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Making money online is a brilliant way to secure financial freedom and location independence, and this post – the latest in the Year of the Side Hustle series – explores how these two super-savvy side hustlers make thousands each year with Friend Referrals.
Friend Referrals have been something I’ve always known about, but never really taken much notice of until the last year or so when I started exploring the world of money blogging.
Sure, I referred the occasional friend to AirBnb (when they offered a referral scheme), or got my boyfriend on to Shopmium via my referral link, but I didn’t really see how it could be a side hustle.
However, after doing my research and learning more about Friend Referrals schemes, they’re actually a great way to make a bit of extra cash each month – without having to rely on just your friends!
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So, when deciding which side hustle I should explore next in my Year of the Side Hustle series, Friend Referrals felt like a great choice. It’s relatively simple, nearly completely passive, and usually benefits both you and your refer-ee.
But to truly give you a better insight into these schemes, I spoke to two people you might just recognise from the money blogging world, who are making a nice bit of extra cash on the side each month.
Claire and Paul are both big advocates for Friend Referrals schemes, and they share below just about everything you need to know to get started on your latest side hustle.
So, without further ado, over to the experts:
Funding Her Freedom (FHF): Hi Claire and Paul, thank you so much for letting me interview you with regards to making money through Friend Referrals! Please could you tell the Funding Her Freedom readers a little more about yourself?
Claire: I’m a busy mum of 5 from South Wales, Founder of Money Saving Central and more recently Quiz Questions UK. I’m a self-confessed workaholic who is an avid freebie hunter and passionate about helping people make and save money in the UK.
Paul: No problem! I am a chartered accountant and part-qualified chartered tax adviser who has a passion for personal finance and spotting a deal! People often think the two are linked but they certainly aren’t. Ever since my last year of uni I became inspired by Martin Lewis and the money saving community at large, and last year I finally got round to starting the blog my friends had always been telling me to set up! I do post about a number of topics but as the name suggests, deals are the focus. I have set up a proper blog but I haven’t written any proper posts yet – I admire those who do, but perhaps Instagram is more hedonistic/instantaneous for me.
FHF: What do you mean when you say you make money through friend referrals or refer-a-friend schemes?
Claire: Some companies such as credit cards, banks, energy suppliers, and online agencies offer a cash bonus for those who introduce new customers to them. It’s really easy – you get given your own link, and when someone clicks through that link and joins the company you recommend, the company pays you a fee.
Paul: A lot of companies have referral schemes whereby if you refer a friend (with that friend using your unique code or link to sign up) you are rewarded with either money or credit. My Instagram page isn’t there to share friend referrals only – my page is there to share the best deals. Quite often though the best deal is a referral and then I share that link. There are examples of schemes where I never refer people because there are better deals out there – Beer52 is the one that springs to mind. If somebody uses my link they can get their first box for £12, but if I share another link with them they can get it for as low as £4.95 – so in this case I don’t refer people – I share the best deal.
I make money and I also receive credit – so my most popular ‘money’ one this year was Octopus Energy – it’s perfect because they offer a great deal and I get rewarded too – so it’s an easy-ish sell. They also upped their referral bonus to £100 instead of £50 for 8 days a few months ago – I think it’s safe to say that will be my highest ever 8-day earning period for the lifetime of Mr Deals, no matter how many years I keep doing this for.
Other brands such as Hellofresh and Gousto, give me credit when I sign somebody up. I am fortunate that my wife and I haven’t had to do a proper grocery shop for a year, and won’t need to for at least the next year. In fact, I even managed to give away thousands of pounds of food to either vulnerable people or raising money for charity, which is just incredible!
FHF: What drew you to the world of making money online through Friend Referrals schemes, and how did you get started?
Claire: I have always wanted to work from home, as I have five children and I didn’t want to have to pay for childcare and miss out on them growing up. So I started off searching the internet over ten years ago for ways to make money online – I have tried and tested many things and I found half the time, there was more money in recommending them and telling others what they were about than actually doing them.
Paul: I wasn’t specifically drawn to this – I wanted to start a money page to help people. At the time, I always knew I would post deals and I always knew that there would be a chance of a small side income, but that wasn’t my primary motivation.
