We think of a blanket as a source of comfort and warmth. When we feel cold and uncertain we crawl underneath. We wrap ourselves in one for protection. In business the blanket is called “references”.
Hiring a personal services firm such as accounting, marketing or SEO usually involves wrapping ourselves in “references”. We take comfort in contacting willing users of the prospective firm and learning their experiences. And where do we get those names? From the prospect of course.
Really? Would they offer you a name of an unhappy customer?
Given the fact that anyone with a connection to the internet can craft a persuasive looking website and even post wonderful “anonymous” or even false praise about themselves how do you look under the blanket?
Here are some simple and quick tests on how to look under the blanket.
- Ask in what state they are chartered. A quick internet search of the public record will tell you how long they have been in business and in many cases who the principles are.
- If they work with other vendors such as TV stations, check with the Management of that vendor. (Not the salesman whose income depends on the commissions)
- Do a court fillings search to see if there are any significant lawsuits now or in the past that need explaining.
- Call YOUR competitor and get a “reading”. This may take some interpreting, but you know your competitor and how to read their comments.
- Do you belong to a trade organization or other info sharing group? Ask around.
- Talk to their banker.
A quality firm will be in business in good standing and for some time (#1). Their vendors will give them high marks for quality and business acumen (#2). While disagreements occur, they should not have many issues with their former clients (#3). Your competitor will talk a lot about them or a little, but talking indicates they have an effect on the marketplace. “Never heard of them” and other similar phrases indicate low impact on the industry (#4). Trade organizations are a wonderful source of intel (#5). Are they financially solid enough to manage the scope of your project? Or are they capitalizing their firm with your money? (#6).
Hiring a personal services firm involves a longer commitment than buying hard goods. Information and cooperation pass in both directions for many months before you realize whether you have made a good or bad decision. Get the references for sure, but don’t stop there. Look under the blanket of references. It will only a take an hour or two to accomplish some of the above and it will save you months of agony.
Richard Sackett / CEO / Group Matrix