For some of us, the idea of asking for a referral conjures up the same feelings as networking. Feelings like “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole” or “Please let there be another way to find clients.” Asking for a referral is scary as heck for an introvert like me. Sometimes you just have to put your big girl panties on and just do it!
But never fear. Just as there are many different types of personalities and business niches, there are many different ways to ask for a referral. You can tailor your referral system to match you and your unique business.
In the Referral Marketing Success Course, co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings discusses two types of referrals. Indirect and Direct. Indirect referrals include Facebook Page & LinkedIn Recommendations, Website Testimonials, and Video Case Studies. Direct referrals involve someone directly passing your name on to another relevant contact either in person or through an email, phone call, or social media message.
THE VALUE OF A REFERRAL
Now, the question is, what is the reason? When broken down, the referral happens because of several things:
- The desire for a flexible lifestyle
- A strong work ethic
That sounds like a lot for someone to know about! But in the course of time, our existing clients can learn similar things about us. And our inner circle of friends and family (and even our acquaintances and colleagues) can learn enough about us to recommend our services to wonderful clients.
In his article, “How to get more freelance clients by becoming ‘referable,’” Benek Lisefski says that the deeper reason to encourage referrals is that “referral clients trust you more.”
He describes the value of referrals this way:
“When that referral client comes to you, they come pre-loaded with trust. They already know you’re the person they want for the job before you’ve even tried to sell your virtues. Half of your trust-building has been done for you. Now all you have to do is meet or exceed that expectation.”
And when the referral client respects the person who referred you, even more of that trust will come pre-loaded. The quality of your referrals begins with the quality of the people you associate with. The clients you work with should be a reflection of the referrals you want to work with. The boundaries or lack of boundaries you have with them are likely the same sorts of boundaries or lack of boundaries their referrals will expect.
WHEN TO START ASKING FOR A REFERRAL
Now comes the part that makes some of us break into a cold sweat. When do we start asking for a referral, and how do we do it?
- DON’T ASK. JUST BE.
You may like the first answer. In the article above, Benek Lisefski says he takes a more indirect approach by making himself as “referable as possible” so his clients use their own initiative to refer him when it best suits them, rather than him having to ask for a referral.
So, one method is to begin by making yourself someone people want to refer to! In a FreeU blog post, “How to Find Ideal Clients (in Your Own Backyard),” they describe their local network as a series of circles. The inner circle is the people you know best (family and friends). The middle circles are colleagues and acquaintances. Whether or not these people need your services, they can refer you to potential clients if they think favorably of you. You can boost their opinion of you by maintaining healthy relationships with past and present colleagues and lovingly supporting your family and friends in their own endeavors.
In the same way, you can encourage referrals from existing clients by doing the best work you can and maintaining a healthy client relationship with them. Remember the quality of the referral will reflect on them too.
- CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME TO ASK.
Sometimes you need to take a deep breath, swallow your pride if necessary, and simply ask for a referral. Even if you’re delivering stellar work to your clients, they may not know you’d like to be referred until you ask them.
Megan Taylor’s article “5 tips to asking for referrals (and a sample referral email),” provides some helpful guidelines for timing your request. This depends on whether you’re doing one-off projects or long-term projects and retainer agreements. She advises waiting to ask for a referral until after the client has given their final sign-off if you’re doing a one-off project like a brand redesign or content for an eBook.
And if you’re doing ongoing work as part of a retainer agreement or long-term project, she suggests using your gut feeling and checking in with your client for feedback. Then “ask once you know you’ve provided unparalleled value.” At the same time, she warns against asking for a referral in your freelance invoice.
HOW TO ASK FOR A REFERRAL
As mentioned above, you can choose the referral request method that works best for you, your clients, and your local network.
