Referrals are an essential ingredient of a successful web design business. They allow you to bypass the costs of traditional marketing. Plus, there’s a great feeling when an existing client recommends you. It means a lot.
It’s not all sunshine, though. Just because a prospective client came to you via a referral doesn’t mean they’re a great fit. Even so, you might feel an obligation to work with them. Therein lies the rub.
Maybe I think too much about these things. But it seems like there is a delicate balance here. Do you book a new client simply because you feel obligated? What’s the etiquette? How will your decision impact the relationship with your existing client? Should I hide under a blanket until this all blows over?
Yeah, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
Not All Referrals Are Destined to Succeed
First of all, every referral should be appreciated. And I genuinely do feel a sense of gratitude when a client takes the time to do this.
But a web design referral is a bit different than in other industries. For example, it’s not the same as sending someone to your favorite restaurant or real estate agent.
Those businesses are straightforward. The restaurant will gladly serve your favorite dish. The real estate agent can show you homes that fit your budget. In either case, they provide an immediate service. Then they are out of your life until you need them again.
Web design is unique. It is both highly specialized and often entails a long-term relationship. Thus, it’s not just a matter of making a sale and being on your merry way.
Project Needs vs. Your Specialties and Preferences
Sometimes, a referral is a good fit based on code. If you specialize in Drupal and the prospective client requires WordPress, the writing is pretty much on the wall. Easy enough.
It’s not always that simple, though. For instance, I’ve had several businesses referred to me who needed someone to take over the maintenance of their existing website. In addition, there have been cases where a website wasn’t finished. The client needed someone to step in and tie up the loose ends.
This clashes with one of my core policies. I avoid maintaining websites built by someone else. There are occasional exceptions. But I prefer to build something from the ground up. It’s just a more comfortable situation. I feel more confident in my ability to provide great service.
Perhaps it’s a guilty conscience. But the fact that these were referrals complicated my decision. The idea of letting down an existing client is a powerful thing. Whether that is a realistic view is another subject altogether.
Your specialties may differ from a client’s needs. And your potential relationship may not be so promising, either. This needs to be carefully considered before signing up for a project.
Again, a referral can cloud your vision. It’s possible to give someone the benefit of the doubt. You may do so even when all signs tell you otherwise.
I’ve found myself in this situation. Ignoring the red flags, I booked projects. And I almost immediately regretted doing so.
Yet I’ve also had referrals that have worked out wonderfully. The lesson? Scrutinize a referral just as much as you would any other prospective client.
So, What Are the Obligations?
A referral should undergo equal scrutiny. But there is also a case for giving it preferential treatment. These folks are already “in the club,” so to speak.
That doesn’t mean that you must work with them. But it does compel us to listen to what they have to say. After all, there’s no harm in saying “no thanks” if it’s not a fit.
But what if you aren’t booking new projects? It’s probably more polite to say so. This way, you won’t waste anyone’s time.
Regardless, I think there is an obligation to thank your existing client. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate – just a simple thank you note will do.
And what of the potential impact of turning down a referral on your client relationship? That can be tricky. So much depends on the personalities involved. But honesty is the best policy. If things don’t work out, it’s OK to share the outcome if asked.
Appreciate Referrals While Understanding the Reality
A client referral for your web design business can be a blessing. It has the potential to increase revenue and help you gain valuable experience.
But there are no guarantees. Just because you’ve connected with a prospective client doesn’t mean you’re required to work with them. The vetting process should be the same for everyone.
It’s all about determining whether the opportunity is right. If so, your business will be in a better position for it. But not to worry if things don’t work out.
At the very least, one of your clients was pleased enough with your work to spread the word. And that is always a positive development.