Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

Never Automate Your Relationships

Never Automate Your Relationships

Yes, have systems in your business.

When we talk about “systems,” those are the tools you use in your business to streamline and standardize certain functions.

Your policies and processes are a form of systems.

Documentation such as your SOP is an example of a system. With an SOP, you have a system for educating someone new about how everything works in your business.

Even your branding is a system because by utilizing a consistent identity and experience, you and your company become known for them.

And by all means, automate your mailing list and certain marketing and other administrative functions.

But people are not systems.

NEVER automate or abdicate your relationship with your clients and prospects.

Those relationships ARE your business.

Are You Being Phoney-Baloney?

Are You Being Phoney-Baloney?

It’s not necessary to be a phoney-baloney in your marketing to get clients.

If you’re a solo, don’t pretend you’re a bigger company.

When it comes down to it, that’s just plain dishonest, a lie.

Is that really how you want to start your valued new client relationships?

And what kind of clients will you end up with based on false pretenses?

What happens to trust once they find out they’ve been snookered, manipulated?

Trust, credibility and rapport are established through honesty and by demonstrating your competence, professionalism and capabilities through your writing, the presentation of your website and other marketing collateral, and the polish and effectiveness of your policies, processes and protocols.

I get that people want to help clients see how skilled, competent and credible they are, and that some think the only way to do that is to portray themselves as bigger as if they have more people involved in their business than there actually are.

But dishonesty is never the answer.

Engaging in false presenses belies your own low professional self-esteem and the belief that you are not enough, that the way you operate your business as a solo is not enough.

It’s also presuming that prospective clients have any problem with it.

Imagine the better fitting clients you would get, client it would be more joyful to work with, simply by sharing honestly the size of your business and how you operate, and being the real you.

I have two categories on my blog here with posts that will help you learn how to instill trust and demonstrate your competence without being dishonest or unethical:

Trust & Credibility
Demonstrating Your Expertise

Check ’em out!

Another Word to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary: Delegate

Another word to delete from your biz vocabulary: Delegate.

Delegate (like the word “assistant”) is a term of employment that denotes an employer-employee relationship. It keeps clients thinking they are some kind of employer to you which in turn causes a whole host of problems in the relationship and your ability to command proper professional fees.

You aren’t some subordinate peon clients dump their junk work on. And clients should never be abdicating responsibility for their own business.

Employers delegate. But in a business relationship, it’s not any client’s role to “delegate” to you.

With clients, you consult with them, determine what their needs, goals and challenges are, determine your recommendations and present your suggested plan of support. Client’s should never be delegating to you at their whim.

The words you use shape how clients treat the relationship. Do you want to be their flunky or their trusted advisor? Because there’s a big difference in how they treat those two roles and the relationship.

So if you want to be treated as their administrative expert, their trusted advisor and business peer, don’t use the word “delegate.” Use words and terms like “share,” “release,” “free” and “let go of” instead.

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, un-ideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers.

One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who help your business grow and thrive:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so instantly available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does that business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9 am and 5 pm is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours, and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will make everything in your business easier. It will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or un-ideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of un-ideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Un-ideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

Dear Danielle: Is It Hurting My Marketing If I’m Not on Any Social Networks?

Dear Danielle: Is It Hurting My Marketing If I'm Not on Any Social Networks?

Dear Danielle:

I love receiving information from you. It is so relevant in this fast pace environment. However, I must admit to you that I am not connected on any of the social networks – Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn, etc. Do you think it is hurting the nature of work that I do? I need an honest assessment of the facts, okay. —Natalie Headley

Hi Natalie 🙂

Thanks for the question.

So, there’s not one black or white answer for this. It really all depends on who your target market is and whether or where they are hanging out in large numbers. If that’s not social media, then there’s no reason to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy there.

I’m not a social media zealot myself. I don’t use it at all to find clients in my own Administrative Consultant business.

You always see those people evangelizing that you HAVE to be on social media, it’s the ONLY way to get clients.

My eyes just roll and I can barely contain my sarcasm, lol.