Here are some options:
- CONTACT PAST OR PRESENT CLIENTS DIRECTLY
Here’s where we could use the Nike slogan “Just do it.” Once you’ve decided on the correct time to ask, contact your existing or former clients in a way that most resonates with them:
- Personalized email
- Phone call
- Zoom or Skype video call
- Social media message
- Whatever is most appropriate for your relationship
Susan Ward recommends asking face to face in her article, “How to Ask for Referrals and Get More Clients.” She says, “People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them.” But she adds, “It is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you work under conditions where face-to-face meetings are uncommon or very difficult.” In this case, a Zoom or Skype video call could serve as an in-person meeting.
- ASK FOR A TESTIMONIAL OR VIDEO CASE STUDY
An indirect way of asking for a referral is to ask for testimonials or video case studies that you can post on your website and share on social media. This article has some wise advice if you don’t want to directly ask for a referral:
“Ask for a testimonial instead. That way you still have something you can use on your website or in your marketing materials… plus you’ll get your client thinking about what a great job you did.”
They might even offer a referral on their own!”
How To Guide People
- OFFER INCENTIVES.
In the Referral Marketing Success Course, Craig Cannings suggests five types of incentives you can offer in exchange for referrals:
- Referral fee (e.g. $50 – $100 value)
- Service credit (e.g. a specific number of hours or monetary value credited toward future services)
- Service discount (e.g. 5-10% discount off existing or future services)
- E-Gift card or other Gifts (e.g. $50 – $100 online Amazon gift card)
- Free training or resources (e.g. courses, training, or eBooks provided at no charge)
At the same time, he outlines the pros and cons. On one hand, incentives offer both clients and non-clients a tangible motivator and make it easier to ask for referrals. On the other hand, they can make the referral seem less natural and authentic. They can also devalue the referral if the potential client finds out that the referrer received an incentive. So, be sure that incentives are right for your business before using them.
- ASK FOR LINKEDIN RECOMMENDATIONS
LinkedIn provides an option to ask connections whether they’re willing to write a recommendation of your work. Simply navigate to the profile of a 1st-degree connection, click the “More” button, and select “Request a recommendation.” Once the connection has been written, you can display this recommendation on your LinkedIn profile.
In an article titled “How to Ask For The All Important LinkedIn Recommendation,” JoAnne Funch suggests requesting a recommendation immediately after you complete a service for your client.
She also advises personalizing the request:
“It is important that you NEVER send the default request for a recommendation. This doesn’t help you and you are not helping the person you are asking to take their time to recommend you. Your goal is to make it easy for the person you are asking to respond in a timely manner. In your request write a sentence or two about the service they purchased, the results they gained from your service and the benefits of working with you.”
Robin Ryan suggests another strategy in her article “How To Get Valuable LinkedIn Recommendations And Endorsements.” Instead of requesting the recommendation, she suggests first writing a recommendation for your connection. The LinkedIn system will notify them and ask if they’d like to write a recommendation for you in return. She then suggests writing your connection a personalized email and letting them know what you’d like them to discuss in their recommendation for you.
- ACTIVATE FACEBOOK RECOMMENDATIONS (FORMERLY FACEBOOK REVIEWS)
Another effective way of indirectly asking for a referral is to turn Recommendations on for your Facebook Page. By doing so, anyone who’s logged into Facebook can see your Page’s rating, see other Recommendations that were shared with a Public privacy setting, and publish their own Recommendations to your Page.
According to the Facebook for Business site, these Recommendations are also discoverable across the Facebook platform when people are searching for your business or talking about it. It’s easy for people to leave a recommendation by answering “Yes” or “No” and choosing text, photos, or tags to explain why they’re recommending it.
In her article, “Creating an online review management strategy,” Jenn Chen stresses the need to identify which social networks you’re going to focus on and then respond to both negative and positive reviews.
“To find the most opportune networks for your reviews, it may be best to set up a social media listening strategy that will bring up online chatter about your business. If you start seeing more reviews from one network, maybe it’ll be time to join it. Plus, with listening, you’ll be able to find other sources of valuable feedback about your business across social networks.”
WHAT IF YOU RECEIVE A REFERRAL THAT DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT?
