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.
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.
The Welcome Packet
You’ve decided you wanted to work from home as a virtual assistant. Now what? Today’s discussion is about what to include in a welcome packet. What is it, and do you need it.
Ever since that big decision, you’ve been networking like a fool for your first client: hanging out in Facebook groups, going to networking events, telling your friends and fam to the point you’re starting to feel like you’re bugging people with your pitch.
But a virtual assistant without clients is – well, not busy and you really don’t have a business.
You need a client, and fast!
And then one day, you get that email – someone wants to chat about how you can help their business.
So, you have that discovery call and you’re feeling like you knocked it out the park. You said all the right things and shoot, you even sent a thank you email afterward.
Now, you wait.
You refresh your email countless times, waiting for a response.
And then it happens — you get an email. You’ve got a client!
But don’t celebrate too much because you’re not done.
There’s something you need to put together for your new client – and that’s a welcome packet.
What is a welcome packet?
The welcome packet is a PDF that contains important information about your business that may or may not already be in your contract.
Is a welcome packet required?
Well, no not really. I’ve just found that having all the necessary information in a separate PDF file is handy not only for you but the client as well. And we’re aiming for simplicity here, folks!
What’s in a welcome packet?
Glad you asked!
Here’s what your Welcome Packet can include:
- A personal note from you, welcoming them on board. Start off on the right foot but including a note from you: how excited you are to work with them and how you plan to make a difference in their business, something along those lines. Keep in mind that some clients may be working with a virtual assistant for the first time so you may have to a bit of hand-holding to ease them into the water. It’s okay – a kick-butt virtual assistant doesn’t just do the work: they also educate their clients.
- Work expectations. Spell out when you will return phone calls and emails. Do you have a 24-hour turnaround during business hours? Will you make recommendations and offer solutions? Tell your client what they can expect from working with you.
- Your office hours. If you don’t spell out your office hours, I can bet my bottom dollar that at some point you’re going to have to talk to a client about working outside of your hours. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. This is where educating a client GENTLY about what a virtual assistant is (a business owner in partnership with the client) and what a virtual assistant isn’t (an administrative worker solely who is on-call and dedicated to their needs only). Make it clear what your hours are and stick to them. For example, my business hours are Monday – Friday, 6 pm-9 pm, Saturdays from 10 am-5 pm. I’m closed on Sundays and the last Saturday of each month. Period. This brings us to the next matter:
- How will you handle “rush” jobs? OK, life happens sometimes and things pop up that need immediate attention. No problem. But if it’s happening over and over, then it’s time to put some processes in place to keep that from happening. Planning ahead will save you lots of time and headaches. Discuss and note how you will handle rush jobs. Let’s say the client gives you less than 24-hour notice to complete a project. It’s totally okay to charge a 25% surcharge. Again, make sure it’s clearly indicated in your welcome packet, as well as your contract, to avoid problems later.
- How you will handle referrals and if you provide a referral incentive. In the virtual world, referrals are golden. Do a great job, your client will tell someone else and BOOM! You’ve got a new client. But you want to thank them, right? Maybe a gift card or a couple of complimentary hours.
- Your business processes: how you will protect passwords and confidential information, etc. The online world can be a scary place with all this hacking foolishness. And your client is trusting you with the back-end of their business. That’s huge! You want to reassure them you’ve got systems in place to protect their confidential information – may be shredding confidential data, keeping passwords private, that kind of thing. Give your client some peace of mind.
- Your subcontracting process, if applicable. You may get to the point where you become so busy with work that you’ll need to bring on a subcontractor. Or, maybe you don’t have the skill set to complete a project. Let your client know how you will handle this type of situation (the subcontractor will do the work, but you will check it over thoroughly to ensure it meets your approval). Remember, this is YOUR business on the line.
- Invoicing process. This little nugget of information is probably in the contract you sent to the client, but it doesn’t hurt to share it in the welcome packet. Reiterate your hourly rate/retainer amount, when you will send an invoice and when payment is due.
- Your contact information and how you prefer to be contacted. I’m cool with getting texts from my client so they have my cell phone number as well as my email. Maybe that won’t work for you so tell your client your preference.
Add in a get-to-know-you sheet: the client’s address (so you can surprise them a gift from time to time), birthday, spouse/children info, if applicable.
Isn’t some of this information already in my contract?
It’s highly possible. But let’s think about this for a second: most people don’t thoroughly read contracts. We should but we don’t. We read the most important part – how much we’re making/paying and kinda skim over the rest. The welcome packet outlines IN A SEPARATE DOCUMENT a lot of what’s in your contract. The difference is that your client will probably read your welcome packet.
You don’t want any excuses (“I didn’t know that was in there because it’s so buried in the contract!”) Nope, we don’t want that!
What else do you need to bring on a new client? Well, I’ve got that all outlined in a Trello board. If you don’t know I compare Trello to Post-Its on steroids! Seriously, I can’t get enough of Trello because it will keep you super organized. If you don’t have a Trello account, you can get a free account here.
Here’s one of my Trello boards and you can see that it’s all about tracking everything for your client. Just go ahead and purchase this board when you’ve got a minute because it will save you so much time in the future. You just copy the board for each client and you’re set to get busy!
This Trello board is dedicated to onboarding or bringing on your first client. It outlines, step-by-step, what you need to do for your client. Just remember to copy the board for each client using their name.
Using this Trello board will make all the difference to you once you get started.
So, I hope this information helps you. Let me know if you need anything else.
Here’s to your success!
Marketing your Business
How to market your business is critical to your business success. That’s our topic for today’s post. I’ve added some steps for you to work on that are pretty easy.
Here’s what you should be doing to stay top of mind and current with your network:
- Send two emails a day to people you know to stay in touch. You’re not selling to them, just checking in to say hello.
- Try to get together every week with either one new person that you’ve been introduced to, or one close business friend you haven’t seen in a while.
- Offer free, 15-minute discovery calls, by phone or Zoom, to anyone who’s interested in working with you.
- Once a month, write an email newsletter with relevant content and send it out to everyone you know.
- Regularly post excerpts of your newsletters to social media.
- Once a month, you should attend a networking event to meet new people.
- Keep your LinkedIn profile current, including adding every new person you meet.
You may think this is a lot of work, and way too time-consuming to fit into your day. But, it’s not really!
Once you have the system set up, it takes far less time to run than the time you spend worrying about generating business! Getting clients is always on top of your mind, but you need to do these steps to create a steady flow of clients.
Another Way to Market
Try using Facebook and Instagram to post content on a regular basis. You need to get noticed on social media, but you don’t have to be on every platform to get noticed. Also, don’t consider this selling, it’s just marketing to do the work for you.
Just make sure that you are consistent with what you create and post valuable content, not just fluff. Anyone can do that and it might get you followers but not clients. Also remember that even when you have a steady flow of clients, you’re always going to need to market yourself.
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.