What I learned to do better from a bad referral

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By Kerry Bell.

As an independent career service provider, I rely on referrals. Every career service needs a strong network, especially those who work in small business. Business partners, colleagues, and friends send potential clients to me. Often, these are qualified prospects, but sometimes they are not.

I recently received a referral from a friend of mine. The client and I went back and forth for some time. She booked a session with me and then cancelled. I sent her a text to re-schedule her appointment and never heard back from her until recently. She said that she could ONLY book time with me on the weekend, so I agreed to meet with her outside my office hours.

In my gut, I knew that this business relationship was not going in the right direction. So, why did I agree to see her? Part of it was how my friend might perceive me turning this person down. My friend is a very good source of referrals, but she has sent me some people that are not always a good fit. I wondered if she would ever refer anyone to me again.

Diligently, I wrote up a coaching contract with all the costs and stipulations. In fact, I used a version of the contract that Lise Stransky, shared with our CPC Mastermind Group, as it most suited this particular situation.  Soon after I sent out the contract, I heard back from the client. She cancelled the appointment, stating she could not afford my services. I had wasted months trying to close this sale, which was obviously not a good fit from the start!

I take full responsibility for this situation and vow to take the lessons I have learned and take a different approach.

So here’s what l learned from this situation:

  • Take the time to define your ideal client and only engage those who are a fit. Reflect on your past clients. Who have been a joy to work with and who have been a pain? Why?
  • Devise a way to vet out the prospects that are not a great fit. One option is to have them fill out a questionnaire to help them determine if they are ready for career coaching.
  • State your fees up front. In fact, put this on your website. This will eliminate the tire kickers and time vampires.
  • Let your referral sources know who your ideal client is and tell them what your fees and packages are. Educate them and get them to do the vetting for you.
  • Have a script developed to respectfully decline anyone that is not a good fit.

I have always believed that some pain is good for business growth, as it focuses us on what we most need to change. I hope that you are able to take some of the lessons I learned and employ them in your small business.

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