This cautionary tale will make you consider your online footprint

Tips for getting business referrals

I’ve written several articles about how you can use social media to boost your reputation and generate referrals.  However, just like your physical image, your online image needs tending and careful grooming. What does your online footprint say about you? Are you aware of how much attention it receives? How much is your online footprint hampering your ability to generate business referrals via your network? (more than you may think!)

Can you recommend anyone who . . . ?

My business partner’s recent experience illustrates this very well. One of his clients asked him to recommend a property expert.  Jon put the call out to his network – did anyone know someone who could value commercial and residential property and then be able to make recommendations for ways to increase the portfolio’s efficiency? A pretty specific request.  Work that needed a property investment consultant. I scanned my network as well, and passed on the request to two people whom I thought would be likely to know the right sort of person. A few weeks later, Jon received an email from a business coach from a well-known business coaching franchise, saying that I had referred him for this work. I had?  I was sure I wouldn’t ever have recommended a coach for this property consultancy work. But maybe this guy had specific skills that would fit.

Online investigations to make sure the match is a good one

Jon looked at this person’s online profiles. He checked the company website, and looked at LinkedIn.  From these, he learned that they were “great business coaches for small and medium-sized companies.” This wasn’t what he wanted!  If he made a dud recommendation to his client, it could seriously harm his own reputation.  Jon asked the coach if he would be able to deliver what was needed, given that he branded himself as a small business coach.  The reply?  Oh, the reply was classic: “It takes a while for businesses to grasp that we can help them without being experts in what they do – that’s what they are.” Ouch! Given that Jon and I are co-authors of The Go-To Expert, you can imagine how well this response went down with us!  From it, we surmised that:

  • This person had ignored the client’s request for a property expert.
  • They thought that the client was wrong to ask for an expert – they can help with anything.
  • (Oh, and they hadn’t bothered with much research on us – but that’s for another article!)

Why do your clients want an expert?

If you are dealing with a tricky, complicated, sensitive, cash- or time-critical problem, who do you want to help?  Someone who knows what they are doing and can understand the issue quickly? Or a Jack-of-all-Trades who will apply standard models to the problem, and (if you are lucky) hits upon one that works before too long? Quite! The FT Effective Client Adviser Relationships Report (2012) showed that two-thirds of clients named being an expert as something they would look for in an adviser. Read more articles about the importance of being an expert and establishing a niche on the How To Make Partner website. You could get started with: How to find your niche When is the right time to become a specialist? Why you need to be a brand to progress your career

How do your clients decide if you are right for them?

They check you out online, of course, just like Jon did with this potential referral.  A verbal recommendation might be enough to get your name in front of them, but very few people will go on that alone. They will hunt around, finding out what else you have done, what others say about you, and where your expertise lies. If they like what they find out, then they might get in touch. But if your online footprint tells conflicting stories, if it shows you are a bit of a gadfly, doing a bit of this, and a bit of that, they are likely to move on to someone with more of a focus on what they need. The same applies to anyone making a recommendation about you. No one wants to give duff referrals, so your online profile will be double-checked to make sure it fits what your referrer is saying about you before they pass on your details.

What’s the lesson from this?

Remember clients want to work with an expert. Be specific on your online profile about both the type of work you do and who you do it for. First and foremost that means the firm’s website and LinkedIn, but don’t forget other places people might find you online – your email signature, Twitter, comments in professional forums, etc.   For more tips for getting business referrals, read more about making your online presence work with these articles: Five ways your online footprint helps you sign up clients 7 reasons you are not getting enough referrals from your network 5 effective LinkedIn tactics What clients want And sign up for your free Career Kitbag, which contains some great advice about using social media to enhance your career.