How to Get References as a Freelancer

Successful freelancers know how to present themselves professionally online. Usually, this means having a nicely designed website, complete with portfolio examples and resume. More and more companies offering higher-paying freelance jobs require references, too, as part of their application.

Those who spend most of their time freelancing for large companies without one specific point of contact might be daunted by the prospect of getting references. However, the process can be fairly straightforward if freelancers, no matter their background, know the correct approaches to take.

How Many?

In general, it’s good to have three professional references available for potential employers to contact. Two personal references (such as neighbors or friends) are usually optional, though can be a great addition in terms of vouching for the freelancer’s character. It’s important to keep references current – within the last 5 years or less would be preferable.

What Matters?

There’s reliability, and ability, both of which are highly valued by employers – whether it’s in the freelancing world or not, and whether the experience is directly applicable to the job opportunity. For example, a freelance writer might be applying to a prestigious online content managing job, yet has only ever worked as a print journalist.

Ideally, professional references should convincingly state how that freelancer never missed work except for very good reasons, and went above and beyond in whatever they set out to accomplish. The chances are good that the hiring manager will notice and, at the very least, put that applicant on the shortlist.

Written, or Verbal?

Written references are sometimes easier to come by (and preferable), because they give people more time to compose their thoughts. Sure, a previous employer or coworker might readily agree to be a phone reference.

However, what if they’re called in the middle of a busy work day, or have a faulty memory? Freelancers should choose references who can speak confidently, and are ready at a moment’s notice to answer specific questions.

Email as a Tool

Perhaps the most direct way of asking for a reference these days is to send a polite, professionally worded email. Freelancers should take some time to make a list of anyone they worked with well for at least a couple of months, and then email a selection of them.

If there’s no response from some (within a week), then select another few names and email them – always individually, never as a BCC’d list. It can be a little time-consuming to gather references this way, but it can also result in a strong list of people to call or written references to share along the path to a successful freelancing career.

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