP 5: when someone refers a potential client your way, ANY potential client, place a call, send a handwritten note or better yet, send a gift to say thank you. This is super easy, super quick, and can even be super inexpensive. I found that a cup of coffee (or tea for those not hip to the bean) is a quick and inexpensive way to show your gratitude. Starbucks cards can be purchased for as little as $5 and emailed to your recipient. Hell, you can even tweet them a coffee if you like! 

So go on, build your empire.

Creating a strong referral network is just that—networking. It’s not gonna happen overnight, and at first it’s gonna be scary and weird. But the second time, not so much. And the third, easy peasy. Okay, maybe the fourth.

Try it and let me know how it goes. You are the champion of your domain and when you consider trying to sell that instead, the idea of sales becomes a little less, well, salesy.

  • Dig this post? Sign up and get it delivered right to your inbox!

    You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in each email. For more details, review the privacy policy.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.