To be honest, a lot of Instagram pages are set up to only share referral links but I find by helping people along the way, it’s more enjoyable, and actually leads to more rewards. My inbox is always open for people – and I am going to share the best deal/advice with you, not be swayed by a friend referrals bonus like some people are. If I had started the page solely to make money, I would have given up by now. I think people see through that – I think they see that the ultimate aim of the page is to help people save money, and I am also very open/honest about any bonuses I receive.
FHF: How does this side hustle compare to any others you might have previously tried?
Claire: I have tried many different side hustles over the years, from being a Google search assistant to surveys to online customer services. This one is the easiest to earn cash in my opinion. The others were more like jobs that I got quite bored of very quickly.
Paul: Difficult to answer because whilst I knew in my mind the page could make money, I never set myself targets except when I was furloughed last year – I tried to re-assure my wife that we would be fine money-wise with my 20% pay cut and I told her if I tried hard I could make at least £50 per month from my blog – safe to say it’s exceeded that!
Actually, I used to be really big into wanting my own side business – I started a foreign language subscription book service once! But this was really detrimental to my mental health – I worked 4 days a week and I was obsessed with making money on that extra day. I then realised I am not a machine whose only purpose is to produce/make money, and my mental health improved significantly. So unlike some in the community, I am not a perennial side hustler – I wouldn’t go as far as to say I fell into it by accident, but I certainly haven’t got my sights on giving up the day job just yet!
FHF: Do you have to know the people you refer, or can you use friend referral links for strangers online?
Claire: No, you can refer to anyone, that is the beauty of it. You get given a unique link that you can share anywhere.
Paul: This is a really interesting question – so a few companies place it in their T&Cs that you can’t share the links on social media but few actually follow up on taking action on this. Anyway, with every single referral, I start off by referring my wife (sometimes she even knows about it too). This is the Mr Deals guarantee I guess you could call it – if I see a good referral, I don’t just spam it out there and try and hook people – I test it out myself. If this takes a week or two, so be it. If I miss out on sharing it to wider audiences, so be it. The main thing I want to inspire is confidence in other people. I then share the referrals wider where I can.
I am surprised some companies let us share their links so widely or are so generous. If I was in charge of the HelloFresh referral scheme, I would keep the same discount for the person being referred, but only give the referrer credit if said person signed up for a box after their trial period. Anyway, I hope they don’t read this because I love their boxes and like my credit! It’s just that the idea of a referral scheme is that the sort of person who you share the links with are people similar to you (and by extension the sort of people who use Company X’s product). Then you get people like me who share referrals specifically to people who want a deal – but clearly some companies must see the value in this still!
FHF: Sounds great! So, how do you go about finding friend referrals opportunities?
Claire: I searched the web high and low, in the end, I created an article so that others didn’t have to. You can find the article here.
Paul: A variety of places – I get a lot of my deals via having the correct keywords setup on HotUKDeals, but they don’t allow referrals so I have to look elsewhere for them.
Almost all of my referrals are things that I use myself – so I know about them already – or others I find via the Instagram community. A lot of people will send me new things – and I love it when a new referral appears on the scene and my inbox is flooded with people wanting my link before I have even mentioned it or even know about it! There really is a variety of ways to find referral links, but I would like to stress that I want the best deals to be on my page – my page isn’t a referral links page, it’s a deals, and actually, a personal finance page. Anybody who follows me knows the page is pretty deals-heavy, as you would expect, but it’s also about personal finance and also my boring in life in general!
FHF: Referring social media followers seems to be a great way to increase your friend referral income, so how did you build a following to share these referral deals with?
Claire: My following wasn’t specifically for referrals, I am in the money saving niche, so it was a no-brainer for me to share referral links that my followers could also use to earn money.
Paul: The main way I built a following was to just make sure I was offering the best service, and asking people to share. I did a couple of giveaways when I was sub-1k followers but my growth is mostly organic and the majority of my followers come from word of mouth. When I share a deal with somebody, if it feels appropriate I ask them to tell their friends about my page and the deals. They then do this, and more people follow me. I also try to follow and engage with similar accounts which brings a few people in, but my following is largely from patience – to go from 600 followers to almost 10k followers in a year though is astounding, and it’s the engagement that matters more. I don’t mean the metrics – I mean the people who pop up to use my links and the people I have become friends with.
