Most of the time, when a business owner is thinking about references, it's a question of how much to discuss about a former employee. But there are occasions when a business will be asked to provide references of some sort. Such situations usually fall into one of two categories.
First, you may provide a service to customers. A new customer may ask for references or testimonials from former clients to get an impression of the sort of job you'll do. The second type of request for a reference you may see is from a vendor, especially one that may be extending you credit. In either situation, a good reference is critical to your ability to do business.
By just doing a good job and paying your bills on time, you can generally gather good enough references to meet your needs, as far as winning over new clients or new vendors goes. But if you can get a stellar testimonial or reference, you can leverage those references to help you move your business to the next level.
The Best References
Unless the individual or company in question has some interest in seeing your business succeed, it can be difficult to get a testimonial or a reference that goes beyond "they were fine." But "fine" doesn't bring in new business. It can be enough to win over someone already considering doing business with you, but that's about it. Only the references that show that you impressed your customer in some way are going to really be helpful: you can add them to your marketing materials, send them out to prospective new clients or even (provided you have permission) give out the referrer's phone number for a more personal testimonial.
To get those sorts of references, you have to find a way to go above and beyond. Over delivery is necessary. Wherever you can impress, you need to do just that. That may seem impossible, especially when you're already working hard to make your customers happy. But even small efforts can lead to a big reference. Any step that you can take, you should. Even something as simple as a follow-up phone call can make a difference, especially if that's a step that your competitors don't take.
Depending on the types of references you can get, you can truly move your business forward. If, for instance, you're trying to find a vendor that will help you expand significantly (along with extending you a little credit), being able to point towards a vendor who you've not only paid on time but has another reason to enjoy working with your business (such as receiving early payments as a matter of course) can be invaluable. Especially if your prospective vendor can actually talk to a past vendor, you may find yourself being able to make a deal that previously seemed out of reach.
Testimonials Have to Be Easy
If you leave things up to a customer — at least as far as testimonials and references go — you may not get what you're after. Unfortunately, many people are more motivated to describe bad experiences they've had than to write you a note telling you how wonderful your company is. It's crucial to directly solicit references from your customers and the companies you work with, preferably as soon after a project is completed as you can. It's crucial to make it as simple as possible to provide those responses, as well. The easier you make the process, the more references you're likely to get.
Of course, some clients and vendors will never provide you with a testimonial. But if you offer a simple prompt that can be followed and keep the time you need them to spend on the process to a minimum, you're more likely to get a better response. Having more references or testimonials to pick from can be beneficial to your business: Rather than having to carefully decide between a handful of references and try to decide what the best option may be, you can go through a few pages and cherry pick those testimonials that put you in the best light. You can also rotate through your references, showing anyone interested in working with you that your excellence continues and your good references aren't a matter of chance.
Testimonials must also be timely: always be collecting is a good process. If you're using a testimonial that's several years old and a client or vendor finds out, it's very easy for them to ask if you haven't done anything worthy of a testimonial in the last year. Similarly, they can make assumptions about why you're using an older testimonial and whether your business is still able to live up to it. Just by adding new testimonials once a year, or even more often if you have the time, you can avoid those questions and continue to move forward with your business.
Making Use of Online References
If your customers, as well as the other companies you work with, are particularly impressed with your abilities, ask them to make those comments online. After all, if the first few pages of search results for your company include wonderful testimonials, you may not be asked for additional references down the line. Anyone searching for you can already see what a pleasure your company is to work with.
It's difficult to motivate less-enthusiastic clientele to visit such sites such as LinkedIn, Google Maps or Yelp and provide a positive reference. But if they're firmly in favor of the work you've done, they'll often be willing to explain that to others. The secret, just like with all testimonials, is to make the process as simple as possible. If you e-mail a client, following up on the work you've done and including a link and instructions for posting a testimonial on whichever site you prefer, you're likely to get the reference that you're after. Make it a habit and you'll have customers won over before they even contact you.
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