Stop Losing Your Word of Mouth Referrals
My Buddy Told Me About You, Here’s All My Money
There are many ways to get leads but word of mouth is by far the best. The main benefit is the lead will already trust you. This is HUGE. All the work that you would usually have to put into selling yourself and building a relationship becomes much easier.
There is one drawback though. Word of mouth referrals are a long play. Meaning, the number of word of mouth referrals you have is based on the number of clients you’ve actually worked with. For freelancers just starting off, it can be quite the challenge to base their entire business on word of mouth.
What Happened to All My Referrals?!
This all assumes every engagement you’ve had has been blissful. It doesn’t take into account the number of referrals you may lose because the project went south.
Losing referrals isn’t limited to positive versus negative experiences though.
If a former client went out of business or was fired, would you still want to use them as a referral?
Hence the advice, focus on all the things you can do to make your client successful.
Making your client and their product the best that they can be should be one of your top priorities.
Can a Business Really Be Built on Word of Mouth?
My business has been built purely on word of mouth. I mean look at my ‘marketing’ page. It’s horrendous.
Despite the above atrocity I’ve still managed to double my revenue in each year of business.
A more well known example is Basecamp (formerly 37signals). To this day word of mouth referrals is still their biggest priority as DHH described on an interview he had on Product People (emphasis added)
The number one thing that has actually mattered for us is word of mouth. All these other things (signal versus noise, the books, etc) got the ball rolling and got the ball started and they helped and they contributed but the NUMBER ONE THING IS WORD OF MOUTH.
He later goes on to give us insight on how they specifically focus on word of mouth.
How do you focus on word of mouth? First of all you make a fucking great product that people want to buy and they want to tell other people about it. Then you have exceptional service.
Now you may be thinking, he’s talking about a SaaS and I’m talking about your freelancing business. It’s like comparing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the Avengers: they just don’t compare.
But it’s the same thing. You and your freelancing services are the great product that people want to buy and tell other people about.
But the question is, do you provide exceptional service?
Your Client Just Wants to Win, Win, Win
You may think you’re already focusing on exceptional service by delivering your code on time, being agile, and testing all the things but that’s not what I mean. Those things are important, but the real value they provide is primarily to you.
Providing exceptional service means focusing on your client’s success. Nick Disabato exemplifies this concept with Draft Revise. The singular goal of his productized consulting is to optimize a site and improve conversions. If he doesn’t accomplish that in a couple months then it’s a full refund (as he mentions on on an interview he had on Bootstrapped Web).
Notice there isn’t anything in there that describes how he writes or tests the code. It’s all framed around the success of his clients.
How would you describe success in 5 words or less?
How do we figure out and focus on what makes our clients successful?
The following are a list of questions that I ask myself on a consistent basis to focus on my clients’ success.
- WHO – Who has the most to lose and gain from this project? These are the people who you are depending on to give you a great word of mouth referral. They can be the main client, project owner, stakeholder, etc.
- DONE – What does done look like to them? This is what you are being paid to do. The things that you need to deliver in order for this project to be considered done. Keep in mind there are three perspectives of done: yours, the client’s, and reality. Your need to know the closest representation of all three. The most important of which is the client’s.
- SUCCESS – What does success look like to them? How about three months from now? Here we’re taking a look at the bigger picture from the client’s perspective. What are the tangible benefits for them personally. Will they get a raise if the project proves to be successful? Will they have x number of users next month? Focusing on this specifically is where quality word of mouth referrals come from.
- FAILURE – What does failure look like? The worst case scenario for the client. At a minimum we want to be sure we’re trending away from this.
- VALUE – What have I done that makes my client more successful? This is where we hold ourselves accountable. We want to ensure we are doing everything we can to move our client towards success.
You can just add to these sections as you learn more about your clients. The most important thing is to ensure you’re adding something to the value section on a regular basis.
Reviewing these client success documents will help you focus your efforts toward helping your client succeed.