I have a new client who is right in the midst of a huge level leap in her business. She needs a ton of help with a zillion things. Since I happen to know people who do three of those things she needs help on, I told her I'd send along referrals. I have worked with two of the sources I recommended, so I can refer them with confidence. The third is someone I met recently, was impressed by our first interaction, and decided to make a referral based on our meeting.

Making referrals feels really good, doesn't it? I love it. I love that I am helping the person to whom I am making the referral. It's hard to decide who to go to for help, if you don't know anyone first hand. And I love that I am almost literally handing over business to someone. We all know that referred business is so much hotter than business that comes virtually any other way.

So, explain this to me. I called the guy I didn't know well to tell him about my client, then I followed up with an email. He responded a day and a half later. If it were me getting that referral, I would have responded faster, for sure, but that's not that long, so not a big deal. But in his email response, he said he'd call me that afternoon. He didn't call me that afternoon, nor did he call me the next day. On the third day, I emailed him and said if he was interested in my client he needed to get in touch asap because my client wanted to have a meeting the next Monday (it was Friday.) He did respond then by email and followed up with a phone call. At this point, though, I'm curious if he is really all that interested in this new business. I am nervous that he won't respond fast enough to my client when she calls and that it will reflect on me because I referred him. I don't want my client to become annoyed at me because I brought this flaky guy into her life.

I addressed the situation with the guy when he called. It was awkward. I had the impression he thought I was being unreasonable. That he would argue, if we knew each other better or he wasn't trying to preserve the possibility of me passing along more business, that he really hadn't taken that long to respond to me. Even his apology sent this message, “I'm sorry if you felt like I didn't respond as quickly as you expected.”

People have different time frames and urgency in business. He may not need business that badly – or possibly he doesn't want to set unreasonable expectations for response time in the future. All his prerogative, of course. None of that is the point (though the ramifications of this type of “client training” are a good topic for another post). The point is, you should do what you say you will do. If you say you'll call, call. If you forget to call, call as soon as you remember and apologize for not honoring your commitment (and don't let this happen very often – get a better task-tracking system and/or hire an assistant if you need to.) If you can't meet a deadline, tell the person you are very sorry you won't be able to honor your commitment and give them a new, realistic date – and meet that commitment no matter what.

Actually, do this with everyone in your life. Because you never know who is a source of business referral… but most importantly, because your actions communicate your character, and you want to feel great about who you are for yourself and for the people who matter in your life.