Archive for the ‘Testimonials’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should Prospects Be Allowed to Contact Clients Who Have Provided Testimonials?

Dear Danielle: Should Prospects Be Allowed to Contact Clients Who Have Provided Testimonials?

Dear Danielle:

Do you think I should allow a prospective client to contact my “testimonials” to get information about me.  They call them references, but they’re not references, they’re testimonials from folks I’ve known and/or worked with over the years who have spoken highly of me and my work. I told the prospective client that I do not want them to contact my testimonials directly without their permission. I provide testimonials and they can view recommendations on my LinkedIn profile to further my credibility, but that’s it. If I allowed every prospective client to contact my testimonials or recommendations, they would be inundated with calls and emails and I do not want to burden them with that. I told the prospective client that I operate as a professional business provider and that I wasn’t applying for a job or work as an employee, but rather offering my services to them. If they wanted to do business with me, then they should take the testimonials and recommendations for their face value and trust that they are authentic. Otherwise we are not the right fit to work together. I may have lost this opportunity to work with the client….I haven’t heard back from her yet. But I feel strongly about this. Do you think I did the right thing? I don’t want them to think I’m hiding something by telling them I don’t want them to contact people directly. I’m confused…I know. Any advice would be greatly appreciated thanks much!  —Anonymous by request

Thanks for the great question! And as usual, I have lots of feedback for ya. 🙂

I feel the same as you about it:  Much as I know they love me, I don’t want my past or current clients pestered by every Tom, Dick or Harry who comes along. That’s one of the reasons I gathered their testimonials in the first place:  to have that information already prepared for prospective clients and save and be respectful of my clients’ time and energy.

Plus, there are lots of reasons why many service professionals prefer their client lists be confidential, this being one of them.

What I do in my practice is reserve that information only for serious prospects. In my practice, that means only those who I’ve prequalifed as good client candidates, met in consultation already and determined there is enough of a fit to move further in the process.

If I’m asked, I let prospective clients know that I am happy to provide contact information of those clients who have given me permission to give it out and are happy to speak with others about my work once we have met in consultation.

However, I have to say that I’ve never been asked! And I firmly believe it’s because of the way I have presented testimonials on my website.

When your prospective clients and site visitors get all the competence and credibility they’re looking for demonstrated on your website, they don’t feel the need to go to elaborate lengths. You’ve gained their trust enough that they put faith in what you’ve presented because all evidence (your demonstration of skill and competence) tells them to take things at the face value you’re wanting them to.

When it comes to testimonials, the more transparency you provide, the better. What I mean is when you put a real face to an actual name, people put more trust and credibility in the testomonial.

You don’t have to have testimonials from every single client you’ve ever had, nor do you have to put your entire client list, past and present, on display. Even just a couple well-written and nicely presented testimonials will accomplish everything you need them to.

So how I’ve done that is by including with the testimonial:

  • A headshot of the client
  • The client’s full name
  • The URL of their website

With that information you are making it clear this is a real person and real testimonial. When you make it real, people feel far more trusting of the information, which is what you’re trying to accomplish.

And then try to get testimonials that give useful, substantive information. Simple statements like “She is great to work with!” may be well-intentioned and genuine, but they are pretty boring and useless as testimonials. I’ve developed the ACA Client Feedback Form (FRM-04) and the Client Info Sheet (FRM-06) to be used together to both elicit great testimonials and develop before and after case studies. I highly recommend you check them out.

Another thought occurred to me that I’m going to throw out here as well. You mention that this person referred to “references.” The concern I have is they are not understanding the nature of the relationship, which leads me to ask, why not?

Examine the content on your website.

Your website should be pre-educating clients in a way that they correctly understand the nature of the relationship, and that they aren’t interviewing you for a position, they are seeking collaborative support and guidance from an administrative expert.

Big difference in definitions and big difference in how they will approach you in their demeanor and understanding as well. So that’s really important.

If you are talking about yourself like an assistant, they are naturally going to go about things as if you were. They don’t know any better. So it’s your place and in your best interests and priority to educate, inform and instruct them as to how to go about things with you.

On the flip side of that is to look at where clients like this are coming from.