Referrals are like blind dates. Sometimes you meet the person and know that despite everyone’s good intentions, this client relationship is not going to work. Although you don’t want to miss valuable opportunities, it’s important to steer away from accepting referrals that are not good for your business. Focus on developing your intuition to determine whether a certain referral is a good fit and have a clear picture of your ideal client.
Here are some ways you can accept the best referrals for you and your business:
- DEFINE YOURSELF AND YOUR SERVICES CLEARLY
Word-of-mouth referrals for business owners are sometimes like the game of telephone. This is where the information gets confused and changed along the way. People can become frustrated if they find out you don’t do what the referrer said you did. And if you change your niche, be clear about what your new niche is so you don’t disappoint people. They might think you still do the previous work.
- LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Learn how to say no gracefully, and don’t say yes to something that doesn’t feel right. Keep a list of other quality business owners you can refer to if the task is too far outside your niche. If I receive a referral that isn’t right for me, I often recommend one of my colleagues, LinkedIn connections, or freelancers listed in the Freelance University professional directory.
I’m forever grateful for the referral I received that launched my small business journey. Although it can be nerve-wracking to ask for them, referrals are a crucial part of building a business with high-quality clients. Choose the method that works best for you, and wholeheartedly thank your referrers.
As Leah Kalamakis says in her article “10 Ways To Get More Referrals,”
“Tell them how much you enjoyed the client they sent your way and how much you appreciate them for making it happen. When they feel appreciated, they will likely want to continue sending more.”
And now we’d love to hear from you! Have you received business as a result of referrals? Which method of asking for referrals works best for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, about running a business is that creating goals is a challenge!
I find myself asking questions like “Is my goal too big? is it too small? Am I leaving money on the table? Who’s already accomplished this goal? What did they do? Am I good enough?”
Dang. So. Many. Thoughts and Obstacles!
Choosing vs Accomplishing
What I have found is, there are massive differences between choosing your goals and accomplishing them… am I right?
For instance, when it comes to choosing my business goals for a new quarter, I used to include a bunch of hopeful goals. Like “make 7 figures in the next 6 months.” or “launch this online course and make 600k because that’s what she did.” But I found that after months and months of trying wild things, listening to all the experts, and beating myself up over not accomplishing them, I just wasn’t reaching my own goals and that can be so defeating!
.. what’s crazier is that I was growing by leaps and bounds but NOT celebrating each milestone because I hadn’t reached THE BIG milestone.
Celebrate the Milestones
Each milestone deserves to be rewarded. No matter how small it may look right now, it’s worth the pause and pat on the back.
Because of that, I’ve learned that in order to accomplish the goals that we have set for ourselves as small business owners, it’s far better to create a clear path of small goals that lead naturally to big success.
It’s great to shoot high and surround yourself with examples of success (like a business coach or a mastermind). But it’s also just as great to accomplish smaller more achievable goals and celebrate each one along the way!
The Step by Step Process
Here are my 5 easy steps that you can take to accomplish any goal you create for your business or yourself.
STEP #1 – MAKE IT SMALLER
Sure, you may want to start out with big massive goals when first envisioning what you want. However, if you want any real chance of reaching your goals, then you’ll have to seriously change the huge goals, into smaller goals.
Take your big goals and create small goal benchmarks to work toward. You’ll find that the huge goal you’ve created for yourself turns into something easier and more achievable due to the fact you’ve created smaller, more manageable steps.
Example: Your big goal might be to get 1000 email subscribers, but if you set your small goal to 50 subscribers, it’s far easier and more fun to work the goal and celebrate.
STEP #2 – MAKE IT REASONABLE
A properly made goal should probably stretch you to get out of your comfort zone a bit, but not so far that it feels impossible.
For instance, I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t love to add a million dollars to their bank account this year, but if you’ve never been close before, you might be thinking “how exactly will I get there if I’ve never done it before?”
Seeing other people achieve our goals is encouraging, but when we can’t wrap our heads around exactly how someone did it, then the goal because more unreasonable and unachievable. So, you may have to start with a wide variety of more believable and smaller goals.
