Freelance Referral Network Building

Freelance Referral Network Building

Today I got an email from someone looking for a referral if I was still booked through November (I am, on that museum interactive project). It highly irritates me that I don’t have a good referral network of deserving people who share my values. Almost two years ago, I wrote about a different kind of freelance network that would be powered by circles of personal recommendation of the work, from which the nature of the person can be inferred. My theory is that as freelancers, we really have no idea what clients respond to, so we put together a portfolio of our “best work” and hope for the best. Frankly, it all starts to look the same after a while, and it’s impossible to see the person behind the work because we assume that he/she is the same. I say show your most “you” stuff, and let people form their own impressions. If they like what you see (and this is hard to predict), they will act if it’s convenient relative to their need.


When I refer someone, I insist on qualifying what I know about that person’s work and character. I don’t refer someone who I don’t trust, and if there are areas that I think are important to the business prospect that I can not speak to from personal experience, I say that. Here are some of the things that I like to see in the people I refer, adapted from my original post:

  • Defines tangible, concrete results.
  • Is candid, real, and honest in establishing expectations right from the get-go.
  • Tells you how much something will cost before the work is done, to the best of their ability. Sets the expectation that this may change under specific conditions without being a jerk about it.
  • Acknowledges the sending and receipt of critical work and related dependencies (e.g. receipt of asset photographs, etc)
  • Strives to understands the nature of your work and the context in which you operate.
  • Is willing to learn how to speak your own language (business, art, etc).
  • Teaches how his/her profession works as necessary or as asked…no secrets! Good clients hire for the person doing the service, not the service itself.
  • Actively collaborates to deliver tangible results at every stage of the project
  • Keeps your best interest as the priority, not maximizing revenue at your expense, at fair compensation.
  • Takes appropriate protective measures in terms of contractual scope that are mutually beneficial, and/or requires mutual commitment through tangible action.
  • Looks out for other’s relevant interests in day-to-day operation.
  • Delivers great product on time.
  • Is a source of good ideas and brainstorming.
  • Enjoys the process of communication through regular dialog.
  • Accepts criticism and disagreement, and works with that to help bring the project back into alignment (any feedback is good :-)

I don’t expect to see every one of these line items in the same individual, and goodness knows that I am not perfect in this regard either. However, these values are what I aspire to professionally.


The original initiative petered out as I got involved in other projects, and I figured that the energy it would take to build the network exceeded my available energy. This is still the case, but I’m now thinking of a relatively lower level of commitment. Ask people for resumes. I just posted this on Twitter:

I need to expand my referral network: If you kick ass at whatever you do and have 3 examples of ass kickery to back you up, contact me!

I’m going to keep everyone’s information on file and start the positive critical review process myself on the information provided. This is useful for me because I’ll start to rebuild my rolodex of people to go-to for work. Secondly, I will make the review process public by posting my positive impressions of the work I get to see. This means I focus on possibility, not expectation. It’s up to the hiring client to make a determination whether a given freelance is reliable enough to do the work; I merely want to see what people are doing so I can connect the right gigs with the right people. This is something I like to do anyway, so it will be fun. This is a sort of variation on word-of-mouth, designed to create short lists of qualified candidates as opposed to filtering through hundreds of people.

So if you’re an ass kicker of any stripe, send me your information or post it in the comment area. I am not sure how this will all play out, but I think it will be informative in some way. Here’s what you should do in the email:

  • Provide your name and public contact information
  • Provide links to your three best examples of your work, as you see it. And that means you pick three links instead of throwing the whole portfolio at my head. It’ll be hard, perhaps, but this is about what YOU think is important, not some abstract demographic. Three means three.
  • Tell me what you think you do. If you don’t know, that’s OK, so long as you picked what you think your three strongest bits of work are.
  • Tell me the story of how you got into what you’re doing. This is very important context for me.

What I will do is spend about 30 minutes on each set of links, and then I’ll spend another 30 minutes doing my informal analysis of how I can imagine your work being used in a given situation. I’ll then post it on the public wiki for my reference, based on when I can get to it and what people are asking me for. It will be visible to the public, but as I said I will be only posting the positive reactions I have. This is not a recommendation I’m making; I’m merely documenting possibilities. As I said, it’s up to the hiring party to do their own due diligence.

