You've been asking for referrals, and in a lot of cases they've been pouring in. Great; this is how it's supposed to work. You've cracked the code. But there's something that's bothering you. You may have the traffic and enough potential interest, but so many of these referrals are leading nowhere. It's just not a good fit, or the clients are simply bad eggs.
What's going on? How can this be that hard? After all, people want things done, and you've offered to do it for them. They heard about you from friends, family, other contacts. Do they not think that you'll spread the word? Do they not know that you can be as vocal as you like about the quality of the interaction? Why does this keep happening?
As it turns out, there are a few things you can do to help minimize this experience. Let us help you out.
Know What You Want
We keep coming back to some familiar territory for a reason. This is important and seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes wanting work and cash flow can blind people to the basics. To get referrals, you need to be referred - and bad referrals don't always have to do with bad clients.
If you're not up front about what you do or want, then the people referring you won't be either. A lot of bad referrals are simply a misunderstanding about the kind of work you are good at and interested in, and the kind of work you aren't willing to take on. This is a way of nipping the problem in the bud. If people have a very clear understanding of what it is you do, what you want to do, and what you don't want to touch with a ten-foot pole, you can ensure that they will proceed with the project or understand that you're not who they are looking for.
There are a lot of responsibilities in this field, and this is one of them. Understand that if people don't know what you're all about and approach you like you're a magical fix-all tool, that may be in large part thanks to your lack of clarity.
Let's be clear
Without clarity, you're missing the crucial step in communicating. This also doesn't lie solely on the shoulders of the clients you're working with. If you aren't being clear with the referrals about your skills, abilities, and expectations, you have no one to blame but yourself for getting into a bad situation.
Assess the Situation
There are always good questions to ask before diving into a referral. Never walk into any situation completely blind to the circumstances; that's how you get the wind knocked out of you. So what can you ask yourself? Well, for starters, who is referring you? Who to? Are they known to you? Friends? Acquaintances? Do they have a reputation for bad work? If you know them, would you refer them to a freelancer you know? If not, why not? Have you tried working with them before? Are they an “I'll give you another chance” kind of client? Do they deserve it? These are just a few things you should be asking yourself before the work has begun (you can read a whole lot more about the warning signs of bad potential clients slightly later in the process right here).
We all have friends that we aren't exactly excited to get together, for whatever reason. Maybe they've been in your life for a while, maybe personalities will clash. Know what you're getting into, and try to understand multiple different angles before agreeing to take any project on.
Be Aware of Being Used
Continuing with the need to be on alert, there are people out there who will take you for a whole roadtrip claiming they just want to test drive. You need to know exactly what is expected, and have firm lines drawn up. If you understand what lines you aren't willing to cross in terms of deliverables and work without a good relationship or proper compensation, you'll know when they are approaching.
Again, be clear - know that your referrals know your standards right away. That way, any claims that this is not what was agreed to will be null and void. Everyone is on the same page and understands the deal, and you can point to the exact point at which something wasn't grasped (or intentionally ignored, as may be the case).
Know what you're offering. Know your value, and know when to call it quits. It isn't worth working for people who don't appreciate you, and they should know what you're bringing to the table long before you're taking it away.
Money, money, money
Talking about money is always awkward at first, but you need to get over this initial distaste; this is kinda what you do now. It's not going to be a one-and-done situation.
Don't be afraid of talking cash. Talking budgets and money isn't just a way of being clear and upfront, it's a great way of sniffing out bad clients early. When the ideas are flowing, a prospect can be very enthusiastic. When money comes up, though, you'll be able to see the change in clients that just aren't worth it. In a less cynical view, you'll be able to see if the client has a realistic view of what's going to be spent. Have they done their homework, or did they just hear from a friend of a friend that their cousin's partner does it on the cheap? Maybe they're just inexperienced as well, and don't really have a clue about standards, rates, or more.
This is what makes talking about the monetary side of things so vitally important. It's a great way to cut through all of the higher ideas and get right to the practicality of the work that's to be done.
Hit on these points, and any others that come to mind, and you'll be well on your way to cleaning up those nasty referrals. This isn't foolproof. It's the ideal situation to only receive the best referrals and work with great people. The thing about ideals is that they don't really exist. You're always going to have to work with clients that aren't worth the effort. You'll never be free of butting heads with someone you've been referred to. But if you keep your head on a swivel, with any luck you'll be able to spot a lot of them before it becomes a major problem.
The goal is to minimize, not eliminate. As long as you cut those numbers somehow, you're doing something right.