Once you start creating more practical goals, you’ll see how it can dissect big dreams into smaller bite-sized ones that help you learn and become better along the way.
Example: Going from 50k to 7-figures in revenue a year is a huge leap. But going from 50k to 100k a year may seem more doable.
STEP #3 – MAKE IT KNOWN
To attain your goals, you’ll want to have the right cheerleaders on the journey. Start telling people who are supportive and care about your success with your goal and business. You’ll find that these are the people who will be there when you face challenges.
For the last few months, I’ve made it publicly known that I am hiring more VA’s and am working on processes and procedures for the hiring process. Since sharing this goal publicly, I’ve received countless words of advice and suggestions of where I might find a good VA.
By shouting your goal from the rooftops, you also keep yourself responsible for the goals, which will ultimately help you reach them.
STEP #4 – MAKE IT TRACKABLE
When goals are created into smaller benchmarks, it helps to create some milestones and occasions that have a cumulative effect on the big picture. For instance, if you want to grow your email list to a big goal of 1000 subscribers but commit to the smaller goals of 50 subscribers a week, then write it down and track it!
One service that does this really well on one dashboard is called DATABOX. Tracking your goals will assist you in adding real measurable differences from where you were to where you are right now. Tracking your metrics and growth will let you see how your reset goals at each of the small milestones that you’ve set.
STEP #5 – MAKE IT FUN
Figure out a way to rejoice in your victories. Make tracking the growth you make towards your goals exciting and meaningful. The extra joy you feel, the more successful you’ll be in accomplishing your goals.
The motivation for setting goals isn’t only to acquire them; it is about what you learn for the duration of the journey. Learn to enjoy all the steps along the way. Don’t just celebrate the destination but also make time to enjoy every step leading you there.
Download a FREE GOAL WORKSHEET HERE
You may have a difficult time trusting yourself. Don’t despair. You are not alone. It is something that many people experience, and find it difficult to overcome. When you lose trust in others, you start to lose trust in yourself. Below are some tips to increase trust in yourself.
To help you overcome this problem, you need to focus on key aspects of trust. The first is to have faith in your accomplishments. If you pass off your accomplishments as not being that important, when you need to rely on them, they won’t be there for you. That is sure to interrupt the process of trusting yourself.
You also need to trust your instincts. You won’t always be right, but you will be more often than not. An instinct is something you feel strongly about and does not come only from experiences.
They come from something internal that no one can truly explain. It’s part of that inner voice that is telling you what to do. You need only to listen. How many times have you said to yourself that you should have listened to your instincts?
You should rely on other people. If you open yourself up to letting others into your life, you will find that you become more trusting of yourself. Whether you like it or not, you need other people.
You can’t know everything there is to know about every subject. Use the strengths of others to supplement what you know. It will take the burden away from you to do everything. That will help open the possibilities to put trust in yourself.
Try to filter out negative information. You get bombarded with this throughout your life. It occurs every day in the news, at work, and in many cases, your home.
The more you learn to focus on positivity in your life, the easier it will be to trust yourself. A good first step towards this goal is to avoid negative people. They work hard to try to bring you down.
Trusting yourself sometimes requires a leap of faith. Take some chances. While you want to be smart regarding the risks of your choices, you don’t want to overanalyze every decision you make. If you do, you will never make any decisions, and you will stagnate. I always tell myself to have faith.
It’s true that not everything will work out the way you plan. But, you will never know unless you try.
The good news is when you are ready to try, many of your decisions will work for you. Trust yourself and have faith.
Why Is Routine Is Good for You?
You’ll hear people refer to routine as being dull or boring. It implies that life is the same from one day to the next. However, routines are a great way to get your work done.
It’s also a great means for teams to work together towards a common goal. When everyone has an understanding of what needs to get done, i.e., what routines each team member needs to perform, projects tend to run smoother.
We also have routines in our society. In some ways, laws can be considered routines. You know that you aren’t supposed to run a red light and that can be thought of as a routine.
When you come to a red light, you stop as best as you can. There may be instances when you accidentally go through one here or there. But, most people will stop for red lights. And this is good to reduce accidents.
