Referrals - The Lifeblood of Your Game Audio Business
Have you ever been to a party where you didn’t know anyone?
Or perhaps you’ve been alone at a game industry event and experienced the extreme discomfort of introducing yourself to strangers.
Even more fun when you know your livelihood depends on your networking skills, right?
What is often the one thing standing between your crippling anxiety and a night of happy, healthy exchange with your game industry peers?
Having a friend or acquaintance introduce you to people!
With someone to help you make that first step, meeting new people and chatting with strangers is 1000x easier!
In this article, you’ll learn how to get clients and/or people in your network to “introduce” you to new clients and new projects, otherwise known as referrals.
Grow your business with referrals!
The Lifeblood of Your Business
You’ve probably heard this before, but word-of-mouth is the strongest form of marketing that exists.
When people we know and respect recommend things to us, they achieve a new level of importance in our minds.
All the reels, portfolios, and social media posts in the world can’t hold a candle to the power of one game developer speaking positively to their colleagues about your game audio services.
Word-of-Mouth - Not the dark side but very powerful!
While we may not have control over whether our music or sound design skills are discussed in private game dev circles, we can (and indeed should) influence the process of obtaining referrals not only from clients but also from people in our network.
But shouldn’t referrals be more natural? Asking for them seems a bit forced, doesn’t it?
No. 100% not true.
This is something that many people get wrong.
Remember my article about the importance of following up with your network?
Just because people know you, like you, and indeed would happily recommend your game audio services to others, doesn’t mean they will.
People are living their own lives, doing their own thing, and thinking about their own problems.
You are not the sunshine of their life.
Sorry to say, but Stevie wasn't singing that song about you.
This is why asking for referrals is so critical.
Just like following up regularly with important people in your network, asking directly for referrals keeps you top of mind and plants the seed in people’s brains that you are actively looking for work.
If you don’t bring this topic up explicitly, even the most satisfied clients who praise your talent from dusk till dawn may not necessarily go out of their way to help you find new projects.
When & How To Ask For Referrals
Your strongest source of referrals is from clients you have already worked with or are currently working with, so let’s start there.
By the way, these don’t have to be paying clients. If you’re doing free work to build your portfolio or participating in some jams, those are excellent sources as well.
There are two fabulous times to ask clients:
1 | When the project is finished
This is the obvious best place to look for a referral and, assuming the client is happy with you, it’s an easy ask.
Why would they not want to help you after you’ve helped them?
You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
A satisfied client will absolutely be open to referring your work to others.
2 | When the project has just begun
This is a tip I picked up from Brian Hood over at the Six Figure Home Studio.
It seems counterintuitive but it makes sense.
When you think about it, the best time to ask for referrals is when your clients are most excited about having you working on their project.
Obviously, they are excited when the deadline has been met and your sound is in their game making it totally awesome.
There is, however, a certain excitement at the beginning of the project as well.
You wouldn’t be there if the developers weren’t convinced that you would be a valuable asset to the team and more often than not, they are really pumped to have brought you on board.
This makes the beginning of a project a perfect time to say something like:
“Wow! I’m so happy to be here! Btw, I’m always looking for future projects to keep my calendar full and my business healthy. If you know anyone who might need sound for an upcoming game, please let me know!”
Developers understand the struggle of freelancing in the game industry and as long as you are tactful and not annoying about it, no one will ever think less of you because you asked for a recommendation.
Especially not people who think highly enough of you to have you work on their game.
They are trusting you with their baby, so they definitely like you.
Reaching Out to Your “Warm Network”
What do you do if you’re just getting started and don’t have many (or any) paying clients to get referrals from?
You can reach out to what is called your “warm network”.
Your warm network is comprised of the contacts in your life, both business and personal, who know, like, and trust you.
Contacts in your warm network might include non-game clients you’ve worked for, people you’ve collaborated with (game jams), colleagues from university, mentors or teachers, even your friends and family.
In general, I would recommend reaching out first to people who a) are most connected to the industry you are hoping to get referrals in and b) whose recommendation is likely to garner the most respect from potential clients.
Your mom may be your biggest fan but even if she knows someone in the game industry, it’s unlikely that her glowing testimonial of your audio skills will mean much to them.
I'm cool. My mom said so.
That being said, you never know where the next job might come from and the worst people can say is “Sorry, I don’t think I can help.”
In my experience, it’s best to use the warm network sparingly.
I wouldn’t bother these connections more than once a year with referral requests.
Btw former clients also transition into this category after you’ve worked with them. Don’t be afraid to continue asking them for referrals!
And when you do, try to keep it professional but also light and friendly.
My tip: start with a compliment.
“Hey NAME, I’m always impressed at how deep your connections seem to go in this industry and I’m trying to fill some empty time in my calendar right now. Would you happen to know anyone who would might be shopping around for YOUR GAME AUDIO SKILLS right now?”
“Hi NAME, I saw your work on GAME/PROJECT NAME recently and was totally blown away. You crushed it! I am currently doing some project acquisition for the upcoming months and thought this might be something you could help with. Do you know of any cool new projects that don't yet have a sound designer/composer yet?”
If you noticed, I always try to make the ask sound really relaxed, almost as if I don’t need it.
Desperate pleas for help will not only embarrass you and damage your reputation, they will also hurt your chances of actually being referred to others.
Maybe the fastest way to lose your shot at getting a referral...
A referral, just like an introduction at a party, means someone is vouching for you.
Their reputation is on the line when they do this.
People aren’t going to refer you to anyone unless they are confident that referral will reflect positively on them as well and any signs of a lack of confidence or desperation will make them question whether it is worth the risk.
Basically, don’t be thirsty.
Asking for referrals should be a standard part of your business operations and the less business you have coming in, the more referrals you should probably be asking for.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a Rolodex (yes, I’m old enough to know what that is) of hundreds of industry contacts.
Even the smallest network can be leveraged to your benefit!
If you know what a Rolodex is, you will get this Simpsons joke
As long as you are cool about it, I guarantee only good things can come from asking for referrals.
Because it's not just about the direct ask at that moment. It's about building a network of people who, in the back of their minds, know you are looking for work.
By letting them know you are searching for projects, you increase the chance that they will think of you the next time they hear something.
"Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising."
Use people-power to your advantage and see what a difference it can make for you and your game audio business!
I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.