If you’re looking for a new supplier, whether it’s an accountant, a designer or anything else then by far the best route is to ask others you know in business who they’d recommend.
This works fine if you’re asking the person privately. But where it falls down is if you ask them on a public forum, Twitter or any other public network.
I’ve been a member (and moderator) of UK Business Forums for 4 years now and I see the same thing happening again and again. In this example I’ve changed names to protect the guilty parties.
A Typical Scenario
Steve posts asking for someone to recommend a lawyer. Bill is a lawyer who has has been a member of the forum for ages. So lots of other people that know Bill from the forums chip in with their comments about how great he is and that they highly recommend him.
The problem is, these people don’t actually know if Bill is a great lawyer – they’ve never used his services. They just know that Bill seems like a nice guy and he’s been around for a while. They’re also hoping that if they recommend Bill then he’ll recommend them to others to return the favour.
As nice a bloke as Bill is, he’s a useless lawyer. He overcharges and under-delivers and turns out shoddy work. A few people on the forum know this already as they’ve been burnt by Bill in the past. But they don’t post to the thread to say as much – that would be bad netiquette. The same reason why after Steve gets burnt, he doesn’t say anything when he sees Bill being recommended to others in the future.
So if you’re taking recommendations via a forum or social networking site – ask the people doing the recommending if they’ve actually *used* the services of the person being recommended. Better still, phone some of them up and have a private chat.
This is the same reason I’m cautious when it comes to organisations that make referrals a requirement of membership. If you’re in a group you have to bring in referrals for your fellow members. It doesn’t matter that you may not have used their services or know if they’re any good. You still have to bring in referrals each week or month.
When I recommend someone’s service I want it to be because I know they can do a good job, not because they’re a nice guy or belong to a networking group I go to.
There is a big difference between recommending someone and making referrals to someone. There’s nothing wrong with referring people to a company you can’t vouch for, but make it clear it’s a referral and not a recommendation. It’s your reputation on the line.