For the last couple of years, I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to refer work on to other freelancers. Sometimes, it’s because I’m fully booked, sometimes it’s an area of freelancing I have little or no skills or experience in (for example, I’ve referred my copywriting clients to freelance graphic designers or web designers I know). I tend to refer freelancers for free. In honesty, it hadn’t occurred to me that you could charge for such a thing. But late last year, I started to hear about referral networks. These are networkers of freelancers who refer work to each other, and take a small commission from the freelancer in question if the referral is successful (usually a fixed fee or 10% of their first invoice once they’re paid). Although there are more formal groups that do this (often groups that you have to pay to join), this tends to be more of a relaxed, friendly arrangement.
That’s what I thought. ‘Why would you charge?’. But on discussing further with a couple of freelance friends, I could see the advantages. Referring someone takes time, and as we all know as freelancers – time is money. It takes the time to reach out to check availability and the time to write an email connecting them. I often check in with the freelancer to see how things are going too, and chat about any problems they might be having. Additionally, there’s a certain amount of reputation on the line there, that referral represents you, so a referral fee could ensure they do a good job (although, arguably, you wouldn’t refer them if you had doubts about the quality of their work). In theory, it’s a win for you, the client and the freelancer you’ve referred.
What does the referred freelancer get out of it?
Work with that client, hopefully. Sure, they may have to pay a small fee, but isn’t that worth it for the overall work, especially if it’s ongoing or leads to more? It’s not an ideal solution though. The client may becomes difficult, leading to some resentment on the freelancer’s part. From the referrer’s point of view, there needs to be a degree of trust that the referred freelancer will pay up or be honest.
One other thing to mention – referring work to other freelancers doesn’t always guarantee you’ll get it back. For example, I have in the past referred work to less experienced freelancers who may charge slightly less, fitting in with the client’s budget and needs (as long as the budget is acceptable – I never refer if the work or budget is ridiculous). But I know that work is unlikely to be referred back from them (as those freelancers quite rightly can do the work themselves).
Of course, this isn’t an entirely new approach. Affiliate schemes have allowed people to send a customer over, in exchange for an affiliate fee. In fact, I already offer affiliate links to a few courses my friends run or products they sell. Most freelancers have freelance friends in lots of pockets of the internet, so they’re able to offer clients a network of freelancers and recommendation they wouldn’t ordinarily have had access to. So a referral network can be hugely valuable to you.