There are lots of channels where clients are being completely miseducated about what we do and what our relationship to them is. Indeed, so many are getting the impression that we are basically under-the-table employees. So, if you are getting prospects from avenues where they are being miseducated, those are not good client pipelines for you.

Improve your message and educational information on your website so that prospects are properly informed before they ever contact you, then focus on developing your own target market pipelines, and you’ll get far fewer (if any) of those kind of inquiries in the future.

Let me know if this is helpful. And as always, we can continue the conversation in the comments.

All my best!

Dear Danielle: What If I’m New and Don’t Have Any Testimonials Yet?

Dear Danielle:

What if you are brand new and only have one testimonial for your site? Should I wait until I have more and add that component later? –EB

Heck no! Get ‘er up on your site today. 🙂

You’ve heard the expression “you gotta use what you’ve got.” Well, if you only have one testimonial so far, work it, girl!

So how do you do that? By making it a feature on your site instead of an afterthought. That means using the client’s full name and link to their site. Bonus points if you can add a headshot (people like to see faces with names). Give it a dedicated page, perhaps, and even list the client’s contact information.

(Caveat: Make sure you ask and that the client gives you permission to do this first. Inbound links are always great for SEO so it doesn’t hurt to point that out as well.)

People are skeptical about anonymous testimonials so you never want to use initials or only first names. Prospective clients put more stock in testimonials they can see are from actual, real people.

You also don’t need millions of testimonials, just a handful of quality ones. So the other thing I recommend you do immediately is institute a feedback process in your business. For example, in my business, I solicit feedback from my monthly retained clients every 3 or 6 months and immediately upon project completion from any project clients I work with.

The very best way to get your feedback process going is with my Client Feedback Form which you can get from the Success Store. My Client Feedback Form is designed especially to help you elicit meaningful testimonials and start building great before/after case studies.

Now, what if you don’t have any testimonials yet? There are a couple things you can do.

  1. Use comments/reviews of past employers.
  2. Use comments/reviews from volunteer work you’ve done.

Again, get permission or ask them if they’d be willing to write something fresh for you.

Anyone who can speak to the quality of your skills and professional qualities and how great it is to work with you can provide you with a testimonial. It doesn’t necessarily need to be clients. It’s just better coming from paying clients so work toward replacing those employer/volunteer testimonials as you get established.

Here’s another great little trick you can do that has lots of credibility and “social proof” (which, again, is ultimately what clients are seeking in testimonials)…

If you are using social media like Twitter and Facebook, you can use those positive comments you get as testimonials. Post them on your website. Compile them in a PDF. You can even use widgets to your advantage such as the Twitter Faves widget (really simple: whenever someone says something nice about you, favorite it and it will show up in the widget, which you can place on your website).

Let me know if that helps you, and if anyone else has tips, please do share in the comments!

A Few Words About Testimonials and Public Client Lists

There are all kinds of good reasons to use testimonials on your business website and marketing, but be sure to pay attention to these caveats first:

  1. Make sure the clients whose testimonials you use are aware that they may get contacted by your prospects. It’s never a good idea to put clients in a position of being caught off guard.
  2. Make sure those clients are happy to talk with your prospects. Only display the contact info of clients who absolutely don’t mind being contacted. If contact from your potential clients is going to irritate or inconvenience them in any way, don’t provide their contact info to the general public.
  3. Assign and use testimonials according to these three levels:

a) Public testimonial with full client names, photo, links and contact info;

b) Public testimonial with just client’s name and/or company (no direct contact info); or

c) Private testimonial and contact info provided only to prospective clients who are in the advanced stages of the consultation/retainer process.

I also thought I’d address client lists in this post and why displaying your full client roster may not always be a good thing.

First, understand that the reason you’ll see colleagues displaying a client list is that it gives the appearance that they have “all” these clients and are super successful.

That’s not a bad thing per se. It also might not be the truth.

It can be misleading because these lists sometimes include people they’ve worked for that are merely one-time/occasional project customers and not actual, long-term retained clients.

You’ll have to decide whether you want to take the chance of being viewed by some clients and prospects as being deceptive if they eventually learn the actual truth.

And here’s another reason. It’s not very pretty, but it’s something to be aware of nonetheless: If you provide a public listing of your clients, there are others in our industry who will try to steal them.

Some will even call your clients posing as prospects and try to glean some competitive intelligence about your company and your work with that client.