FHF: How much time do you spend on this side hustle each week?
Claire: It varies, from none to 3 hours. I only promote via my blog now, so it only takes as long as it takes for me to create an article.
Paul: Most of my time is spent messaging people but I would say it’s very rare where I spend more than 5 active hours a week on the side hustle – because I am not at 10k followers, the most efficient way for me to share links is to create polls in my stories and follow up with messages if a deal is of interest to them (I do share links on my bio too but the aim is to make it as easy as possible). If an amazing deal pops up, hundreds of people might want the details so it can take a lot of time to share the deals with each and every person.
Each deal I do – before I share it (sometimes I ask one person to help me road test it before I share it more widely) I write clear, concise instructions and then send them to people. I don’t just want to share my referral link and leave somebody blind. One of my popular referrals at the moment is Verse – if somebody uses my link to register and sends £5 to somebody, then we both get £5. So I have a few steps saved as keyboard shortcuts (v1, v2, v3, v4…) so it’s super quick to share with people. If we were to be crass and look at the money earned vs the time spent on it, it’s the best paying job I ever have had! But I don’t think of it in those terms so as to not get bogged down in making money, which as I have said is not the primary aim of the page.
FHF: What kind of money do you make each month through sharing Refer a Friend links?
Claire: Roughly £200.
Paul: I think in the last year I have made approximately £5,000 in actual money, and £15,000 – £20,000 in referral credit. This sounds like a lot, and to be honest with you it is more than I ever could have imagined! But a lot of referral credit isn’t worth the amount it says on the tin, and a lot of it can only be redeemed slowly. For example, I have approximately 160 SimplyCook boxes sitting on my account but I can only redeem one a month – these are worth £1,600, but it’ll take 13 years to claim them! So I would definitely stress that I am very fortunate – whilst I do put effort and hard work into helping people find the best deals, the rewards I have are so out of proportion to what I deserve that luck has to have played a big part. Equally though, I wouldn’t want somebody to see these numbers and think I am living the life of riley!
FHF: Which has been your most lucrative or favourite friend referral scheme so far?
Claire: Bulb energy offers a generous £50 per referral, which is great considering they genuinely are one of the cheapest suppliers around. Not only that but they offer green energy and the ability for every customer to refer their friends and earn unlimited £50s off their bills.
Paul: So the most lucrative in terms of actual cash has been Octopus Energy. Nobody actually used my link for the first few months of me having the page despite sharing the deal numerous times, but I think over time you build trust with your followers. I want my followers to be very wary of any ‘deal’ they see, but equally I want them to know if Mr Deals shares it, it’s a good deal and it’s all legit/worth it etc.
In terms of credit, and my favourites, the best have been the recipe boxes. They have such a ridiculously good new customer offer, it feels unfair that they also offer me credit for getting somebody to sign up to a deal that sells itself! My favourite referral link is Mindful Chef – I was the first blogger (as far as I know) to spot that somebody could get 4 x Nandos meals (to cook at home) for £7.50 – we were still in lockdown then and I remember telling my wife before I clicked ‘post’ that this was going to blow up. I was right – it went mad! I earned about £5k in referral credit in a week I think, and the founders of Mindful Chef even contacted me to ask me how I had done it. And it’s that credit that I use to send food hampers to vulnerable people and that I used for the charity auction which raised around £1k for Open Kitchen Manchester – so that has to be my favourite!
FHF: What have you found to be most challenging with this side hustle?
Claire: I don’t like to nag people, so in the days before I had my blog, I was posting my referral links on my personal social media profiles. This can get a bit spammy and annoying, so be mindful of that.
Paul: Being careful to not lose sight of what I actually enjoy. I went through a phase of about a week last year where I shared a LOT more Amazon links – they were decent deals, and I knew that over time the more I shared, the more affiliate money I could make. But then I realised it wasn’t fun sharing ten Amazon products a day and it made the page a bit soulless. I think this turned people off too, so I chose to stick to what I know.
