The Power of Peer Referrals


Freelancers are always encouraged to ask clients to refer them to others as a means of free advertising, but I don’t read much about cultivating peer referrals. In my experience as a freelance writer, this is a rich source of work leads, especially when you make friends with industry peers that are well-established and have to knock back work on a regular basis. If you play your cards right, any work they don’t have time to do can be offered to you instead.

It’s thanks to peer referrals that I went from having absolutely no work lined up when I left my full-time job as a magazine editor to having a full plate of regular work with relatively little effort on my part. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to consciously go out looking for work.

Some of this I can attribute to lucky breaks – I was in the right place at the right time. But looking back I see patterns in how I go to this position, and all of it leads back to industry peers recommending me to editors and publications that they already had a strong relationship with. As the editor knew the person referring me (and most likely offered them the assignment in the first place), I was able to start writing for publications that I wouldn’t have been able to crack into if I had introduced myself to them off my own steam.

So how do you go about getting peers to refer you? Three things:

  1. they need to know who you are
  2. they need to know what your specialty is
  3. they need to know that you’re good at what you do

Introducing yourself to peers can be done a number of ways.

  • Join the relevant industry mailing lists and forums and contribute to discussions so peers know what your expertise are.
  • Make it a habit of attending industry events so they get used to your face and remember you for the next time a work opportunity comes up.
  • Become an active commenter on their blogs.

In any creative industry, there are hundreds of hungry freelancers that are all keen for work. In my experience, peers are more likely to refer you if you can establish yourself as an expert in a particular niche. There’s always going to be someone better-qualified and with more experience than you in general, but if you promote yourself as the go-to person for a particular type of work (in my case it was gadget reviews), you’ll have a better chance of getting that referral.

Peers aren’t going to risk tarnishing their reputation by recommending someone whose work they’re not familiar with. Published work overcomes this hurdle easily, but there’s no shame in reminding peers what you’ve been working on the next time you see them at an industry function. I’ve found it’s a good icebreaker to first ask what projects they’ve been working on for the past few weeks, and then reciprocating with what you’ve been doing. They don’t even need to see your work first-hand, but knowing that you’ve been published in print or online boosts your credibility and it’s something they’ll remember the next time they’re in a position to refer someone.

Have you had any big assignments come about from a peer referring you to a client?


Jim Wolff

TRUST is IMHO the most important issue for a web worker looking to find sustainable work online. As an occasional buyer of online services, I’m often drawn to peer referrals, but even better is when someone i know and trust recommends someone.

this site is also a useful tool for building online reputation.

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