If that were true, then what was anyone doing before Twitter and Facebook and the rest? 😉

So you don’t have to be on social media. They are merely tools. And some people need some tools and others don’t.

That said, I wouldn’t write off social media channels entirely. They can be very useful, but for reasons different than most people think.

I see that a lot of people don’t view or understand social media the right way. They think it’s some excuse not to market, that all they have to do is pop up a profile and clients are going to rain from the skies and magically drop in their lap.

(These are the same people who think all they have to do is throw a website up and their work is done, lol).

Yeah, doesn’t work like that.

Here’s how I would tell you to look at it…

Social media is not the driver of marketing. Rather, social media is a tool for keeping in touch and getting to know each other.

Marketing and networking are still the primary drivers and creators of relationships, not social media. Social media platforms are ancillary and secondary to that, not primary.

And social media, as far as getting clients goes, is only helpful if you are hanging out in places they are hanging out.

So here are a few pieces of advice I have when it comes to social media:

  1. Think of your social networking accounts as another avenue for your prospects and clients to get to know you, to nurture those relationships. They give them another way to interact with you, see your expertise and knowledge demonstrated in action, get to know you as a person, and grow that all-important know, like and trust factor.
  2. That said, if you’re going to have a social media account, that also creates the expectation in those who connect with you that you’re going to be on there somewhat regularly to post updates. If you aren’t, don’t bother having an account. It’ll annoy people when you don’t respond to the questions, comments or posts they share with you.
  3. Stick with the platforms you enjoy using. You don’t need to have every single kind of social media account. And if you don’t like one or another, you’re never going to be there and it will be a chore trying to force yourself to be. Don’t do that. The ones you like being on are the ones you’ll be on more regularly and will be more useful (and fun) for you.
  4. Get a target market (if you don’t already have one). A target market is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to. Without a target market, you may as well be blowing dandelions in the wind and hoping someone finds you. Not very effective or profitable. A target market will give you direction for your effort and help you be more purposeful, focused and interesting/compelling on your social media platforms.
  5. Once you get a target market, start following and connecting with people and groups in that industry.
  6. Remember who your audience is. If you need clients, that’s, ahem, people in your target market, not your colleagues. The reason I mention this is because we always see people in our own industry wanting to connect with each other. “Let’s all follow each other on Facebook!” For what purpose? Your colleagues are not your clients. Your clients and prospects are your clients. THAT’S who you want to be connecting with. And if you think about it, do you really want colleagues piping up in your conversations with your prospects? I’m not saying never to connect with colleagues and mentors; they definitely are helpful to you in a completely different way. But you want to keep your priorities in perspective. If you put even half the effort into connecting with your clients and prospects that most people in our industry spend dinking around with each other on these channels, you’ll be far, far ahead of the game.

Let me know if that helps!

Do You Network at Events to Find New Clients?

Do you network at events to find new clients?

Someone asked the question on one of the LinkedIn groups I joined recently:

“Do you network at events to find new clients?”

I thought I would share my thoughts with you here as well.

Any way you can meet and interact with prospects is certainly good.

That doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be done in-person or locally.

And you want to consider that some methods are more fruitful and productive and less costly to the business to engage in than others.

I occasionally go to a live/local event just for the fun of it, to get out of the office (my house, lol) and meet new people or learn new things.

The human interaction is nice and I believe getting in some local networking helps keep our interpersonal skills honed.

It’s a nice change of pace; however, my primary business marketing and networking is done online.

(Likewise, I only conduct consultations over the phone.)

Relying entirely on in-person meetings and networking is a very expensive prospect. And I’m not talking about admission fees.

Any time you have to leave the office, the cost to the business of that personal time triples.

That’s because in a solopreneur business like ours where we are the business, we are the craftsman, that personal time away is time away from other clients, other work and other opportunities.

So it’s a more expensive proposition compared to online networking.

You can meet, connect, interact with and get in front of vastly more people and potential clients using online methods because it’s a one-to-many ratio that doesn’t require your personal presence outside your office.

You can meet ten times more people online in less time than it takes you to meet with one person locally.

And because it’s online, your prospect pool is not limited to your local geographic location.