It’s icky and goes against industry ethics, but it happens.

My recommendation is not to provide your full client roster to the public. Instead, use a sprinkling of testimonials from those clients (just a small handful, or even just one or two is plenty) who you know to be absolutely loyal to you.

Happy clients are going to stay with you, but that doesn’t mean you have to lay a direct path for any would-be interlopers to bother them.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve also heard from clients who’ve commented that they’ve found their names on client lists even though they weren’t happy with that Administrative Consultant’s skills or service.

You’d think it would go without saying, but since it’s not, I’ll spell it out: It’s not to your benefit to list people who haven’t had a satisfactory experience working with you. If that’s the case, they aren’t going to appreciate being contacted off-guard by your potential clients, and they aren’t likely to give you a glowing recommendation.

When all is said and done, hype and smoke and mirrors really isn’t a good policy. There has to be substance to back up the image you project.

Grow your business authentically and truthfully, and it will reward you in dividends a hundredfold.

Dear Danielle: What About References?

Dear Danielle:

What do you think of prospective clients asking Administrative Consultants for references? –DE

I think when clients ask for references, they:

a) aren’t understanding the nature of the relationship, and/or

b) aren’t feeling the trust/competence/credibility that good demonstration of those things would give them.

Yes, we get irritated with some clients. Some clients are just looking for a free ride or intentionally trying to get what amounts to an under-the-table employee. I have no love for those types.

But other clients (I think probably the majority) are only misinformed because the industry at large is the one misinforming them and setting the wrong expectations.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the VA industry is still stuck in employee-mindset.

People, you have got to stop with all the references and comparisons to employees. All that is accomplishing is making clients think that you are some new kind of employee. Your job isn’t to replace employees. Some businesses and some workloads simply require an employee.

We, on the other hand, are business owners. As such, we should be representing a higher, more professional level of skill sets for clients who want greater expertise and who have administrative workloads that don’t require an employee.

You have to show and tell clients how to properly seek out a professional (not an employee). They don’t necessarily know how to do that. When the industry at large stops marketing like an employee and comparing itself to employees, those requests for references will go down considerably.

But here’s the other part of the issue… when clients ask for references, a lot of times it’s because they just aren’t getting what they need to trust that they’re hiring a pro, an administrative expert.

Where they get that is through your presentation of yourself and your business.

That means, you have to demonstrate skill, competence, legitimacy, credibility and qualification in all that you do… in the visual design and display of your website, in your marketing message, in your speaking and writing, everything.

Because when you do that, you are instilling in them the sense of those things. They don’t feel the need then to look or ask for additional “proof.”

So if you are getting lots of requests for references, it’s a signal that your presentation, your image, your message, etc., may not be up to snuff.

That’s a good time to go through all your content and marketing message and see where you might be losing them. You might even want to get the help of a pro to give you feedback on where you might be falling short and help beef things up.

As far as marketing goes, it’s always a great idea to have testimonials from current or former clients. Provide full names, pictures, urls and contact info if the client agrees to that.

Be sure and intentionally use and reinforce the term “testimonials” by the way. Very important. You want to steer clients away from confusing you in any way with an employee.

So if a client asks for references, you could say, “Oh, you mean testimonials? Of course!” and you can then steer them in the direction of the testimonials on your website.

The other thing you can do is have a more elaborate or in-depth sheet that you can provide to clients who are further along in your consultation process.

If they still want to talk to someone in person, all you need is one or two clients who are agreeable to giving out their contact info and then save that info only for the most serious of prospects.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is inconvenience any of your past or current clients with constant phone calls and emails from other would-be clients so dole that info out judiciously.

At the same time, I will tell you that if you are meeting all the other tests of credibility and demonstration of skill and competence in everything else you do, requests for further references and “proof” are going to be little to none.

In over 12 years of business, I cannot remember a time that I have ever been asked for references.

A Great Lesson in Adding Value

You may remember my blog post from April 9 on Taking the Marketing & Referral Bull by the Horns.

In that post, I shared a great example of a service provider “asking for the business,” and how you could likewise follow-up and ask for referrals in your own administrative support business.

