The phone rang exactly 23 minutes before the black metal bar hit her in the forehead. It had just been four weeks since her husband had been involved in a hit and run, an event that had turned their lives upside down. It seemed the changes ensuing from this incident were catching up with her now.
Cecilia was in her mid-forties with long curly hair and brown eyes. She had quit her day job 14 months earlier to pursue her dream, a career as an IT consultant. In the beginning, it had been very challenging for her to find clients, but after a while, she had gotten the hang of it and had signed several shorter projects.
Even though Cecilia was able to convince some new clients to work with her, she was still struggling to bring in enough to cover all expenses. There was the unpredictability of having a lot of work in one month and then nothing the next. That made it hard to keep up with all the bills, and a few had slipped here or there.
Cecilia also struggled with potential clients not wanting to pay her rates. She knew several consultants who charged upwards of $300 per hour and yet when she suggested $95 to her prospects the usual response was “we could really use someone with your talent and experience, but we can’t afford your rate.” She felt like she was forced to work at much lower rates than she was worth.
An Unforeseen Turn Of Events
But, overall Cecilia was happy with her decision to go out on her own. That was until Bob got into that car accident. Bob, Cecilia’s husband, was an artist at heart (although not a very successful one). Nobody was hurt, but the other driver, after rolling down his window to apologize, sped off never to be seen again. Their own insurance, declaring the car totaled, paid barely enough to cover the towing expense.
While the car was old, it was well maintained and – more importantly – paid off. It also was their only car, and Cecilia needed one to do her job. But there was absolutely no room for a car payment in their budget. So something had to change. And it had to change quickly.
Cecilia weighed her options. She could go back and get a job again – after all, her old boss had said that she could come back anytime. Or, she could figure out how to get clients consistently and also how to charge higher rates. Cecilia sat down with her husband and took a good look at their bank account. They had enough to survive at the current income level for about another five months. Knowing how much she hated the idea of going back to “9-5”, Bob agreed to “give this another ten weeks.” Now the pressure was on.
A few days later I ran into Cecilia at a local networking event. We started talking, and after she learned what I help people achieve, she confided her story in me. She also asked what I would recommend for her to do. She clearly did not want to get a job again after those ten weeks had passed.
Cecilia already had quite a few clients, and most of them were happy with the results she produced. So I recommended that she ask for referrals.
The reason is simple: People buy from people they know, like, and trust. Usually, that trust has to be earned through repeated interaction with the prospect, guiding them along the customer journey to a place where they can make the decision to invest in your services. This is hard work and takes time to get right. But there is a way to speed this process up, to build the necessary trust much quicker, by capitalizing on your existing relationships.
See, if you need a larger repair job done in your house, you probably start by asking your friends (in real life or on Facebook) if they can recommend a specialist. The reason that most people start there is that you already trust your friends. So, if one of them suggests a specific specialist, based on a great experience, you might still do some research on your own, but you’re much more likely to go with that person than with another.
What is happening here is that some of the trust you have in your friend gets transferred over to the recommended specialist. So, you start out with them at an elevated trust level. Basically, you are predisposed to do business with them. (By the way, that trust transfer goes both ways. If you recommend someone to your friend and that person does a lousy job, your friend will trust you less in the future.)
And the best thing is, prospects that call you based on a recommendation aren’t hung up as much on pricing. In fact, they are far more likely to pay what you are asking for than any other lead.
Cecilia interrupted me: “I totally understand, but I have a really hard time asking for referrals. It just feels slimy to me. I’m outright afraid it could hurt my relationship with the client.”
I smiled. It was certainly not the first time that I had encountered that reaction. I assured her that there’s a simple solution to that. But before I get to that, let me ask you a question: Who should you ask for a referral?
If you think “every happy client” you are spot on. But, do you know which of your clients are truly happy and which ones aren’t? Most entrepreneurs are so busy trying to find new clients that they never get around asking their existing clients how satisfied they are. But there is a simple solution to that, too. (There is a reason not to send this request to all your contacts. It’s based on psychology. If there’s enough interest, I’ll do a deep dive on this in a later post.)
A Crucial Question
That solution is automation. Just use an automated email service (like Infusionsoft™) to send out a questionnaire designed to get that critical piece of information. This survey should be as simple as possible to increase participation. In my experience, asking just one question so they can answer with a single click is the most effective way to get people to respond.
But what single question should you ask? Easy: “How likely is it that you would recommend my services to a friend or colleague?” Then present them with a scale of 1 to 10 (1 meaning “not at all” and 10 meaning “hell yes, give me a phone and I will start calling people now”) that they can simply click to make their selection.
What you are getting at with that question is called the Net Promoter Score, and while it is a little controversial in how well it indicates if you are doing a good job, it is a great tool to figure out, well, how likely it is that your client will recommend you.
Without going into too much detail, anybody replying with a 9 or 10 indicates that they have no problem recommending you. So, using your automated email tool, you can just send them another email (a day or so later) directly asking for a referral. And the best thing about that, I’ve got a template for both emails that don’t feel slimy or pushy at all.
“Now, that makes sense!” Cecilia exclaimed. “How do I get access to that template?”
“I’ll just send it to you,” I replied, and we exchanged business cards. (There is a way for you to get these templates, too. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.)
An Unexpected Call
Three weeks later Cecilia was sitting at her desk, contemplating what she should write about in her next blog post, when her cell phone rang. Her desk was a simple Ikea table with a glass top, and even though it was several years old, it still looked like new. On the table were just her laptop and a new retractable light that ended in a black aluminum bar about 2 feet long and housing several LEDs.
Cecilia didn’t expect a call, and as she didn’t recognize the number, she thought about not even picking up at all. But then she decided to answer anyway, partly because she had finally gotten around (just a few days before) to implement the suggestions I had given her at that event. She had the feeling that this call might have something to do with this, but she was in no way prepared for what would happen next.
It was already getting dark out. To be able to see her keyboard, Cecilia pulled the lamp over her head and turned it on. “Hello, Cecilia here from Haney Consulting,” she said after picking up the phone. “Hi Cecilia, it’s Arthur. Arthur Okelley from Strategic Profits Inc. I am calling because I have a big problem with my IT infrastructure, and I heard that you are the best when it comes to that stuff.”
“What is the problem?”, Cecilia replied, and Arthur explained that they recently moved their servers to the cloud and were now struggling with regular performance issues. This was right up Cecilia’s alley, and she started to get excited. “Where did you hear about me?”, she asked.
Arthur told her that he had struggled with this problem for a while but hadn’t been able to find a person to fix it yet. Then, the day before, he got a call from his friend Steve. Cecilia recognized that name immediately. Steve was one of her clients that had responded to the questionnaire with a 10, and he had been sent the ask-for-referral email just yesterday. “This stuff is working!” she thought but didn’t say anything.
Arthur continued that Steve had remembered hearing him talk about that issue before and that Steve didn’t quite understand why but he had just put the pieces together – the fact that he knew the perfect person to solve Arthur’s problem – Cecilia. So he told Arthur that he had to give her a call. “That’s why I’m calling.” Arthur finished.
Cecilia was about to respond when she remembered the conversation she had with me – particularly the part about the reduced price resistance. So she decided to really go for it. “I’m am happy to help you with that.”, she told him. “My rate is $250 per hour, and I require 10 hours to be paid upfront. But, because you got referred by one of my best customers, if you sign up today, I’ll reduce my rate to just $200 per hour.”
Cecilia’s heart was racing as she waited for a response. She didn’t have to wait long. “Great,” Arthur said. “That sounds like a fair price. Can you start tomorrow?”
Cecilia had quite a hard time keeping it together for the rest of the call. She had, in just a few minutes, sold more services to a new client than ever before, all without having to go through several rounds of proposals and weeks of waiting. And, even though she doubled her rate on the spot, there was no price resistance at all. She didn’t know it yet, but this was not a fluke, it wasn’t going to be the last time this happened.
Arthur and Cecilia spent a few more minutes talking through her contract and her payment terms. Cecilia also told him to where he should overnight the check. Before they finished the call, they also agreed when she would call him tomorrow (after she had received the payment) so that she could start with the investigation right away.
As soon as they hung up, Cecilia jumped up to tell Bob about this experience, totally forgetting about the heavy aluminum lamp she had placed there just 23 minutes earlier…
Over the next couple of weeks, other people started calling out of the blue (well, not really out of the blue, but it still felt like that to Cecilia) to ask her to help them with their IT problems. And gradually, it became Cecilia’s new normal. She was able to increase her prices even more and reduce the amount of hours she had to spend, while still making more than ever before.
Now you probably wonder where you can get the templates for this powerful automated referral process. It’s simple. I’ll email them to you, just as I did for Cecilia. Just tell me where I should send them.