Not that you shouldn’t ever leave your home/office, lol. You just want to be discerning and strategic about where and how you spend your in-person time.

Here’s how I would mix it up:  

Focus first and perhaps more predominately on developing your online marketing and networking. Eventually, you’ll have it all set-up to where a large part of it can be automated and you can dedicate a small, but useful, bit of time each day to give it your personal attention.

That then will afford you more time to fit in the occasional live/local business event and networking.

This way, you have the best of both worlds and your business doesn’t have to rely exclusively on live/local attendance, which takes far longer, is more costly due to the time involved away from the business, and the more limited scope of reach and connection.

The other thing I wanted to mention about in-person/local networking, don’t turn it into a sales spiel where you corner one person after another and shove your business card in their hands or force them to listen to your “elevator pitch.”

No one likes a salesman/saleswoman. And no one wants you looking at them like they’re your next possible meal.

Go to these events without any agenda or attachment to outcomes except to make new friends. That’s it.

I’m telling you, you will create far more meaningful business connections and real relationships with people when you go about things with that mindset.

So don’t go there to sell. Go there to meet and talk and most importantly ask questions about other people and their businesses.

Because the most interesting person in the room to others is the one who is interested in them. 😉

The paradox of this is that because you engage your curiosity about them, they’re going to be all the more interested in you and what you do.

Then, instead of a business card, you come equipped and give them a gift. 😉

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Is Not Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Isn't Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle:

How can I get my clients to refer when they are too selfish to share? —Anonymous

This was a question someone asked me on my Facebook page. They didn’t give me any more details than this and I never did hear back from them. However, I thought it was an interesting topic for discussion and wanted to share my thoughts with you here.

At first blush, it sounds like a very one-sided relationship if you have clients who don’t refer you.

But it’s a little too glib to chalk it all up to that.

There’s usually more to things than that and you could be losing out on an opportunity to improve your business by not examining the issue further.

I wanted to find out more so my first question was, “What is it that tells you this is, in fact, what is happening?”

I also asked, “Have you considered having a conversation with this/these client(s)?”

Unless you’ve actually spoken with a client, you can’t presume to know their true feelings, intentions or what’s really going on (if anything). Having a heart-to-heart can clear the air to move forward in a more positive, mutually beneficial direction.

It could be that they just didn’t think about it and it wasn’t anything negative about you (or them) at all.

(Remember, we have to ASK for what we want. We can’t expect people to be mindreaders.)

Now, personally, I don’t like to hound clients for referrals. I prefer they give those of their own accord.

And in a healthy, two-way relationship, they will.

That said, a lot of the referrals I’ve gotten over the years just weren’t who I was looking for anyway so they did me no good.

(Side Note: If you’re new in business, you might not understand this at all. When you’re new, you often think any referral is a good referral. You’re working hard to get established and just want to get any clients and work you can. But once you’ve gotten to a higher level in your business, you become more discerning and choosy about the clients and work that’s of value and interest to you. Fit is always important at any stage, but your definition of fit and what you are interested in, what you find worthwhile, will change and evolve over the course of your business.)

My best leads have always comes from my own networking.

If clients want to make a referral, I ask that they simply direct people to my website (instead of my phone number or email) so that it can do that critical first job of educating prospects and weeding out/prequalifying those I’m not interested in.

By getting them to the website, I save myself a lot of wasted time in conversation with people who may not be a fit.

Plus, directing folks to my website first, those who are interested in what they’re reading and what I have to offer, I’ve just created an opportunity to get them onto my mailing list so I’m only keeping in touch with those who’ve already indicated that first qualifying level of interest.

Those who follow up from there, thus, are vastly better qualified leads and more likely to become clients.

This actually brings up another point…

You have to actually INFORM clients that you welcome referrals and instruct them how to refer others to you and what kind of prospects/clients you are looking for.

This is why it’s also extremely helpful to have a target market and to be very clear about what you do and who you’re looking to work with.

When people know exactly what you are and who you do it for (e.g., NOT a gopher/jack of all trades, but an Administrative Support Specialist), it’s much easier for them to refer others to you and they will remember and be more likely to do so more often.

