How do you recommend I handle a situation where I have received a referral from a current client, but the referral is not the type of client that I want or feel that they would be a good fit for me? Saying no to them puts me at risk of no longer receiving referrals from my current client which I wouldn’t want to do. If I feel a referral is not a good match, do I turn them away, knowing it may affect getting future referrals from my current client, or do I take them on and just deal? —Kim Billet, Diverse Office Solutions LTD
Excellent question, Kim. And I totally feel ya!
The first thing I want to assure you of is NO! You never need to settle or take on any client who is not a fit. This is YOUR business and YOUR life. You are not obligated to take on any client just because someone, client or not, refers them to you.
And I’m positive your client would never assume or expect that. It’s just a friendly referral made out of what is obviously a great relationship and happiness with your service.
I’m going to go one step further and have you look at this from another angle as well. Consider the idea that it’s actually your moral and ethical duty to ONLY work with those people who are a fit in terms of both the work and the personal chemistry.
Why? Because you can’t truly help and give your 100% best to those you just don’t gibe with. And that’s not fair to them or you or even your other clients (because your unhappy/nonideal relationships with poor-fitting clients affects them in all kinds of ways as well, both directly and indirectly).
What’s needed moving forward is more clarity and education of your friends, associates and clients about the kind of potential clients you want them to refer to you. And how do you do that?
- Have a target market. This is yet another instance where having a very specific target market helps you in business. People need a mental coathook to remember things with. The more specific you are about who you want referred to you (e.g., “I work with solo attorneys who work in intellectual property and entertainment law who need administrative support.”), the easier you make it for people to send you referrals and the more referrals you’ll get.
- Be clear about what you are and what you do. Same idea here. If it isn’t clear to those making referrals what you are (“I’m an Administrative Consultant”) and what you do (“I provide administrative support to solo/boutique attorneys who work in intellectual property and entertainment law”), they a) won’t make any referrals at all, or b) they’ll refer any ol’ body for any ol’ thing because they only have the vaguest understanding. You want to avoid generality.
- Funnel EVERYTHING through your website. All your marketing and networking, all your signature lines, all your print collateral… direct everything to your website.
- Clarify your message and educational content on your site to make #1 and #2 absolutely, positively clear. Your website can then do the front-end/initial work of screening and prequalifying prospects for you.
- Incorporate a consultation call to action step on your site that asks some screening/prequalifying questions such as in an online form they have to submit in order to schedule a consultation. For example, you could have a box for them to enter in the profession/industry/field they are in. Or you could ask them a question that reiterates what you do and asks them to confirm that this is what they are seeking. For example, “I provide ongoing administrative support to solo attorneys on a monthly retained basis. Is this what you are seeking?” Those kind of clarifying questions help them get clear about what you do, who you do it for and whether that’s what they are interested in learning more about before you ever waste time in a consultation.
- Add a referral page on your website that explains and reiterates/summarizes what you do, who you do it for, who you are looking to be referred and who is your ideal client as well as who benefits most from working with you. This page is then available to your site visitors, and you can direct clients and others to this page as well when they ask about sending you referrals.
- Educate your clients, associates and others how to refer people to you. Let them know you welcome and appreciate referrals and here’s the best way they can help you with that… You then inform them that you (obviously) need to make sure there is a fit before any referral becomes a client and so the best thing they can do when making referrals is simply give folks (who fit your referral criteria) your website address. (And then make your website work as that intial screening/educating/prequalifying “receptionist” for you.)
- You could also create an online (PDF) and/or print referral kit. This doesn’t need to be anything super fancy. The last thing anyone else wants is more paper and “stuff” to manage and keep track of in their life. So keep it simple. Your referral “kit” could consist of a single one-sheet that summaries what you do, who you do it for, the kind of clients you’d like referred to you, who your ideal client is and the kind of client who benefits most from working with you. Add a link to your PDF referral kit to the Referral page on your site. And make your PDF print-ready for those occasions when you do need something to hand out to folks in person.
- Have a clear call to action. In your introduction letters, on your website Referral page, in your PDF referral kit one-sheet, in your conversations with folks who ask about referring others to you, tell them EXACTLY what to do: “If you know someone in the X field who might benefit from my administrative support service, please give them my website address so they can learn more.” (And then your website should take over the next step in the education process and include that next call-to-action: “Go here to schedule a consultation.”
These steps will help ensure that future referrals are more of a qualified fit for you and your business (and you’ll get more of them because you’ve made it easier and more understandable for people who and how to refer to you).
The other recommendation I have is for you to get my client consultations-that-convert guide, Breaking the Ice (GDE-03). I’ve included an entire section in this guide dedicated to foll0w-up and tells you, step-by-step, exactly how to handle and what to do with prospects who are not a fit in a very gracious, friendly and helpful way. They won’t feel insulted at all. In fact, they will most likely go on to refer others to you!
Hope this helps!