You've heard that word-of-mouth can be a powerful marketing tool for independent consultants, but you may be wondering how to get started. When potential clients hear about your qualifications directly from people they know and trust, it lends credibility to your reputation. Below are five tips you can use to help gain referrals and recommendations from your clients.
Some independent consultants and small business owners ask for referrals shortly after landing a new client. However, it's generally better to wait until after you've proven yourself to a client before you ask for a recommendation or referral. Asking a client for a referral immediately upon signing with them can come across as pushy, presumptuous, and even a bit desperate. These are not personality traits that make for a good first impression in a new working relationship. Also, a client may feel uncomfortable recommending you without a strong body of work. Impress them with your talent, skills and professionalism first, and they'll have positive feedback to share with their contacts.
Timing is everything, and asking for a favor at an inappropriate time can lower the chances of your client following through with your request. If a client makes a comment to you on how well the project is going and how pleased they are with your results, this could be a perfect opportunity to thank them for the compliment and mention that any referrals or recommendations would be appreciated. On the other hand, if you've fallen behind deadline on the project or run into other snags, wait to bring up the topic of referrals until after the problems have been solved. Discussions about money, including when you hand the client a bill, may also be ill-advised times to ask for a referral.
If your consultancy offers a product or service that is likely to create repeat customers, then offering incentives in exchange for referrals can be an excellent motivator for your clients. Incentives could include a discount or credit for each successful referral a client sends your way. Expanding your network with a new client is usually worth the cost of cutting an old client a break for a referral.
Appreciation can go a long way towards maintaining a strong relationship. If a current or former client sends you a referral, take the time to send them a hand-written thank you note. Doing so lets them know that you didn't take their actions for granted, and they may continue to send you additional referrals in the future.
Though taking a direct approach and asking clients for recommendations can be extremely effective, it's not the only method. In addition to directly asking, proactively sending referrals or leaving recommendations for your clients can act as an excellent incentive for them to return the favor. If you don't have any specific contacts to refer to them, leaving a positive recommendation on social media sites such as LinkedIn can have a similar effect.
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