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Becoming a freelancer or starting a new business can be tough especially when you have no references or testimonials.  Bernadette Doyle shares some creative ideas for overcoming this stumbling block on the way to your success.

What To Do When You Don't Have References Or Testimonials
Bernadette Doyle

A reader asks: 'I have now been seeking freelance assignments for the past eight months. I have been meeting HR/Training managers in a one-on-one discussion and it's painfully long till they decide to give the assignment. A client whom I approached recently wanted to know the names and contact details of clients with whom I had worked earlier. She did this even without evaluating me and the programs that I conduct. Is there a way a client should be evaluating a trainer/consultant? Is there a way one can influence the evaluating process the client adopts? For those of us who are starting with such assignments, we may not have many references to give.'

Bernadette replies:  What you're encountering isn't all that unusual. It's pretty standard for a training manager to want to know about your credentials and track record before they even engage in a dialogue with you. Think about it from their point of view. You are trying to sell to time pressed people who are bombarded with approaches by others just like you.

At this point in time, they are calling all the shots. Clients are completely entitled to evaluate prospective vendors in whatever way they see fit. Trying to tell them that they 'should' be evaluating you differently is a waste of your time and theirs.

In this situation you have two choices 1. complain that it's not fair or 2. learn the rules of the game and start playing by them.

When I was in the same situation as you, I chose number 2!

I know it's tough when you're just starting out. I have been there, and I can tell you from experience that the situation you're in won't last forever.

First of all, let's deal with the lack of references and testimonials. When you don't have many references to give, it's challenging. It's the old catch 22 of you can't get a job until you have experience, but you can't get the experience because no-one will give you a job!

So what's the way through?

Is there any business you have a good relationship with who would be willing to be a case study for you? When I was getting started, I had a friend who was a small business owner and was sympathetic to my plight. He needed help with sales and marketing, so we came to an arrangement where by he got a very good deal on my services and in return his company was a bit of a 'guinea pig' for me.

There aren't many people who would be willing to let a 'rookie trainer' loose on their team, so success with this strategy does depend upon you having a good relationship with someone who sees your potential and believes in you. The work I did for his company helped me build experience and confidence in what I was offering.

A friend of mine approached local businesses and offered to do a free 1 1/2 hour 'taster' session with their sales team. He had brilliant rapport skills and once people got a sense of what he had to offer, they wanted more. He did £100,000 worth of business in his first year as a freelance trainer, and this was his main selling technique.

Get experience by finding local business groups or clubs and offering to speak for free at their meetings. I still cringe when I think about some absolutely awful presentations I gave when I was getting started, but the old motto 'practice makes perfect', really applies here. You'll gain invaluable presenting experience, anecdotes that will help you with sales meetings and get some experience fielding questions and helping real business people. Of course this will raise your visibility too. When I was starting out, I did this purely to gain experience, but I ended up getting a lot of business via this method. Offer something at the end of your talk, such as a free article or CD in exchange for contact details, and you can start to build up a prospect list using this method too.

These are three suggestions, but the key is YOU have to be creative and determined and find a way to get the references and experience you need. It is possible, and plenty of people have done it before you.

Reading between the lines of your email, what's really going to make a difference for you is 'beefing up' your own attitude and self-belief. I sense that you're being somewhat timid and apologetic in the way you are approaching people, so they are immediately writing you off. Training managers want to hire trainers who exude 'I can do it' confidence. Bolstering your confidence is YOUR responsibility, not theirs. This is the 'Inner Game' on being a Client Magnet. The ironic thing is, when you truly exude this confidence, a lot of the obstacles you are currently encountering just fall away.

However tough it seems today, you must remember that even as you are reading this, there are companies out there who do need what you have to offer, and business contracts are being signed today for services you can provide. To get in on the action and start diverting some of these contracts your way, you need to start talking about what you can offer in a language that makes sense to companies.  Describe what you're offering in terms of problems that they have that you can solve and goals they desire.
Companies don't want more freelance trainers, but they will welcome problem solvers.

So whether you can boost morale, reduce absenteeism, increase sales, improve customer retention,(or all of the above!), you need to start perceiving and presenting yourself as a valuable problem solver rather than just another trainer.

Bernadette Doyle publishes her weekly Client Magnets newsletter for trainers, speakers, coaches, consultants, complementary therapists and solo professionals. For more practical help that you can use today download my free Masterclass on 'How to Attract Corporate Clients' for specific ideas and techniques that you can use immediately to get results. Visit to download.

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