Being more strategic about your referral approach can boost your growth

Cultivating referral sources that send along quality leads on a regular basis is the ideal of all independent professionals. While a modest referral network can be built through good work, thinking more strategically about your referral approach can boost results greatly.

I've depended on referrals for more than twenty years. One commonality among my top recurring referral sources is that I help *them* do more business: I can help their customers overcome challenges that prevent the full utilization of the referrals source's products or services.

Example: I've enabled a web hosting provider to get their referred customers live sooner – with their offering – and the clients closer to getting the desired results from having a web site.

These referral sources are, in effect, clients too (that pay me via leads).

Or perhaps *partners* is a better descriptor: I help them look even better to their clients by helping smooth out kinks both during and after the sale and there are clear synergies between our respective offerings. (And often I'll refer customers their way from my client base).

By treating my top referral sources as de facto clients and/or partners I draw quality referrals more frequently.

I do this by helping my sources look good, achieve their goals, and grow their businesses.

Chances are you can harness more frequent referrals like this too. ⬇

Start by brainstorming where or how your offerings or capabilities might enable others' customers/clients to move faster or overcome challenges holding them back.

You may have already come across them during your work or market research – or even received a referral from them.

Next, identify the top candidates for potential key recurring referral sources: they're either already well established or rapidly and authentically growing.

They touch potential clients daily and you can help them speed up their sales cycle or intervene to head off problems.

Next, establish relationships with individuals in these organizations.

Start slowly if you need to because the dividends will be huge once a bit of trust is built up.

(There are many ways to start business relationships so I won't get into those specifics here).

Lastly, keep in regular touch with these people. Keep them at top of your outreach and relationship upkeep efforts. Remember, they're de facto clients or business partners. Interact with them. Learn about them. Care about them. Business doesn't mean it's not personal too!

By complementing a referral source's business activities you tap a lead channel that is more consistent and less haphazard.

These sources are NOT just passing your name along to a colleague they run across in happenstance once a year.

Their interactions with prospective clients for you on the regular, combined with intimate knowledge of their customer’s immediate needs and a shared mutually aligned interest in engagement success makes these situations an amazing high quality source of new potential business.

Good luck out there!

If you enjoyed this post feel free to share it where you think others might appreciate it too or simply hit me up on Twitter (@jtr) letting me know you liked it.

If you’re interested in more posts like this, you can also consider following me there.

Originally tweeted by Josh Richards (@jtr) on February 5, 2022.

There Are Different Types of Freelancers – and That’s Okay

Some freelancers are glorified employees.

Some are consultants.

Some provide specialized services that are productized.

Some sell their raw skills to anyone that wishes to apply them.

Others sell the application of their skills to specific problem areas or types of clients.

Some charge by the hourly, either because they’re glorified employees or because they charge so much hourly that it doesn’t really matter as long as the client is happy.

Others don’t have set fees – as each project is ad hoc and custom – and they focus on setting clear objectives and metrics with clients then setting clear expectations and investment choices.

Still others offer recurring services, either charging a monthly fee or some sort of retainer arrangement.

There are numerous ways of doing things.

Each market is a little different.

Each freelancer has different preferences.

My experience has been:

  • Try out different things
  • Don’t be afraid to evolve even if something once was what you were most comfortable with or worked best with a certain pool of clients
  • It’s okay to use more than one approach simultaneously
  • Keep things simple
  • Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture: generally something like a decent income and a decent labor-to-income ratio that results in a decent life balance and good mental and physical health

Prospecting: The Freelance Habit You Didn’t Know You Needed

Megan shrewdly writes on the BlackFreelance blog:

One thing I will give employment credit for…it does package up work nice and neat. That’s what keeps people hooked.

That’s what keeps people running back…work just sitting there waiting for you without you having to think about where it comes from. It’s the hardest thing to walk away from.

That little fact right there? Is why freelancers who are serious about their businesses really have to focus on making a mental shift when it comes to getting work, and that’s why today, we’re gonna talk about prospecting.

First off I want to be clear about something…anyone who wants to build a sustainable freelance business that adds actual value in their life? They’re going to have to think about prospecting. BUT…it’s something you develop over time, so if you’re bad at it, scared of it, or have no idea what it is, that’s fine and totally normal. You’ve got time to up your prospecting game.

Prospecting: The Freelance Habit You Didn’t Know You Needed – BlackFreelance –

Self-Employed? Here’s How You Can Apply for a PPP Loan Too.

Dan Biewener writes on the Fundbox blog:

If you are self-employed — as a sole proprietor or independent contractor with no employees — you may still be able to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan until August 8, 2020. Don’t let the “paycheck” in the name fool you into thinking you wouldn’t qualify for this forgivable loan. In fact, since you don’t have staff headcount, payroll, and benefits to calculate, your application process (for the loan and later for forgiveness) should be much simpler.

In essence, even as a sole proprietor, the PPP loan can provide you with funds equivalent to 2.5 months of net earnings you would have made — if it weren’t for the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic — based on a comparative period from 2019 (or the first 2.5 months of 2020 if your business began this year).

You can also use a portion of this loan to cover some operational expenses for your business (like business-related rent, utilities, or interest payments on a mortgage or other business loans). However, if you want to qualify for loan forgiveness, these operational expenses can only account for up to 40% of your total loan amount.