You set up routines for your kids in the form of chores. You know that certain tasks need to get done each week. Many parents tie their kids’ allowances to these chores. When the kids finish their chores, they receive their allowances. It teaches the kids a work ethic. They need to perform tasks, and when they complete those tasks, they receive money for them.
When you pay bills, you tend to have a routine for this. Some people like to get everything sorted on one day and pay all the bills on that day. Others will pay them whenever they receive them. Others, still, will set up their payments to be paid automatically by their bank or brokerage.
There isn’t a right answer for how to do this. Whatever works for you is the right answer. However, the method you choose will be routine.
Contrast this to people who don’t have routines to manage their lives. They tend to handle tasks when the mood strikes them. These people are usually late with their bills and have messy environments. Some of these people will say that this way of life works for them. However, for most people this is chaos. It’s something that can easily be avoided by setting up routines for the tasks you need to complete.
Of course, people are not robots. Hence, they do break up their routines on occasion. You may use weekends to do activities that you don’t get to do during the workweek. Also, many families use vacations to help break up their routines.
How do you create routines for yourself? Do you have them? If not, you should acquire some routines, especially for your business. It can be as easy as what days of the week you do your invoices and banking. Keep it simple but make them a routine. You will thank yourself for this later.
Things to Know About Onboarding Clients
There are a few things many online business owners struggle with and onboarding is one of them. So, we are going to discuss things to know about onboarding clients so YOU don’t struggle.
Just like the word “funnel,” this can mean different things depending on where someone is in the process. Onboarding new customers? Or long-term clients? Onboarding potential clients or prospects?
It can be confusing, but here are just a few ways to sharpen up your onboarding processes:
* Keep Your Promises – If you say something, not only should you do it and stick to it but you should also do it a little better than they expected. Don’t promise an easy refund and then make it hard. Don’t promise a “complete” anything that is not really complete. You want your new customers to trust you at your word, and the only way they can do that is by example.
* Respond Quickly – When a customer has a question, you need to answer them as soon as possible. Even if you don’t have an answer to the question, you can let them know that you’re researching it and you’ll get back to them in a defined time.
* Show That You Care – Whenever you can do just a little thing extra to let your customers know you care, you should. For example, why not collect phone numbers and call everyone who purchases your biggest product or package? You should do this within the first couple of weeks to ask them how it’s going?
* Price Your Products or Services Simply – Don’t confuse your audience by giving too many choices on prices and services or projects. Stick to a few simple ideas and steps. Your customers will be more likely to convert. Have only 3 to 5 package choices. Too many and it gets confusing.
* Make the Sign-Up Process Simple – The fewer steps you have in your onboarding process, the better. You don’t want your audience to get upset about what you’re putting them through to become your customer. Make it as easy as possible.
Relationships are the MOST important thing in this business. If you follow these best practices, you’ll be able to maintain your relationships with your customer and learn more about them so that you can create even more solutions for them. After all, as we all know, it’s a lot easier to keep a client or customer than to get a new one.
Check out our course on Relationship Marketing. It will help you make decisions for your business growth for your future.
Naming your Virtual Assistant Business
Coming up with a name for your virtual assistant business can be stressful and agonizing for some people. You brainstorm and come up with ideas, but nothing seems right to you.
You want something that reflects you personally as well as your business and what you do. It’s this big, important thing. It will be the name of your website and social media profiles. You’ll write it on tax forms, business plans and your email signature. So you want it to feel and sound good.
And, for most virtual assistants, this will be the beginning of it all for you, the way that people will come to know you and your business.
So, it’s only natural that it’s a place where many VA’s become stalled when it comes to setting up their virtual assistant business.
Don’t make it so hard and here are some great tips for you:
- Know the rules and laws
Your business structure and where you are located may affect what you use for a business name, such as using part or all of your own name or certain terms. Make sure to check first. Better safe than sorry.
