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Marketing / Attracting new business

How to prevent business referrals from going wrong

It’s a lovely feeling knowing others think enough of us to make business referrals. But no matter how good their intentions, it’s not always a great fit.

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Business referrals gone wrong can lead to sleepless nights, broken relationships – and a beating to your hard earned reputation. Once the damage is done, there are steps you can take to rectify the situation, but even better, what rules can you implement to prevent this dire situation from occurring in the first place?

Don’t feel pressured to accept a referral

Accepting business referrals based on gratitude, politics or desperation generally ends in disaster. Just ask me – I’ve accepted referrals on all three counts.

Use this opportunity to your advantage. As you’re thanking the referrer for their kindness, tactfully mention exactly what type of client you’re looking for. This way, your referrer won’t feel unappreciated when you don’t accept the business they sent your way, and will likely refer to you again, hopefully, next time with a perfect match.

"Accepting referrals based on gratitude, politics or desperation generally ends in disaster."

Don’t feel pressured to refer in return

Whether they’re in start-up mode, looking for growth or simply not doing well, I’m always coming across business owners looking for more clients.

Although I’m continually on the lookout to make a referral, I don’t bow to pressure (anymore) if I don’t think the match is made in heaven. Stick to your guns.

Only refer after careful consideration – and with permission

Until this rule saved me from looking unprofessional, I didn’t think it was important. Luckily, a quick phone call seeking permission to pass on a colleague’s contact details alerted me to the fact that she wasn’t accepting new clients.

Though it may not sound like a big deal, it’s sloppy work (and a waste of everyone’s time) referring to someone who can’t accept the job.

Want more articles like this? Check out the attracting new business section.

Be clear on why you’re referring

When you introduce the two parties, give them a detailed explanation of why you’re referring them to each other. Both parties will know what to expect, and they’ll have a starting point for their conversation.

Just make sure that you’re up to speed on what the other parties are looking for!

Friends and business referrals don’t mix

In almost all instances I turn a referral from a friend down – even if it’s a perfect fit. I’ve lost a valuable friendship over a client relationship turned sour. It didn’t really matter who was wrong or right, the friendship was still lost.

Think carefully about whether it’s worth the risk.

Educate others on the exact type of referral you’d like

This is as simple as making sure all your marketing material (including your elevator pitch) matches your brand and what you’re after perfectly. Amongst other places, you can target the messages on your website’s About page, social media biographies, all print collateral, and even your email and forum signatures.

Think carefully before recommending online

I feel like a cynical old woman listing this point, but the truth is, the web can be a cruel world. If you recommend someone online, your name will always be associated with the other party. Make sure it’s an association you’re happy to have in public. Forever.

Have you been bitten by business referrals gone wrong? How do you plan to stop it from happening again?

Amanda Gonzalez

designs and copywrites simple, effective websites for small businesses - without the fluff or jargon.

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