My client and I had such a great experience working with this service provider. He presented a very professional image. He was polished and business-like,  conducting all his interactions with us very professionally. And once the job was fully completed, he asked us for our feedback and referrals, which we were very happy to give.

Being in Washington, we don’t have much need for process service in Minnesota. We’ll definitely pass this fellow’s name around to those who might be able to use his services, but truth be told, those opportunities to do so will in all likelihood be very limited.

I’m sure he realizes this as well. And yet today, he offered another great example that Administrative Consultants can take a cue from.

I received an email from Brian, this service provider. He hoped we were doing well over here on the west coast and let me know that through his networking, he came across a process server in Tacoma that he wanted to recommend to us. He made it clear that he hadn’t actually worked with him, but his communication with this fellow was impressive enough that he wanted to send his contact info our way.

Why does this simple, unassuming email have such an impact?

Because in an industry that is rife with unprofessionalism, unbusinesslike operations and fly-by-nights, it offers a stellar example of how to nurture relationships, deliver fantastic customer service and provide added, personable value.

Brian is no dummy. He realizes that as out-of-state customers it not likely we’ll work together again any time soon. But he clearly understands networking and building relationships.

He knows that in a highly commoditized industry like process service, it’s the relationships he nurtures and the value he provides that get the word out about his company and have it standing heads and tails above the rest.

Administrative Consultants will do well to heed this example. ;)

Taking the Marketing and Referral Bull by the Horns

In my own practice, I had a wonderful experience recently working with an out-of-state vendor.

One of my clients needed to serve a lawsuit we’re handling in another state and I needed to find a process server for the job.

The service wasn’t entirely straightforward, but the process server handled everything in stride and followed up very diligently and with great attention to detail.

Once completed, he sent his invoice which we promptly paid.

Afterward, we got a very nice message from him thanking us for the business and speedy payment. He went on to ask us this:

“I was wondering if you would please spread my contact information around to others in the profession who might need service done in Minnesota. Also, if you have a chance, would you be so kind as to write a review/referral that I could post on my website and/or my marketing materials.”

I was more than happy to oblige him and sent him a fabulous testimonial.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because it’s such a fantastic example of taking the bull by the horns and asking for what you want or need in business.

The way he worded his request was perfect in its simplicity, sincerity and directness.

Administrative Consultants can and should be doing the same thing in their businesses.

Here are some pointers to help you do that:

  1. First, make sure your loves the work and service. No one is going to recommend you to others if this isn’t the case (and asking for their referral in this event will be even more off-putting) so be sure to elicit feedback and make sure they are happy and satisfied before asking anything of them.
  2. Don’t ask for referrals/testimonials/recommendations prematurely. Again, this can be very offputting. If the work is project-based, don’t ask in the middle of things. Wait until it is fully completed and your client is happy before asking. If the client is one you work with continuously (such as on a retained basis), make it part of your process to elicit feedback and testimonials at least every six months.
  3. Ask for what you want, just like this business owner did. On a regular basis and at the end of every project, ask clients for their recommendations and to spread the word about your service. You act proactively on behalf of clients; do the same for yourself!
  4. Make it as easy for clients to refer you. This fellow’s request made it very clear who we should refer (“anyone needing process service in  Minnesota.”). The more you have your target market specifically defined, the easier and more frequently folks will refer to you and spread the word.

Now go get those referrals and recommendations!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Get References?

Dear Danielle:

I know word-of-mouth is the best marketing, but how do I go about getting references? – GF

What you first want to do is begin to speak the language of business ownership.

Business owners don’t get “references.” They have “testimonials.”

Remember, you’re a business owner now, not an employee, and the terminology you use when referring to yourself and your business is going to have a direct affect on the perceptions and expectations you create in clients and how they treat you and the relationship.

There are lots of ways you can collect testimonials.

In my practice, I regularly ask for feedback and testimonials from clients.

With my retainer clients, I ask them for their feedback on how things are going every six months using my feedback form.

With project work, I ask the client for feedback upon full completion of the work and after I am sure they are happy with everything.