- Don’t make it too hard
Don’t use something that’s too hard to spell. People will find it difficult to find you and your website. Just because you know how to spell it, if it’s not a common word or phrase, others may type it wrong when searching for you.
- Play with words that relate to your services
Consider using a name that relates to the services you provide for your clients. Use a thesaurus to come up with different words that have the same meaning.
Here’s what Caroline Davidson, Owner at The Functioning Executive had to say about her experience with this:
I didn’t want to use my name so I took the term, “Executive Functioning,” and put a spin on the words. Executive Functions, simply put, is a term used for the cognitive skills a person needs in order to plan, organize and complete tasks. My business name is “The Functioning Executive”. I function in a support role to busy executives!
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself with a name
While I do encourage you to brand your business based on your services, don’t niche the name down too much. For example, maybe right now you offer social media services. That’s your main focus. So you call your business Susan’s Social Media Boutique.
Six months into working with clients, you decide that you are really much better at—and love—project management. But your business name says “Social Media.” Now you need to start a full rebrand, purchase a new domain name, and possibly pay to change some business paperwork.
It’s not that you CAN’T change your name. It’s certainly not impossible. But it’s best to think ahead about your business plans and goals, and create a name that encompasses that.
- Focus on the outcome of what you do for clients
What kinds of results do your clients get from working with you? Think about physical as well as emotional outcomes. If they can relate, they’ll want to know more about you and be interested in working with you.
Here’s how Kat Salonga, Owner of Virtual, At Last! decided on hers:
My business name is Virtual, At last! As in “my business is goin’ virtual, at last!” I decided on it since it has the word “Virtual” and I figured it might be good for SEO. I also wanted my clients to feel relieved and thankful that their business is finally launched online; my customers are usually non-tech savvy female entrepreneurs. It represents the feeling of triumph after all the hard work.
And another great explanation to get your wheels turning from Sencery Clemente, Owner at Tailor-Made Virtual Design:
I started by writing down all the words that I wanted to be associated with my business. When I think back on it now, it was really a list of values that I wanted my business to be founded on.
Then I started thinking of experiences I had in the past when dealing with service providers and wrote down the good and the bad about those experiences – those were mostly emotions of how the experiences made me feel.
After that, I looked at the lists and started to think about how I wanted my future clients to feel when they interacted with me and worked with me. I want them to have a unique and specialized experience, because we are all different in what we need/want/desire for our businesses.
- Keep it simple- Use your name or initials
If you’re really struggling and nothing sounds right to you, then keep it simple and use your name, initials or some variation of that. Again, just keep in mind the rules and regulations for where you live. In Georgia where I live, if you’re a sole proprietor, you don’t need to register the name if using your own name in your business name. In other states, however, if you brand your business with your name, you can’t sell it in the future.
Here’s what Jessica Scotten, Owner at Pineapple Relations, had to say about this when she was coming up with her business name:
I have no idea if I want to sell in the future, but future me can’t make decisions like that today, so I’ll plan on being prepared.
- Never underestimate the power of a great tagline
If you decide to use a simpler name or your own name, use a tagline to explain more about what you do. Sometimes coming up with the tagline makes figuring out the business name easier.
And, if you change up your services or your market over time, you can tweak the tagline to match while keeping your business name the same.
- Make sure the name is available
When you come up with something, Google it and perform a business name search to make sure it’s not already being used. Then search to see if the domain is available.
Here is how Julie Hoflin, Owner at Your Versatile VA, handled it when setting up her business:
I checked the free trademark search websites to ensure it wasn’t already trademarked in either the US or Canada, and once that was done, I officially registered the name in my province. In my jurisdiction, by registering the name legally, a deeper trademark search is completed and I felt so much better knowing if/when granted, I could rest assured I wouldn’t suddenly be told to stop using this name after investing time, money and effort into branding and establishing my biz under this name.
So there you have it. My best tips for coming up with your virtual assistant business name. If you’re working on your name, or if you’ve already established your business, comment below and share your process!
I want to give you one more reminder to always check the laws for your area—depending on your business structure and location, different rules may apply when it comes to naming your VA business.