One of the questions that come up a lot in The Entrepreneurial Accountants Facebook group is what to do when a prospective client asks you for references.
When hiring a new accountant or tax professional, many clients ask for references just because they think they should. They want to do their due diligence on you and make sure you’re legit.
But out of respect for our clients’ privacy, we don’t give out references to prospects who are interested in working with us. We simply don’t want tire kickers bothering our loyal clients with questions.
The fact of the matter is, there’s a much better way to handle being asked for references. Here’s how we do it.
Why I Don’t Give Out References
At our firm, we never give out references. It’s a matter of policy for us, simply because we feel it violates the privacy of our existing clients and disrespects their time.
We don’t want our clients taking calls at inconvenient times and answering all kinds of questions they’re not interested in. It’s my job to sell my prospects on my services, not my client’s job.
When a prospect asks to speak with your current clients, the real problem is that they don’t know enough about you to make a decision. That’s the real objection.
As a self-employed professional working directly with clients, you’ll always have some people who will push your boundaries and ask you to compromise the way that you choose to work.
But following your system and sticking to your boundaries is crucial to being effective and efficient, and compromise spoils that. Compromising someone else’s time and routine is even worse. This is why I never give out client contact info when asked for references.
Here’s a Better Way to Handle It
So how do you handle this question?
First, I inform the prospect that it’s a matter of policy for us. I explain that I never give out my clients’ information, but I’m happy to address any questions or concerns they may have.
Second, I remember that not everyone is my ideal client. Some will “get it” and understand the value of what I offer. Others will not.
Some of the people who ask for references are just kicking the tires. They’re not really seriously interested in working with me. Why would I want to inconvenience my current clients to satisfy a prospect who may not be all that serious?
This is actually a great filter to test out the relationship. A prospect who can’t respect your boundaries and policies, or asks you to make an exception for them, is likely to cause you a lot of grief as a client.
But Don’t I NEED to Give Prospects What They Ask For?
It’s important to have a steady flow of new prospects, which is why we focus on marketing and keeping our sales pipeline filled with fresh new leads.
When you know that you have more conversations coming up, you can say “no” to a potential client who isn’t a good fit without worrying that you just gave away your dinner. This kind of confidence attracts great clients in the same way that desperation sends them running for the hills.
But don’t your prospects have good reason to check you out? Sure. There are plenty of prospects who will be a good fit and just want to make sure you do good work. There’s a way to provide social proof without compromising your existing clients, and it actually reinforces your relationship with them.
Using Video Testimonials as Social Proof
The best way to handle being asked for references is to record testimonial videos from clients you’ve helped. These videos only need to be a minute or two long and can serve as a very powerful form of social proof.
They’re recorded once, at your client’s convenience, and you can point prospects to them at any time. Your prospects also get to see the faces of your clients, people who are just like them, which is great for building trust.
As a bonus, being asked to record a video and advocate for your business confirms in your clients’ minds that they have a great relationship with you and get a lot of value from your firm.
What If You Don’t Have Any Clients Yet?
What if you’re just getting started and only have one or two clients? The tips above will only make this easier for you.
You don’t have to be afraid to say no when asked for references, and having a set policy against supplying references won’t make you look like you’re just trying to hide the fact that you’re new.
As soon as you get your first couple of clients, you’ll be able to ask them for testimonial videos to post on your website and share with new prospects.
Forget References. Demonstrate Competence.
The key is to remember that there are plenty of other ways to handle your prospects’ objections.
Take time to learn what their objections are, and answer them directly and honestly. Demonstrate competence by actively listening and proving to your prospect that you understand their needs.