Self-Employed? Here’s How You Can Apply for a PPP Loan Too. | Fundbox Blog

Going through the detailed list in the post, it actually doesn’t look terribly painful to apply for. And worst case: it’s a cheap (1%) five year or ten year term loan (if you end up not qualifying for 100% forgiveness). Well, actually worst case is that you really need it and don’t get approved, but the point remains …

I haven’t done this, so I can’t give a firsthand perspective. I suspect a few folks, however, may find this information useful. There’s no shame in applying if you need it. And if you need it you need it.

You Can Only Win if You Keep on Pushing

This is a powerful essay from former consultant and long-time entrepreneur Justin Couto. I think any entrepreneur can well relate to it. He writes:

No one starts a business to have it fail, but unfortunately, that is what happens all too often. I know I certainly had many close calls with business failure while running my former companies, and the weight of those seemingly inevitable failures baring down on you is crushing. It can be kryptonite to the point that your paralyzed and utterly ineffective at finding a way out.

SoCreate – Bootstrapping Ain’t Easy: You Can Only Win if You Keep on Pushing

Anyone who has ever tried to create/ build something meaningful – whether a business, a non-profit, a movement or piece of art – can relate to the things shared in this essay. Inherently a lot of tears, frustration, second-guessing, uncertainty, setbacks, and personal growth are behind just about every step – or leap – forward.

Tech Consulting in a Tight Economy: COVID-19 Edition

During the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08, I published a post of a similar title as this one. In light of the current humanitarian crises and resulting economic fallout that COVID-19 has triggered, it seemed worth revisiting that old post as well as sharing an up-to-the-moment opportunity example.

My opener is just as relevant today:

Independent consultants may be in an enviable position within the world of business. Our services – by their very nature of not being tangible – allow us to be more agile. We can adopt to changing market demands.

Adapting, accepting reality, making adjustments, experimenting, learning, brainstorming, analyzing results, incrementally getting better – these are things an entrepreneur does. And make no mistake: consultants and freelancers are entrepreneurs.

Aaron Cruikshank of Friuch Consulting writing on his blog around that time period said:

Find new pain points, serve them.

And also:

People starting out in consulting today might think that they need to go down market to succeed in a shrinking economy. I respectfully submit that such thinking is bunk. What you need to do is find a niche that is not something everyone else is doing and sell it at a premium. For example, when the economy is tight – offer a service that makes people think they’re saving money. You’re a webmaster? People still need websites, even when the economy is in the toilet. Make your niche designing websites in the most affordable way possible or link your design techniques to a measurable return on investment (ROI) so that the client can be sure they got their money’s worth.

I don’t think his statement just applies to those just starting out. It applies to all of us at all times.

Expanding on his example, I’ll dig into this a bit deeper so that you can see how it might apply to your own situation one way or another.

SITUATION: Restaurants (and other businesses too) are focusing on pick-up / take-out service with an emphasis on contactless service, social distancing enforced through scheduled pick-up and pacing, and the like.

OPPORTUNITY: Many restaurants have sub-par to horrible ordering processes on-line and off-line. They’re also suffering from cash flow and liquidity problems. They need orders, they need streamlined processes, they need a good customer experience, they need low hassle, and they don’t have any extra capital to invest in accomplish this.

SOLUTION: Utilize your web skills, business process skills, availability, and expertise with third-party technical solutions to pull together a tailored solution for a restaurant client in exchange for a % of sales (up to a fixed dollar figure roughly equivalent to what you’d have charged for the same work with paid ahead of time payment terms – or even 15% to 25% higher – to compensate for the added risk you’re taking on).

Why Marketing Really Matters for Solo Professionals

What getting good at marketing can do for the individual is to help him or her find the clients they could care about and be eager to help, and the types of work that would be truly stimulating. The better you are at marketing, the more truly professional you can be, because you are not forced to take money from anyone and everyone just because you need the cash.

— David Maister in “Doing It For The Money

A business does marketing and sales for the money, but that’s not the sole reason to get good at it.

David’s original article is a bit long, but there are some other tidbits wrapped around this quote if you feel inclined to dig them up. I also recommend two of his books, “The Trusted Advisor” and “Strategy and the Fat Smoker“ and/or spending a morning with your coffee in hand while perusing his articles and blog archive.

Flaws in Handling New Business Inquiries

The WAV Group had researchers pose as consumers and make inquiries with real estate brokers. The results were depressing. They found that:

  • 48% of buyer inquiries were NEVER responded to.
  • Average number of call back attempts after the initial contact was 1.5
  • Average number of email contact attempts was 2.07
  • Average response time was 917 minutes (or 15.29 hours)

Their results were about right for solo technology professionals as well, in my experience.

Unfortunately, that’s not the the most depressing part. It’s embarrassing for me to admit this, but the very week this study came across my desk I blew off a new contact …and we were discussing some ways we could work together. I didn’t ignore him intentionally. I simply completely dropped the ball on getting back to him in an email thread we were having.

I never like to leave somebody hanging. I have no excuse, though I told myself I was too wrapped up in a couple of projects that suddenly picked up momentum that week to continue the thread wholeheartedly. I still should have acknowledged him and said something before it became a 14 (!) day gap of silence. This is Customer Service 101 and I blew it. Learn from my mistake.

Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.

Alfred Sheinwold