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When to refer work to other freelancers (and how to do it)

Every new freelancer’s goal is to get as much work as they can.

You actively promote your portfolio, seek out new clients, and say yes to any opportunity that comes your way.

As you grow, so does your business, and there will come a time when you have to start saying no to opportunities that aren’t a good fit. But this isn’t a bad thing. 

In fact, if you have a strong network of freelancers around you, this is the perfect opportunity to refer work to other people and become a job creator for the freelance community.

There’s plenty of work to go around, whether you team up or refer work to one another. 

Here are a few scenarios when it’s best to refer work to other freelancers.

When the inquiry is for a service you don’t offer

It may seem obvious to refer work to another freelancer when a client requests something that’s not in your wheelhouse, but turning away work can be hard to do — especially when you’re just getting started. 

But think of it this way: Let’s say you’re a social media strategist. You’re probably skilled in a number of things like copywriting, content creation, and community management, but are those things you want to spend your time doing? Or would you rather focus solely on the overall strategy?

When a current or potential client inquires about a service that you don’t explicitly offer, you have two choices. If it’s a complementary service to what you offer, like copywriting is to social media strategy, you can team up with someone who offers that service and propose a larger scope of work to the client. Or, if it’s unrelated to what you offer or you just don’t want to expand the scope, then you can refer the client to another freelancer.

When the client is not in your niche

Your freelance business goes through many stages, and as you grow, you’ll naturally (or strategically) focus on a niche. 

Maybe you work with a specific industry like nonprofits or early-stage startups. Or maybe you choose to work with a specific type of client, like LGBTQIA+ founders and creatives as creative director Micah Woods does. 

The great thing about focusing on a niche is that it’s easier to identify projects and clients who are *not* a good fit. And when a client may not be a fit for you, that’s the perfect opportunity to refer them to another freelancer in your network.

When your plate is full

The freelance urge to say yes to all of the work that comes your way is strong. But taking on too many projects can cause you to be overloaded and may even lead to burnout. And how well can you produce your work when you’re burned out?

To maintain a healthy balance of work and stay productive, refer other freelancers when you’re too busy to take on new projects.

How to refer work to other freelancers

If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, follow these steps to refer work to another freelancer.

  • Check in: Touch base with the freelancer you have in mind to ask them if they’re taking on new clients or are available for a project. This step is crucial as it lets you know if you can go ahead and connect them with the client or find someone else to refer to.
  • Make the introduction: Once you’re confident that the freelancer is available and the client could be a good fit, send an introduction email with both parties on the thread. 
  • Follow up: After a month or two, check in with the freelancer to see how things worked out with the client. This step is meant to provide insight into what did or didn’t work so you know what types of clients to refer to this freelancer in the future.

Though it can be tempting to say yes to services you don’t offer when approached with a potential project, it’s better to focus on a few services you enjoy and can execute well rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to do everything. Instead, build your network of freelancers so you always have people to refer work to.


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