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.