Another big challenge is not to compare myself to others. If I see somebody has referred more people, so what? The page gives me amazing benefits, financially pocket-money wise and with all the people I get to talk to on a daily basis. It doesn’t need to be a big thing, it doesn’t need to grow – I mean heck, it doesn’t even need to be! And one day it might not be – so I just try and take the same slow living approach that I do with the rest of my life and to enjoy the ride. Mr Deals is fantastic fun and I love it, but it isn’t my whole being.
FHF: What’s the best thing about this side hustle?
Claire: The freedom to work from home (in your PJs) with no boss breathing down your neck and doing the work in your own time.
Paul: I can just be myself and it can take a back seat when it needs to! I have gone through phases where I have worried about my content, what time I post things, how to grow my page etc… but then I realised that I just need to let the page work for me. If I post 50 stories one day and my engagement drops, that’s fine! So far, the page has given me rewards I never would have imagined could come from a little blog, it has given me new friendships and I really enjoy it. I wish one of my passions in life wasn’t personal finance/deals, but it’s a cross I have to bear, so I may as well enjoy it and do it with pride!
FHF: What advice would you give to someone looking to start making money through friend referrals?
Paul: Firstly, ask yourself what motivates you. I made it clear – making money wasn’t my motivation, and it never will be. It’s a nice bonus and a little incentive now, but my income is sporadic because it’s out of my control – I post the best deals, and if they happen to give me a kickback, all the better. I also post about my life, about personal finance and random bits of psychology/philosophy because that’s what my page is about – it’s not a money machine.
If only money motivates you, which is clearly the purpose of a lot of accounts, then my advice would be to not try and trick people like some pages do. If there’s a freebie with a £3 delivery charge, tell people it costs £3 rather than being free. If there’s a referral where somebody can get a free £5 but there’s going to be a £1 withdrawal fee, then it’s a £4 referral – don’t pull the wool over people’s eyes to make a quick buck. If you do so, everybody loses. Just be honest and transparent, and try and help people. It pays dividends, trust me.
FHF: What has the money generated from friend referrals allowed you to do?
Claire: Mainly get free gas and electricity. I love Bulb – they have genuinely saved me so much money from when I was with Swalec, that I always promote them. I only need 3 referrals a month and my gas and electricity are completely free.
Paul: Charity mainly – for example I use the Mindful Chef referral credit to send food hampers to people who struggle to put food on the table, and last year I did a charity auction for Open Kitchen MCR (it was my own initiative but of course gained their blessing when they found out about it) – I auctioned off boxes via my Instagram and the average price usually was a 50% discount on the RRP. So the person who is the highest bidder donates that money directly to Open Kitchen MCR, then I send them a box – I win because I get to help charity, the charity wins because they get funding and the highest bidder wins because they get a discounted box (usually – there were a few fantastically generous bidders who paid far in excess of RRP as a donation) and they know they are donating to charity.
Aside from that, it’s just allowed us to have somewhat of a safety net. We moved house last year and without the Instagram account, we would be in a good financial position, but not as good as we are now. We are also spoiled in that we live off Gousto/Hellofresh at the moment, we never have to buy dog food for Dobby – little things like this, I get all my toiletries from Harrys using referral credit! Also our energy bills are pretty low as you can imagine. I say we because anything I do is my wife’s work too – she doesn’t do anything on the page, but we are a team!
FHF: I’m sure readers are now chomping at the bit to find out more – so where can we find you online?
Please give me a follow and drop me a message – whether to ask for advice, request a specific deal or just to say hi – I am always up for a natter.
Final Thoughts on Making Money Through Friend Referrals
I don’t know about you, but after reading through this post, I am seriously motivated to start making the most of Refer a Friend schemes!
For so long, I’ve looked at them as ways to get a small perk from a company I already use when referring friends or family – but who knew you could quite literally make thousands each year from promoting products and services to followers aswell?
Whatever you do, give the two experts a follow across their various social media platforms, and start signing yourself up to friend referrals schemes – you never know, they just might pay for your next Christmas!