The Importance of Knowing What Your Business References Will Say
Certain types of clients want to see references, sometimes very early in the process of deciding who to hire for a particular project.
By preference, these references are probably past clients of yours who can speak to your abilities in handling whatever type of project you’re currently trying to land. But do you know, off the top of your head, what your clients will say when someone calls and asks about you?
This isn’t something to guess about — you need to actually know, because if it’s anything less than a positive review, your reference may hinder your ability to land future work.
What a Client Tells You Isn’t Always Their Full Opinion
Heck, a client can just not want to tell a freelancer to his face that there was a problem for the same reason that many freelancers are intimidated to confront clients about issues.
When you finish a project, you hopefully check in with your client to make sure she got exactly what she wanted. You want to make sure that each of your clients has a positive opinion of you. But what a client tells you immediately after you’ve finished a project may not be so close to what she’ll tell someone else when they come calling about you.
There’s a sense of relief that goes along with finishing a project, almost an emotional high, that can make a client very happy. There can be problems months later when a client attempts to build on top of a project you created. Heck, a client can just not want to tell a freelancer to his face that there was a problem for the same reason that many freelancers are intimidated to confront clients about issues.
All of that means that the message given to someone calling for your reference may be very different from what you expect. After all, your past clients can assume that what they say won’t get back to you. You may just get passed over for a project.
Checking Up on Your Own References
Not all of the projects a freelancer goes after will require references; in fact, for some types of freelancers, providing references may be a fairly rare occurrence. It’s easy for the issue of references to be something that just slides away from you.
But you need to make a point of maintaining a list of references and checking up on them, so that when you do get a request, you aren’t left scrambling.
If there’s something amiss with one of your references, you’ll know before you start suggesting people call for that particular opinion.
If you had to provide business references today, who would you suggest? Write down a list and make sure that you have up to date contact information — something that can throw off the entire reference process early in the game. It’s appropriate to send your clients a quick email (or even pick up the phone) to confirm that you have the correct contact information and to check if they’re willing to act as a reference for you. Some may prefer not to and you might as well pull them off your list right away.
Once you’ve got a short list of confirmed references, find a friend who isn’t known to any of the people on your list. Have that friend contact your references as sort of a trial run: he can ask the same questions a prospective client might and get a good idea of what your past clients will say about you. If there’s something amiss with one of your references, you’ll know before you start suggesting people call for that particular opinion.
As it happens, if you find a problem, it may be worth seeing if there’s anything you can do to correct it. You don’t even have to tell your client how you heard about it, but if you can correct an issue with a past client, you may create a much better reference for yourself.
The Reference Habit
Pull out your calendar and make an appointment with yourself to check in with your references on a regular basis. Six months seems to feel about right for most cases, but if you work with a clientele with high turnover, consider touching base more often.
This regular schedule has another benefit: if you keep reminding your past clients you exist, as you confirm that their contact information is up to date, you can create new opportunities for yourself. Not only do you guarantee that anyone calling for a reference won’t have to wait while one of your past clients tries to recall who you are, but you can also ask what your past clients are now up to and inquire if they have more projects that could benefit from your services.
And to think: one little email or phone call can do all that.