Referrals Are A Double Edged Sword


Referrals, as in someone you don’t know, inquiring about hiring you, because someone you do know told them to, usually come out of the blue in the form of an email or a phone call. They often start with an unfamiliar voice saying, “so-and-so, is a (friend, colleague, cousin) of mine you just worked with and sent me your way, she thought perhaps you could help my with my fill-in-the-blank.” 

Oh, and I do mean fill-in-the-blank in the most open ended way possible. This person could be from almost any kind of industry, could have a very, very small need or a very, very big one.  This need of theirs could be an exact fit to what you do, it could be a sorta-fit, or it could be a huge ginormous uncomfortable acrobatic-requiring stretch. This is the moment you decide, “do I politely send them on their way, do I cautiously take this conversation a little further, or do I say that it sounds like a great fit and let’s talk?” 

So many creative entrepreneurs feel so grateful for the referrals in the first place, they will go down the “yes” path, even if all their internal voices are whispering, saying or even screaming “no!”  And then where does that leave you feeling about this referral? Like you wish you never got it – so you never had to decide in the first place. 

But hey, don’t blame the messenger. If you’re not positioning yourself as a creative expert who is really good at this particular service that you want to do more of, then how can you expect your clients, peers, colleagues or friends to explain it? How can you tell people who’ve already hired you, as redundant as it may sound, how to hire you and who you’re for, when they’re sending potential new business your way – with nothing but best intentions?Referrals Are Awesome

Referrals Are Also Awkward

The other day I got an email from a current client asking how she might best describe me to some peers of hers that she’d like to send my way. She felt they could really get a lot out of the Braid Method for their creative businesses, but wanted to make sure that a.) they were the kind of entrepreneurs we’d be open to working with and b.) she was describing the kind of work we want to be hired to do. Now, was this a dream or what? A client, who not only loved her experience working with us so much, that she wanted to refer others potential clients our way – but wanted to make sure she set us both up for a good fit, right out of the gate.

In this case, I was able to reply with a short and sweet email she could forward to her friends, describing our specialty and a quick snapshot of three different ways they could potentially hire us.  In this case I was being asked to “set the stage” for a referral before it even happened. But knowing this is hardly ever the case, how can you set your own stage, before an unexpected, sometimes awesome, and yeah sometimes awkward, referral ever happens.

Want Great Referrals?

Set The Stage for Great Referrals (Before You Get Them):

1. Describe what you do in a nutshell… to yourself.
First, you should be able to do this for yourself. I am a creative expert at [ blank ] for clients like [ blank ] who are looking for [ blank ]. Words like unique, quality or solutions are too generic and NOT allowed in any of these blanks! Once you have this statement crafted, you have to be able to say it to yourself and actually believe it. Then you need to make sure this “nutshell” statement is on your business website’s home page, on your business social media profile, and heck, even printed on the back of that fancy thick letterpressed business card of yours.  

2. Tell your current clients what you’re best at, and who you’re best for.
Now that you’ve got that “nutshell” statement stamped in all the right places, stamp it in the minds of your current clients. You might think they don’t need to know what you do because they already hired you, but ask yourself this, did they hire you for what you really want to be doing? 

Client Scenario A: You have a current client you love working with, who wants to talk you up to her peers and friends, but what you did for her isn’t necessarily your specialty. So tell her. It doesn’t have to be formal, it can just be in casual conversation, “I love the work we’ve been able to create, I wanted to let you know that it may be one of the last times I’m doing this kind of work so I hope you loved it too, I’m really getting specialized at [ blank ] and am looking to work with more clients who need [ blank ].”  This can also be peppered into a followup email, but beware of tone! Keep it light and super grateful and if you have any doubt it may be misinterpreted, don’t click send. Kathleen and I do this all the time (usually in conversation, not emails) and earn nothing but respect, even enthusiasm from our current clients who are rooting for us.  

Client Scenario B: You have a current client who is EXACTLY like the kind of client you want more of, doing work that’s right in your wheelhouse. Woo hoo for you! But that doesn’t mean that his referrals are going to be exactly like him. So remind him why he’s your dream client. Tell him “you are so my dream client, because the work we’re doing here together is my specialty and I know you are going to get so much out of this, my expertise are clients like you who are [ blanks ] needing [ blank ].” They will love being described in such an illustrative and intentional way. Now imagine him telling, no bragging, to a friend about you. “Oh you should work with [ blank ], of course her specialty is [ blanks ] for [ blanks ] like me.” And imagine his friend saying, “what? I’m like [ blank ] too, I need [ blank ], tell me more!” Okay, that may be a little simplified, but being simplified is the key to getting that message translated even semi-accurately, like the telephone game! Think of it like you’re giving out sound bites to your biggest cheerleaders and supporters (or your spouse) to help craft at least a few nuggets of the conversation that’s happening about you – when you’re not in the room.

3. Too late, you’re already getting well intended but mismatched referrals coming your way. What do you say?  
So yeah, referrals are a double-edged sword, but only if you let them be. Don’t sweat it and don’t cave in to “yes” if it doesn’t feel right, or even out of respect for the friend or client who referred the interested party. Stick to your nutshell statement. Be gracious and be a good listener, but don’t let this caller or emailer dominate your time or the conversation.  But don’t make snap judgements, either. Sometimes if you just share your nutshell statement to a person who you think isn’t a fit at first greeting, they may actually light up and surprise you, exclaiming you’re exactly what they’re looking for – they just didn’t have the words to describe it. Remember, they haven’t been practicing a nutshell statement, you have. If you do say “no,” (and oh man this is where it can get a bit like a hot potato of referrals) you might consider having a few go-to peers, colleagues and other creatives you can refer this person to. But try to remember the expertise of the colleague you’re passing this hot potato on to, just like you would hope others would remember yours when passing new business your way – do unto them and all that golden rule jazz.

4. Moral of the story: Don’t rely on word-of-mouth and referrals. Be your own best referral.
You might be reading this post and think, are you crazy? “New business is new business, and if I didn’t have to go out and drum it up, hunt it and kill it, then all the better! Bring on the referrals!”  Another way of putting this? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

But let me tell you, blogging, email letters and sharing our own content with our “tribe,” is how Kathleen and I love getting our new business. Why? Because we’re “in the room.” It’s our room, and thought we may not have complete control over the conversation, we’re starting it. And every single bit of content we share comes from our own nutshell statement – what we’re best at (brand and business visioning) for a certain kind of client (creative entrepreneurs). If we get an email from someone wondering about hiring us, and they tell us they’ve been following our blog, or love an email letter we sent, they’ve already passed stage-one of “is this person a fit for what we do?” Plus, chances are they already know personality stuff, too, like we’re sisters and are cool with that, and that Kathleen has a full head of dreads, and Tara is a process-freak, so we’re going to make you go through our process, no matter what. They have a hint at least if they’re a fit. Now it’s up to us to really figure out if it makes sense for us to do business together.

The eternal fear for any creative entrepreneur is business will dry up.  That’s why we never stop sharing content. For us, our “gift horse” isn’t the referral, the expertise and knowledge we’re willing to share, and we’re not looking that gift horse in the mouth no way (whatever the heck that means). We’re making our own word-of-mouth. And the cool thing is this, when you DO get a referral, where do you think that person goes looking before they ever call or email you? Chances are they’re going to check out your website, your blog, your Facebook – the places where your content is having that conversation for you, before they engage in a real one with you.

We all like new business! But which do you prefer? Referrals from other people, or do you like when clients find you through your content? Tell us on Facebook.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about embracing your expertise and attracting those dream clients check out our ecourse:

Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.



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