Of course, if you are new in business and don’t have any testimonials yet, there are a couple ways you can go about this until you get some official clients:

  1. Use the positive feedback and comments from past employers. They are commenting on your skills and characteristics after all and those just as relevant now that you are in business. You don’t have to list them as employers, though. It’s okay to simply put their name and last initial.
  2. Positive feedback and comments from those you’ve done volunteer work for. Same thing as above. Doesn’t matter that you weren’t paid. If they are commenting on skills and characteristics and aptitudes that now apply to your business, they are relevant. Feel free to use them.
  3. If you haven’t done any volunteer work yet, find something where you can utilize your administrative skills and gain some praise and recommendations to put on your business website.
  4. Positive feedback and comment from colleagues you’ve worked with. Many people in our industry dip their toes in the water by working for a colleague or two. Subcontracting is also very common even when you get your own clients. Again, this is a very valid source of testimonial. Get involved in our industry group forums and be an active participant. That’s how others get to know and trust you and see your skill and competence demonstrated. Those are the people we choose to help us when we need it, not strangers who lurk in the shadows and beg for work.

Anyone who has knowledge of your skill and experience “working” with you, can be a potential testimonial source.

With any testimonial though, if you want to use full names and other identifying information, be sure to get permission from that person first. You might even take the opportunity to let them know that you are in business now and ask if they’d like to write a more business-appropriate testimonial for you.

Dear Danielle: Should I Use Testimonials from Volunteer Work?

Dear Danielle:

I’ve been volunteering for some time now at a local hospital doing office work. Should I ask them for a testimonial even though they are not exactly a client, and I am not an official employee? –MM

By all means–get it and use it!

The best testimonials you can have are from those who know you and your work quite well.

Anyone who has experienced and has knowledge of your work and skill and what it’s like to work with you is a “client” and their testimonials are just as valid.

Feedback from a Client Perspective

Recently, I worked with a newer colleague from our community on a special project. She did the work okay, but there were some aspects of her service and manner that were a little offputting from a client perspective.

I gave her some honest, constructive feedback that I think will help her improve, and felt this was information that others could benefit from as well. Read on…

  • When consulting with new clients, be sure to let them finish their sentences. Allow them to finish their complete thoughts before interrupting with your own questions or input. You want to do more listening than speaking in the first part of the consultation when you are doing your information gathering. It’s very offputting and annoying to not be able to finish a sentence.
  • It’s okay to ask lots of clarifying questions. If you don’t feel you understand completely what the client is asking, be sure to ask. Paraphrasing back to the client is a great way to make sure you are on the same page with regard to instructions and preferences.
  • It’s also okay to ask questions as they arise. Sometimes you don’t realize you have a question until it comes up in the process of working on a project, so by all means ask for clarification or further instructions along the way. That will go a long way in helping meet client expectations and satisfaction.
  • If you get stuck on something or find out that you can’t do something after all, don’t waste a client’s time by proceeding without permission. It’s okay if you don’t know something, or need to do further research. But do check in with the client. Let them know there’s something you are stuck on, or don’t know how to do or whatever the case may be. Find out what is important to them and ask them to advise you as to how they’d like you to proceed.
  • Make sure you are under-promising and over-delivering rather than over-promising and falling short. This includes timeframes. If you say you can get something done by a certain date, and then continuously ask for more time, that is very off-putting to clients regardless of whether they can extend the deadline or not. What that tells them is that you haven’t given yourself enough space to get the work done and more importantly, that they can’t really depend on your word. They won’t be confident in the future of any delivery dates you give them based on an experience like that. Expectations are far easier to manage if you set them properly at the beginning. If you fail to deliver according to whatever you’ve stated, that will reflect poorly on you and clients won’t be as happy or satisfied. It’s a trust killer.
  • By all means, collect client testimonials whenever you can. You should be asking project clients and retained clients for both feedback and testimonials (if they are happy) after the successful completion of projects and at least every six months for retainer clients. I underscore the word “after” because there is some etiquette involved when asking for testimonials also. You want to ask for testimonials, but you don’t want to ask prematurely. It’s very inappropriate to ask in the middle of a project. Don’t ask the second you complete a project either, as that comes across as being a little too pushy and indelicate, as if you’re more interested in getting the testimonial and forcing the request than making sure the customer is happy. You want to give the client time to make sure they are satisfied with the work first and that everything works properly. My rule of thumb is one week after successful completion of the project and client sign-off. And make sure you don’t ask for a testimonial until you’ve first asked whether the client is even happy or not.