Just for the record, I have never tried this, exactly.

But ever since I heard it from a veteran freelancer ages ago, it has stuck in my head.

When talking to a potential client, they always have plenty of questions for us.

“Have you ever done any work with [biomedical, e-commerce, user interface, mens fashion . . . ]?”

“Can you sent me relevant samples?”

“What sort of companies have you worked with?”

“How long have you been designing?

The bigger, the longer, the more critical the project, the more they want to know.

(My designer friend David told me — laughing — that one particularly nosy client wanted to run a credit report on him. He offered them a urine test instead. But not quite in those words. But I digress)

Sometimes, if a client is a nervous Nellie, she will ask, “Can you send me references from other clients that I might talk to?”

The gutsy answer is this:

“I’d be happy to. It would also be helpful if I could talk to some of the freelancers you have recently worked with. Would that be okay?”

Would the client consider that adversarial, and immediately brand you as a prima donna pain in the ass?

Or would they see that as pro move, that you know what you’re doing, and automatically see you as a peer, a co-equal in this relationship?

Would they actually give you names?

Would those other freelancers let you know if this client actually paid their bills on time, or if they nitpicked the fees or if they take forever to review things, or change their minds too often, or otherwise treat freelancers like oxen?

Or if they are a joy to work with, spurring you on to greater heights?

(Precisely the things I prefer to know, going in.)

I have no idea how this would work. Which is why this arrow has remained unused in my quiver.

It has been useful though. Knowing I could ask this reminds me that I’m interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing me.


Stuff you can use, right away: Smarter Freelancing.