5 tips on asking someone to be a reference for you

Image: Brian Wolf

As a freelancer, I occasionally need people to act as a reference for me. This is not a request I make lightly. Here’s how I maximize the chances of success.

1 Provide three solid references

If you want to work with me, I will provide three solid references. Each will get back to you quickly; each will say nice things. Trust me, you don’t need more than three.

2 Customize references to the job and the prospect

I want you to feel that the references you contact are just like you. If you are hiring me to edit a book, I’ll share names of people I’ve helped write a book that’s like yours. If you want me to run a workshop, I’ll connect you with people for whom I ran similar workshops — big company people if you’re part of a big company, or small shops if you’re a startup or small agency. When I can, I even match demographic characteristics — matching women authors with other women authors, or minority agencies with similar minority agencies.

3 Only share references who had a great experience

Fortunately, nearly all of my clients are happy with me. But the ones I share are the ones who thought I was terrific, and who had what appeared to be an excellent experience with me. That way, I know they’ll say I’m a good choice to work with.

4 Contact each potential reference ahead of time

Before I share a name, I’ll check with that person — even if I’ve used them as a reference before. First off, that lets me verify that they’re indeed willing to talk (they always are, unless there is some corporate policy prohibiting it). And I also verify email addresses and phone numbers, because sometimes people have changed jobs or contact details. They’re a lot more likely to be a positive reference if they know to expect a call or email.

5 Don’t wear people out

Because of the way I customize references, I don’t just send requests to the same people over and over.
This helps prevent the people who are helping me out from getting annoyed at repeated requests.

I know I’m lucky

It take a while to build up enough business to use references in this way. I’m grateful for the people who became my clients, and the ones who are willing to talk about me. And I always say so — I’m effusive in my thanks.

Don’t take references for granted. They deserve better — since they were not just clients, but willing to share their experiences just to help me out.

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One Comment

  1. This is more about how to respond to a request for a reference than how to ask someone to give a reference.