How Should You Vet A Referral?

I was recently approached by someone who immediately had that demanding vibe that so heavily annoys me and makes me get more frown lines, and that encounter has caused me to rethink how I vet a client, both for my own business and to send out as a referral. You see, I feel like I am wasting someone’s time if I know I have no room to take them on, so I immediately tell them that and try to help them find someone who can help them. Usually it goes well and people are thankful that they don’t have to go trawling for someone with half a brain but sometimes it blows up in my face.

There was the guy (a lawyer, naturally) who flipped out on me when I said I had no room but that a friend of mine was very good at working in that niche so I’d be happy to make an introduction. He told me what he was looking for in the initial email so to me, that was enough info that I felt like I could just pass it on if he wanted. I did ask his permission, of course, but still he started insulting me for not spending more of my unpaid time in order to better suss out his exact business requirements. He called me unprofessional and it’s not like I was using smiley faces in my email signature so really, that bastard offended me quite a bit. :)

There have been the people who have followed up on my referrals but found them lacking and then emailed me to complain that I hadn’t given them enough info, or enough names, or basically done enough to help them find someone to help them. X company that I referred them to didn’t respond to their email and it had been at least 4 hours so damn it Julie, get on the ball and find someone who is faster at answering emails. Is that my job? No.

clocky clock











I don’t charge a referral fee to the SEOs that I send business to, and I’ve never had a referral where the referring SEO asked for one. I’m very, very lucky in that, so I feel like if I do know some good qualified people who have room for some new work, it’s just the right thing to do.

What exactly do people expect in terms of being helped to hook up with the right people though?

I will say that if someone is nice and appreciative, I will go above and beyond for him. I will personally ask around and see who does have room and I’ll follow up to make sure things are being taken care of, but still, that is unpaid time for me that takes away from everything else. It’s my choice to do it of course but lately it’s been more common for people to almost demand it, to expect it. Can you imagine calling a dentist who said sorry but we don’t have an appointment that day and you’d say well damn you, you silly cow, give me the names of 5 other dentists who DO have an opening for that day?

Take my latest encounter with a company who not only demanded that I immediately hop on a phone call in the middle of a weekend afternoon which would have severely impacted my time spent on the couch watching Luther on my iPad, but who then proceeded to ask me the kinds of questions that I answer in an extensive SEO audit, and who then proceeded to get extremely uppity and rude when I said I simply do not have the time to do this unless you want to pay me for my time. I recently had asked the Julia Sugarbaker of SEO, Debra Mastaler, how to handle situations like this as Debra has 1000 times the business sense that I do, and she told me to just give out a fair figure and say if you want me to dig in, this is what it’s going to cost you. Digging in, whether it’s to find the cause of a problem on the site or simply to figure out who might be able to help, all costs time and money. Right after this conversation, I decided to try it out, thinking that the person would bail but lo and behold she didn’t. She paid me to dig in and spend some time trying to help her figure out what to do. She didn’t expect me to take a couple of hours of my time and do it for free.













So why do people keep thinking that we should be happy to work for nothing like this? Maybe because some of us keep doing it.

I can’t be the guy below if this keeps on.

no money man











And how much of your time should you spend vetting and helping a person that you can’t take on as a client? As I’ve said, some people are incredibly nice and gracious but some are 100% users. I’ve had someone try to get me to write up a presentation for him to present as his own in order to get a job and when I said no, he got very nasty. I’ve had someone try to get me to look at how they build links and tell them exactly what I would do differently. I’ve had several people try and get me to diagnose their problems and tell them how to fix everything, and all of this was expected for free, with none of these people being my clients or even prospects. I certainly don’t want to send worthless and time-wasting referrals to anyone and I have, sadly, and that’s something that really pisses me off because I feel like it’s rude on my part. Some people really are just absolute users though, and unless I spend my own time figuring that out, how am I to know?

So what do you do to vet someone that will only be a referral to someone else?

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9 Responses to “How Should You Vet A Referral?”

  1. Jairus Mitchell says:

    It is difficult to strike a balance between being a decent human (being helpful) and being paid.

    Freelance work is gradually teaching me limits, limits that I think more internet folk should adopt.

    I have realized over the years that the majority of folk who hire internet-y work have no concept of what a thing should cost. We are all working on our names and reputations and portfolios, but I feel as though we are doing harm to ourselves and our industries when we give our work away. Every time that happens, it sets an expectation.

    I don’t think that you are being rude when you give a fair price for your energy and effort.

  2. Julie Joyce says:

    Jairus!! Thanks for the comment and you are absolutely right. I am starting to feel that way with some of the posts I write actually, because I get a few emails from people who aren’t looking to hire me or anyone else but they ask a LOT of questions that require a lot of my time. I answered one guy’s difficult question and he must have put up a flier because I started getting tons of emails from people in his network, all asking me link questions.

  3. Derrick Kirkman says:

    I don’t vet them. I share my concerns with whomever I send them to, with a disclaimer that “O’course you know I could be wrong, but it seems to me that…”.

    Seems to work.

  4. Julie Joyce says:

    That’s a nice simple approach Derrick. What do you do when you can’t take them on but they start asking you for loads of free help?

  5. I don’t know what Derrick would do, but I just say I can’t help them. Politely, but firmly. And then I end the conversation. They haven’t paid me anything, and I don’t have time to take them on (or maybe I just don’t want to — sometimes “I’m fully booked” means I’m fully booked, while other times it means “you sound like a potential pain in the wazzoo and I don’t want to get involved in whatever little drama you’re cooking up”). So the way I see it, at that point neither one of us owes the other anything. And really, what can they do, actually? Run around complaining about how you wouldn’t give away free help to them just because they tried to guilt you into it? That’s not going to make YOU look bad. They aren’t the kind of client you want to work with, and anybody who would be sympathetic to their point of view is ALSO not the kind of client you’d want. (As to referring them: if you must, send them to your worst enemy!) Fortunately, there are generally plenty of the kind of client you DO want to go around. So these bozos can go off an have their little pity-party and feel all sorry for themselves because neither you (nor anybody else who knows what they’re doing) will give away everything they know for free. And you get to work with people who appreciate the value of what you do.

  6. Julie Joyce says:

    Torka, you rule.

  7. Nevyana says:


    You are right about the fact there are a great number of people who are trying to take advantage of one’s expertise, time and good will.

    With time I found out that the better you treat those, the more demanding they become, just as spoiled brads. Being definite and staying behind your terms (even if that means making them up on the go) is what will help you draw the line.

    Often such “clients” know pretty well what is proper to request from you, but they are just testing you to make sure if they can get that extra attention/help by appealing to your generous character. They actually know that you should charge them and they are prepared to pay the price, but will wait for you to actually demand for it.

  8. Julie Joyce says:

    Another great point…and I agree that you are correct because I’ve had issues with potential clients continuing to ask me questions and telling me about how much they are paying their current SEO.

  9. David says:

    Great post…and I know exactly where you are coming from.

    I no longer take on clients yet happily offer some free advice; even then I am often treated as if I am not giving them my full attention. What they actually mean is that I have told them where they have gone wrong and they don’t like it.

    Anyway I could write copious amount of text on this subject…but it would not be as good as yours.

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