I would also ask, have you at least gotten a testimonial from your clients?

Instituting a regular and consistent program of feedback from clients in your business is super helpful for your marketing and constant business improvement.

I have a tool in the ACA Success Store that helps you do this and collects information from clients so that testimonials basically write themselves. You can take a look at that here: Client Feedback Form.

I refer to it as a form, but it’s really a plan and system for implementing a program of regular feedback in your business and capturing testimonials and before-and-after case studies.

So, is this something happening in your business as well?

Have you fallen prey to “secret weapon” syndrome and you find some clients don’t want to let anyone know about you because they don’t want to share you with others?

Or might their silence and lack of referrals be an indication of other underlying problems? Are they unhappy or resentful about something?

How is this affecting your relationship with them, and how does it fit in with your standards for your business and around who makes an ideal client?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Dear Danielle:

I am new at publishing e-newletters and blogs, however, I know these are great tools to get the word out about my company and to attract new clients.  I plan to create a monthly e-newsletter and I want to be able to add great news about my referral partners. However, I want to know what is the best way to get the word out that I am looking for referral partners. Should I add it to my website or make a note in my e-newsletters.  I have already signed up to your affiliate program and will be adding the link to my website and newsletter etc.  Thanks for your advice.  –GD

I think that’s a terrific idea to spotlight your referral partners in your blog and ezine!

Because if you’re going to be referral partners with someone, it’s the “partner-y” thing to do to actively promote them in the same way you’d like them to promote you.

So often we see folks becoming referral partners and it becomes a one-way street with one person doing all the referring and the other person not making an equal effort.

That’s not cool, and if that’s the case, they don’t deserve to be referral partners with you. What they fail to understand is that one of the best ways to get referrals is to give them.

For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, a referral partner is someone in the same or similar business or a complementary field that you refer business to and vice versa.

There a lot of reasons you would refer business to someone else:

  • It could be because your practice is full.
  • It could be the client just isn’t your cup of tea, but might be perfect for that other person.
  • It might be that the client is seeking a service that you don’t offer.
  • Or it might be because you like to be a resource to your current clients whenever they seek services that aren’t related to what you’re in business to do.

Printshops offer a good example of the complementary referral relationship. They always know of several designers and photographers they can refer their customers to.

They’re all in different kinds of businesses, but their work is related and share the same or similar markets. So they complement each other in that way.

It makes perfect sense to refer to each other, and being a resource who can refer others and make qualified recommendations is huge help to their clients and customers.

Referral partnering is an informal, but intentional, relationship where one business owner approaches another and says, “Hey, I think you’re awesome and you do great work. If you feel the same about me, let’s refer clients to each other when those opportunities arise. Maybe we can even meet once a month or so to brainstorm more ideas on how we can cross-promote and refer business to each other.”

Now while I think it’s absolutely wonderful to promote your referral partners whenever you have the chance, I do have a few thoughts about the rest of your question.

First, I don’t know that I would necessarily advertise for referral partners.

That is, if I advertised for referral partners, do I really want to receive what might be tons of emails to wade through and create for myself the extra work and burden of basically interviewing people?

And second, how substantive and authentic would it be for me to refer to folks I really don’t know much about or have actual experience with?

I would prefer to find and nurture those relationships more organically, and selectively choose or approach potential referral partners based on the fact that I’ve developed a relationship and gotten to know them to some good extent over a period of time.

I don’t want to just have people I can refer to. I want to refer to people whose talents, work and reputation I have absolute confidence in and will be a good reflection on the recommendations I give.

A disingenuous, unsubstantive referral is not helpful to anyone. I want my word to mean something.

One last thought, while you are helping give back to your referral buddies, think about also devoting a separate space or blurb about what makes an ideal client referral for you.

Those who are reading your blog and ezine might not be ready to work with you, but they might know of someone who is. So make it super clear who you are specifically looking to work with and want referred to you (i.e., your target market and ideal client).

The more clear and specific you are, the easier you make it for people to refer to you and the more often they will do so.

Originally posted September 29, 2010.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Sell My Services without Being Sold To

Dear Danielle: How Can I Sell Without Being Sold To?

