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.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the answer, Danielle!

    I haven’t been asked for a reference, but I saw a posting for an Internet Marketing Assistant that specified two business references were needed. This surprised me because the business owner is an AssistU grad, and the request didn’t seem to be in keeping with what I’d been taught at AssistU oh so many years ago. LOL

    So, along the same lines, what do you do if you have no client testimonials and no clients?

    =>Donna Caissie, Virtual Assistant
    ExtraOrdinary Assistance

  2. Yeah, it’s always frustrating when it’s your very own colleagues who are perpetrating this stuff. In those cases, you may have to just choose not to engage with those types (because why waste your time and energy on the ones who don’t get it and may not ever get it).

    That said, they are clients, too, and are going to be susceptible to the same sense or lack of sense that you provide them with when it comes to credibility. Instill that sense in them in all those other ways and they are going to be less likely to need that additional “proof.”

    Now if a Virtual Assistant doesn’t have testimonials yet, it’s not the end of the world. Until they get some experience working with clients behind their belt, they can use comments from past employers or anyone who they’ve helped or volunteered for. Anyone who has direct knowledge of their work and skills in any way and who has positive feedback can be a great testimonial. At the same time, until the VA gets those actual client testimonials, it makes all those other tests of credibility even more important to focus on and emphasize.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like your photo to appear next to your post, be sure to get your gravatar here.

Please copy the string ZCk8za to the field below: