Tough question, and one that shouldn’t be answered too quickly.
A referral, a reference, a recommendation – these things just happen on the fly, over casual lunches and at backyard barbecues. At little league. Over beers. So easy for someone to make.
This is how service people get work. Earn a living. Do a good job, people notice, and ask who made it happen. This is easy for housekeepers, and lawn guys, a bit less clear for professional types. Hairstylist? Good news – your work speaks for you.
But if you’re a knowledge worker, you might want to reconsider how you handle the receipt of a referral.
“Expert” opinions and associated referrals carry much more weight. If I can’t fathom the quality of the work, it feels like a black box of voodoo and magic – be it a CPA, a programmer, or a realtor. I have to rely on what I can understand, whether it’s timely delivery of results or bad news about late deliverables, all I can really wrap my hands around is how well the professional communicates progress.
But here’s my point (took a while, thanks for bearing with me): when you fail to perform on a colleagues referral, it looks bad for both the person that gave me the name, and the professional that blew it. And the crux is, it doesn’t matter if the client was sloppy, if they were confusing, or if they doddled about – they were still the client.
Pick your favorite saying – “client is always right,” “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” whatever. These became cliche’ for a reason, and understanding this early on saves a world of embarrassment and uncomfortable discussions.
(Keep this in mind when you are asking for referrals as well – if you can’t handle the bandwidth, don’t think you’ll be able to follow through, or don’t have your heart in it, you are putting a relationship at risk.)
When we provide that “expert” referral, we put our own reputations on the line. This is equally true inside the corporate machine as it is outside as an independent contractor.
- Inside, you still draw a paycheck when you blow it, but you’ve soaked up both goodwill and a share of the political capital that your “sponsor” had with the client you failed. Blow a couple, and be prepared to move on or settle into the basement.
- Outside, your current paycheck is at risk, and the funnel that you saw on the horizon can dry up overnight. You can go from opportunity to busy to bust in a pretty quick cycle, and lose the connective tissue that helped launch you as an independent in the first place.
Like all professionals, I’ve certainly blown up my share of clients through poor expectations management. And while I can’t tell you exactly how much it costs to under-perform, I can definitely confirm that this is not a career building strategy.