If you work in web design or development, it’s inevitable that you’ll get inquiries for a project that is not a good fit for your skills.
Perhaps the client budget doesn’t match with your project range.
Maybe the client needs skills that are a different specialty than what you deal in. Maybe you’re just booked solid, and the project has a timeline that won’t fit.
What do you do?
My philosophy is that you should provide value to people, even if they don’t become your clients — even if you’re not going to work with them. There’s a few reasons for this.
Clients Remember If You Helped Them Or Not
If people are contacting you for help with their web projects — Congratulations! It means you’re doing something right.
But if people turn to you for help — and for whatever reason, you cannot help them — you should still strive to get them closer to their goal. Don’t send them away empty-handed.
Part of being a professional is serving the people you have pledged to serve. Sometimes this means turning to your network, and handing off the work that is not a good fit for you.
When you do this, everyone wins. The clients wins, as they are now connected to someone who can help them achieve their goals. The studio or developer you refer the client to wins, as they have work, and a client that is a good fit for them. And you win, because as the facilitator of this introduction, you have built up good karma with the client and the development studio.
When you match the inquiries you will not be taking with another development shop, you get to be the hero to both sides! Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Are There Any Arguments Against This?
The web development community is usually altruistic, when it comes to the client services corner of the industry. About 95% of the time, people are very happy to help each other out, and refer out work that they can’t handle.
Very occasionally, I hear reports of web studios that drop the ball when it comes to referring a client inquiry to someone who could help them. Whenever I catch wind of this, I raise an eyebrow, and wonder what’s really going on?
Anyone who’s been a part of the web development community for more than a couple of years knows scores of people personally — and knows of hundreds more within the web industry. Most of us know who’s a good designer or developer, and who specializes in certain things. So why wouldn’t you refer the inquiries that you don’t want to someone else?
Don’t Fall Prey To Scarcity Mindset
The 5% of developers who feel they have to “protect their turf” at all costs are really missing the point. WordPress developer Carrie Dils recently wrote about this phenomenon.
I believe that when one member of the WordPress community wins, we all benefit to some degree.
As fellow WordPress junkies, we’re not all competing for the same slice of pie. I’d rather spend my efforts collaborating with you and learning from you than calling you my competition and shutting the door on a possibility.
— Carrie Dils
Carrie makes the point that her local market is very large and her capacity to work with clients is limited by how many hours she has in the year.
In other words, there’s plenty of work for everyone.
But scarcity mindset is a weird thing. It makes us think that if we tighten our grip on our leads, or our network, or our publicity, or our generosity — then we will continue to prosper.
But I believe that abundance flows through our hands like water. If we have open hands, the water (our abundance) pools in our open palms for a while before it flows to someone else. If we close our fists tightly, that water (our abundance) has a much harder time collecting in our grasp. In fact, it’s almost impossible.
Value Is Something We Add, Not Something We Declare
Even if you discount my personal philosophy as too woo-woo for your belief system, let’s bring it back to how your customer base perceives your value.
Let’s say a prospective client seeks you out, because they heard you were really amazing at web design, and you are an expert in your field — known by many, far and wide.
But let’s imagine you decide they are a bad fit for your services, and they ask you to refer them to someone who is a better fit, and can get their project done.
What if your reply to them was, “Nope, sorry. Don’t know anyone that can help you. At all. Maybe try the Yellow Pages.”
What do you think their impression is of your expertise and value after that?
You haven’t gotten them any closer to their original goal.
You haven’t given them the name(s) of anyone who can get them closer to their goal.
Maybe, just maybe, the prospective client starts thinking that you’re not as valuable as they originally thought you were. Maybe, just maybe, they think you’re not as knowledgeable about your personal network as they envisioned you were.
Even if you decide not to work with someone, there’s no reason to send them away empty-handed, unless you really just don’t give a damn about them at all.
Never send someone away empty handed. It reduces their faith in you.
Don’t Take My Word For It
This is what elite WordPress developer Curtis McHale has to say about it:
…when I send you work my first and only real priority is that you and the client are a great fit. Time and time again I’ve found that taking the time to get a client a great fit with another contractor has paid of long term.
Either the client comes back to me next time (even if they were happy with the contractor) because I found them the best person for the job, and didn’t charge for it. Or when the contractor has some work they can’t do, I’m at the top of their mind.
— Curtis McHale
Curtis also says this about passing on work that you would not otherwise do:
The reality is that every time I have plugged someone, or sent them work I’ve got something in return. Some day they have work that they just can’t do, and the first person they look to as a referral is me.
Not only is there some financial benefit at some point, there is a benefit to me personally right away. I just feel great when I can give work to someone else. Helping them out becomes the highlight of my working week.
I don’t expect people to be on the fence about this post. I hope I’ve made it clear how I feel about sending prospects off to fend for themselves. Now I’d like to hear what you think about it. Is there a time when it’s appropriate to send a client inquiry away without pointing them somewhere? Or is it something that is strictly uncool?
See you in the comments and on Twitter.