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.

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