The benefit to you is that you’ll get my perspective on your strengths and how I imagine it might fit with other people. People who have gone through this process with me have told me I should charge a lot of money for this service, but in this case you’ll be doing me a favor by helping me expand my Rolodex. I can’t promise that I’ll get to everyone in a timely manner, but I will try my best to help people make connections.


  1. Gary V. Vaughan 14 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    Apologies for being flippant on twitter.  I actually think this is a great idea, and helps take some steps toward my future utopian ideal where folks hire each other directly and cut out all the middle men, and the daily commutes to an office building on the other side of town every rush hour! :)

    My skill set is more than a little eclectic, so I’m choosing 3 links that highlight that fact:

    1. I volunteer Unix shell and C programming time to the Free Software Foundation, and wrote a significant portion of the code for
    2. Before I turned freelance, my boss told me I am too expensive to be a programmer (and then hired students who cost half as much but took 3 times as long… go figure!), and I spent a lot of time in documentation and technical writing.  That culminated with my (FREE!) book trying to document the way libtool, automake and autoconf work together for Unix developers:
    3. I’m an aspiring travel writer, with a bias towards martial arts.  Both of which form the meat of non-technical short articles on my blog. For example

    If you’re able to make head or tail of what I do, I hope you’ll let me know what that is :)


  2. Octavia Cheetham 14 years ago

    Hi David,

    Read about me at my website:

    I am a freelance graphic artist and web designer.  I work in mixed media: pencils, acrylics, watercolors, photoshop… whatever comes to hand.  When it comes to web design, I don’t do the code (beyond basic layout with html and css), but work on the graphical look of a site along with matching business cards, headed note paper etc.  Until my fiancee and I took up as permanent tourists, I was a successful custom painter for drag cars and motorbikes… but you can’t take a compressor and airbrush paints around the world in economy class, so I’m slowly moving into more portable work.  Here are my links:

    1. (currently my most popular design)
    2. (a one off for Earth Day 2008 modeled by my friend Siani from the orkney islands—hence the stones in the background)
    3. (my website, a constant work in progress though I’m pretty happy with how it looks right now)

    As you can see, I’m aiming to bring some femininity to the very masculine wide world of the web, and my passion is for faerie and goddess artwork.  I look forward to reading your impressions of my work.

    Love, Peace and Light,

  3. Sid Ceaser 14 years ago

    I am going to give this a shot.  I’m not doing stuff with my fine art images (like the toy stuff) so I’ll concentrate on my portraits.

    Hup hup, here we go:

    Sid Ceaser
    Ceaser Photography
    99 Factory Street Ext 4th Flr
    Nashua NH 03060

    Three examples:

    I chose three examples of my more commercial portraiture because that is currently what I’m trying to push the most.

    I think I’m able to capture personal moments in my photographs that reflect beauty, or serenity, or visual poetic instances that show grace, or character.  I like to romanticize, to portray things in a more “perfect” situation and I try to make my subjects feel the kind of attention and importance they might not feel in every day life.  I’m sure it sounds “cliche” saying I’m trying to capture moments of character and stuff; every photographer claims that, and I try not to use those kinds of words normally when someone asks me to explain.  But I try.

    My story:  I’ve sort of always existed in my own head growing up and lived in my own world (no siblings, few friends, and those I had like the same kind of fantasy stuff I do) and because of that I became very materialistic and loved amassing lots of toys and games and comics, etc.  I used to make puppet shows when i was small, and cameras have always just made sense with me.  Finally I stopped mucking around in my late 20’s and went back to college, and now I sort of have two facets; my portrait stuff, and then my fine art photographs (like my toy portraits).
    Mainly I just love the human form, and I love how people look, and I love to make them look good, or better than they think they look, or maybe just catch a glance or a look that shows who they are when they forget a camera is in their face.

    Or, sometimes, I like to make them do things simply for my own benefit, like closing their eyes and looking serene.

  4. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    All: Awesome! I’ll start moving this information into the Wiki, and figure out where it goes from there. The public wiki is editable by registered members, so I’m hoping other people will comment too on what they’re seeing. We’ll see what happens!

  5. Esha O. 13 years ago


    This is such a good idea! Are you accepting virtual assistants who are creative minded and understand the creative process?