Dear Danielle: I have found that almost every potential client I have talked to about my services trying to get their business, they in turn try to sell me their products. What is a polite way to reject someone’s product when you are telling them about your services and how you can help their business? —Michelle Prieto

This question left out a lot of details and context so I asked Michelle to elaborate a bit more. Here’s what she added:

Thank you for responding! I’ve attended several expos/events during the last year and have found it beneficial handing out cards and briefly speaking with people. A lot of the people I have come across start out being prospective clients, but by the end of our conversation, I feel since I didn’t purchase their product, they end with “Ok, I’ll call you.” Most are people who don’t know me that I have approached first. When I decided to venture into this business, I wanted my focus to be on helping small business owners grow their business by relieving some of the pressure of paperwork (no specific field). I have succeeded with that focused area until I come across someone who is selling a product. I’ve worked in an office setting since I was 12 (I started by helping out at my uncle’s Real Estate office doing misc. items). I’m very confident about my capabilities and skills. The area I am struggling in is finding and finally achieving clients. It has been a difficult year, but I am determined to make my business work.

Thanks for the extra context. That helps a lot!

Okay, so here’s what’s going on. These aren’t prospective clients. These are just people you’ve cornered at an event.

What you’re doing is a form of cold-calling, only in person instead of over the phone. You’re trying to sell your services to anyone and everyone—people who don’t know you from Adam. They might listen politely, but you’ll never hear from most, if any, of them.

Plus, it’s the wrong platform. You’re trying to “sell” your services in an environment where everyone is “selling.” And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 😉

This is a very common mistake that most new business owners make. They have no clue what they should be doing to get clients so they default to selling to anyone and everyone.

But promoting a professional service isn’t the same thing as selling a Sham Wow.

You’re rushing the process and approaching the wrong people in the wrong environment.

What you really want to be doing is seeking relationships, not sales.

No one likes to be sold to and especially not right off the bat. There’s some finesse involved, and a time and place for certain kinds of conversations.

Marketing professional services is a lot like dating. You don’t go on one date and immediately launch into all your requirements for a spouse and your urgency to get married.

Relationships are grown and nurtured over time, and only after there is some mutual interest established in moving forward.

Your competence and ability in the work you do has nothing to do with your competence and ability in marketing your business. They are two completely different skillsets.

And that’s where you will benefit: by learning about marketing and how professional services are best promoted (i.e., relationship building, not cold-calling, and letting people come to you).

Do things a little differently and you’ll get better results:

  1. Don’t cold-call/cold-sell.Talk about their businesses, not yours. What are their common challenges and frustrations in running their business? What kind of goals and objectives do they have? You become far more interesting and of interest to people when you are interested in them.
  2. Get a target market. Without one, all you’re doing is shooting your arrows into the wind in all directions without any intention. That’s an extremely inefficient and ineffective way to get business and you’ll wear yourself out long before seeing any results. When you decide who to focus on (i.e., your target market), you can then figure out where those folks specifically are hanging out, what their common needs, goals and challenges are, and then approach them accordingly.
  3. Give a “gift,” not business cards, something informative that is actually useful and of interest and value. And of course, to determine what will be of interest and value, you need a target market. Your useful “gift” then becomes a pipeline for you. Those who are interested will then come to you. Those are real prospects.
  4. Funnel everything to your website. Make sure everything you give out includes your branding and a call to action to visit your website.
  5. Have some kind of lead capture mechanism on your website. Your website should then have some kind of free offer that people can sign up for to get. This gets them onto your mailing list so that you can continue to keep in touch with them through an ezine, blog posts, special announcements, etc. Those people who sign up are actual hot prospects because they’ve shown interest and made the choice to come to you, not the other way around. This is one of the ways you create your own marketing pipelines and have people coming to you, not you chasing after them.
  6. Ask for their business cards instead of giving yours out. After conversation and they’ve shown some level of interest, ask people if they’d like to receive your free offer and then follow up accordingly.

Hope that helps, Michelle. If you need me to elaborate on any of this, feel free to ask in the comments. 🙂