Earning word-of-mouth referrals

Maybe it’s because I was getting ready for my webinar, From Zero to Clients: Starting (or Re-starting) Your Word-of-Mouth Referral Machine, but I reached out to my network several times last week, asking for referrals for various jobs I needed done. What I experienced showed me just how critical these referrals are for solopreneurs and how important it is to excel if you have been referred to someone.

I needed to find a copy writer to help me promote my online courses. I asked a colleague who was active in the local chapter of the Business Marketing Association, who asked the chapter’s executive director. The person they both thought of came with glowing recommendations. He is great at calls to action, great at copy writing, always delivers when promised. Another colleague gave me the name of a consultant who had done work for her start-up and by all accounts had been great to work with. I had a brief conversation with each person and was struck by the difference in the two conversations. The one recommended by his peers in BMA was direct and to the point. He followed up with samples of his work and a proposal that focused on specifically the job I needed done. I spent half an hour with the other consultant, talking about my business and where it was going. I emphasized that I really just had a straightforward assignment for a landing page; she sent me an in-depth proposal to address all my marketing communication needs for the next six months. While it was a great proposal, it didn’t address my needs, and I went with the one recognized by his peers as being right for the job.
Lesson learned? Referrals from peers and colleagues are sometimes better than referrals from clients (whose needs may differ from mine). As a solopreneur, I want to make sure all my colleagues know who I am and see me as someone worth referring others to.

I had two less-satisfying experiences with other referrals. I was looking for a WordPress consultant to migrate this very blog over to my server. It’s a small job, but one for which I don’t want to invest the time for my learning curve. A colleague gave me the name of her tech consultant with a glowing referral. Not once but twice, we agreed on a time for a Skype call and he didn’t show up, didn’t explain, didn’t apologize. My colleague was embarrassed and I was disappointed.

I had a similar experience with finding someone to clean out the crawl space under my house, where a critter had set up residence. I asked a friend who owns an environmental consulting firm for a recommendation, and she pointed me to one of her regular contractors. As with the tech consultant, my critter consultant arranged twice to meet me at my home, and twice failed to show up. My friend was so annoyed that she decided not to stop doing business with the consultant; his lack of attention to a prospect meant that he lost a long-time client. My friend called another consultant and made him promise to come over to my house and take care of the problem before giving me his contact information. (He worked out great, but his specialty is meth house clean-ups, so I hope to never have to use him again! But if you have a meth lab problem in Colorado, I’ve got your man.)
Lesson learned? When people refer you to others, their reputation is on the line. If you let them down, they remember not to use or refer you again. As a solopreneur, I know I have to be extra-responsive if someone has been referred to me.

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