We’ve all heard these phrases:

  • “You are the company you keep.”
  • “What goes around comes around.”
  • “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

They’re, well, true. Not only in life but in business — especially when you’re a freelancer.

The world of freelance referrals is tricky. Not everyone plays fair, making it paramount to develop professional etiquette toward who you’re taking advice from and who you’re vouching for. Aligning with the wrong person can make or break your future projects and reputation.

That’s why we’ve talked to some expert freelancers to shed some light on how to strategically use freelance referrals to boost your business.

Referrals are an important part of doing business

How to Strategically Use Freelance Referrals

“Referrals are an important part of doing business. The referrals I have received have increased my rapport with past clients, and continue to foster new strategic partnerships and relationships. But, I am careful about who I connect and refer to for business,” explains branding expert Wendi Weiner. “Reputation management is at the core of building a referral system. If you connect a referral that turns sour, it can impact your ability to want to do business with that freelancer or company again.”

What to Consider Before Making a Referral

While the ledge might only be digital, recommending the expertise, talent, or skills of another person puts your name on the line. That’s why before you make an intro, career experts stress the importance of ensuring you’re absolutely sure of their ability to deliver quality results and work. As freelance writer and fashion, beauty, and lifestyle copywriter Jamie Allison Sanders explains, “If you can’t vouch for them, you should feel empowered to decline.”

Take a step back and put yourself in the situation

If you were a publication or a website that had continuously hired a writer for assignments, and they recommended another writer that you then hired and got subpar work from, how would you react?

We’d say it’d probably make you question their ability to judge character or talent. It might even make it hard to take their opinion seriously again.

As Weiner explains, “Clients expect me to make referrals to them from people who also produce high-caliber work and who are highly professional in nature. I believe when you are making a referral to a trusted source like a client, you are putting your own reputation on the line. I also have expectations of my own client to follow up with a company or freelancer and be professional and collegial.”

That’s why feeling empowered to decline intros is essential for career growth. “I have been asked to refer people on multiple occasions that I don’t pass along because either I don’t think they’re a good fit or I don’t know them well enough to stand by my referral,” Sanders shares. “I think that your referrals reflect on you, so I don’t want anyone I refer to do an inadequate job and reflect poorly on me with that company.”

How to tell if someone is worth your seal of approval

How to tell if someone is worth your seal of approval

First and foremost, freelance writer and editor Rachel Sokol says knowing the person and having specific experience is a no-brainer check box to tick off. “I made mistakes by referring people I didn’t know that well because I didn’t want to seem mean, or I referred them because I felt bad for them. I am willing to refer someone if someone else I know well, such as my husband or best friend, has worked with them because I trust their judgment,” she explains.

On the positive side, if there is someone you’re happy and confident enough to pass along a glowing review for, putting two folks together you vouch for can be an exciting venture. After all, creating beneficial connections is not only good news for your client or another freelancer’s opportunities, but it is killer career karma, too. How you approach the topic makes a difference though — you have to go about it professionally and effectively.


a smart way to approach referring a client to a company is by prioritizing the details

What to Consider When Making a Recommendation

Weiner says a smart way to approach referring a client to a company is by prioritizing the nitty-gritty details over anything else. “This means making a formal introduction to a direct person, whether it is a publication, service provider, or even a recruiter. I believe in making an introduction and then letting the parties take it from there. The onus is on them to leverage the connection,” she explains.

Recommending to clients who are historically particular

Some clients aren’t great about cold intros. They might be caught off-guard not being able to vet your freelance referrals before the full introduction is made. Although it might reflect poorly on you to put your contact in that situation, Sanders says you can protect your reputation by touching base with the client pre-intro.

In addition to giving your honest perception, you can also check off some preferences:

  • Would they rather be contacted by phone or email?
  • Are they hiring?
  • Do they want to be connected?
  • When’s a good time?

Checking off these boxes protects your relationship and makes it more likely your freelance referrals will be considered at the right moment. “I typically will reach out to the client first and ask whether they are interested, and then ask for their preferred method of contact. Then I will put the two people in touch as requested,” Weiner notes.

Traditionally speaking, especially in the new age of connectivity and technology, email is a professional enough route. But it might be strategic to follow up on the freelance referral’s experience within a few weeks, too. “I am a big proponent of email because it leaves a paper trail. I always start off with an email and then do a phone call follow-up. People can always reference the email later on. I also believe that people tend to prefer communicating over email because it documents the conversation and keeps it streamlined and focused,” Weiner explains.


Freelancer compensation expectation

Expecting compensation

Should you expect compensation? It depends on who you ask.

Generally speaking, financial gain isn’t a direct result for most freelance referrals, according to the majority of freelancers. More so, paying it forward eventually makes its way back to you in the form of work or future references in your direction.

As Sokol says, “Journalism is a really tough business, and I’ve learned it’s so much better to catch flies with honey. Editors gave me chances when I was just starting out and I’d like to do the same for others — and have.”

Weiner says that although traditional reporting gigs might not result in extra dollars, other types of content work may yield a percentage. For example, with Resume writing, 10 to 15 percent of the project fee would be expected. Though that’s not a standard, Weiner adds sometimes referrals can result in unexpected “thank you” tokens if a fruitful relationship is formed — like a $10 Starbucks gift card or a spa certificate. In that case, it’s more about the gesture than the amount.

The more connections you make, the further the net you cast

Recommend smartly, follow-up kindly and always keep an eye, ear and page open for new opportunities. Even though you might not reap the rewards instantly, the more you make a name for yourself as someone with a plethora of clients, the more often people will rely on you for your connections.  That could mean more freelance referrals for your business, higher rates, and a name that is trusted within your industry.

Perhaps entrepreneur and publicist Cindy Mich said it best, “Networking and partnering of people is one of the biggest ways for multiple parties to find success. You all support each other, sometimes the majority make more revenue, and it’s another way to get public attention, thereby increasing one’s own clientele.”

Want Someone to Do the Referring For You?

The bottom line to all of this is to get your digital Rolodex up and running and ready to prosper. But, if you’re looking for someone to refer you, then partnering with a trusted content agency might be the move. At ClearVoice, we do the referring for you, matching you with businesses that need your exact skills and expertise. Consider joining our Talent Network to expand your access and opportunity.