Referrals: They Can Make You or Break You

I’ve  been having a very annoying weak dealing with small business owners whose lack of efficiency has left me more astounded than ever.

The first astonishment came from a mechanic who I’d been going to for about one year.  In terms of his knowledge about cars, he definitely had it, but his time management skills have always been atrocious.  I put up with it for one year because he was cheaper than most, I could tell he had the knowledge and I extended my patience beyond what a normal person would, but as of last week, I finally had enough and have decided to search for a different, more efficient mechanic.

IMy breaking point happened last week when I dropped my car off with him at exactly 10:00 am in the morning (since this is when he told me he’d be free).  I then asked how long it would take to have everything ready.  He said two hours.  So, knowing his time management issues, I gave him a few more hours and at 4:00 p.m. I called to find out if the car was ready.  No, it wasn’t he responded.  I asked how much longer it would take.  He said he’d by done by 6:00 p.m.  At 6:45 p.m. I called again and the car wasn’t ready.  At this point (annoyed) I moved on.  He then calls at 10:45 p.m. — a full 12 hours later!! to tell me the car was ready.  This is when I reached my boiling point.  I paid him, got the car and my business relationship with him has now ended.

Prior to this incident, I had foolishly given his number to a friend who needed his car repaired and the same thing happened to my friend.  The mechanic said he’d come by at 10:00 a.m. and showed up at my friends house at 10:45 p.m.  He fixed my friends car, but that referral, which I’d given the mechanic is now over.  So, in conclusion, because of this mechanics total time inefficiencies, he has now lost me as a customer and he has lost my friend (who by the way owns a cab company on the side and would have provided good business for the mechanic had he done a timely and good job).

Also, I have another friend who owns a medical transportation company and he too was looking for a mechanic, but lucky for my friend, he called me after I decided to move on from this guy and I guess you can say that this was yet another referral that I could have given to the mechanic, but didn’t.


The second incident involved yet another small businessman.  I needed some handy work done around the house.  I called him up, he said he could do the job and in fact did it and finished it on time, but there was just one small problem —  He left all his trash and woodwork on my porch and didn’t clear it up.  Did he expect me to clear up his garbage after I paid him?   Not good. Not good.  Sloppy and irresponsible.

Needless to say, I won’t be recommending this guy to anyone I know.  Another lost referral for him.


So, I was thinking about these two small business people (who really need the money) and was wondering if they were simply stupid, lazy or crazy?  And by the way, these were not guys in their twenties with few responsibilities or worries.  They were both in their forties and they both had families to take care for, kids to support, rent to pay and in one case even a mortgage!  In other words, they needed the money.

Were they this short sighted? In the case of my mechanic, even though I stuck with him for a year (& he probably thought I was an easy sucker, he still screwed up the one referral I sent over to him and thus, destroyed a potential income source).

In the case of the carpenter, does he not realize that his sloppiness will cost him business?  What shocked me even more was this was the first time I’d used him and you’d think with a new customer, you’d want to do a good job so you could get more business, but this foresight seemed to be totally lacking on his part.


Every business owner I’ve talked to who has been in business for 30 years or more has told me that they built their businesses almost entirely  on referrals.  They started with one customer, did a good job and that one customer brought them two more customers and so on and so forth.  A slow, methodical building based on years of consistent hard work. Emphasis on the word consistent.

So, I’m curious to hear from small business owners out there who might be reading this piece and I suppose this post could also serve as a warning to other small business owners.  When you screw up one customer what you are really doing is totally jeopardizing your ability to build up your business because that one customer probably had 10 potential referrals they could have given you had you not screwed them up.

The other Kenyan business blogs like to focus on stock prices and AGM meetings and all of that big talk, but without customers your business can’t exist.  So, let’s talk about that because it is the pulse of every business.

Your thoughts….

11 comments for “Referrals: They Can Make You or Break You

  1. Stan Winston
    June 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    The tight global economy is stressing many people. Despite this, I have successfully launched 5 Internet-based businesses in Nigeria, and one in Kenya. Many more in East Africa are to follow in the following weeks.

    I am looking to help people that are interested in creating another income stream while operating their primary business, working their job, or going to school. This is a simple idea and a no-nonsense opportunity to not only create an income stream for yourself, but help others to do the exact same thing. If you want to make referrals count, this is the way to do it!

    For more information, go to http://www.ciergis.net or complete the contact form on my website.

  2. Dr Lucy
    May 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I provide a service i.e run a newwish dental practice in Westlands nairobi. I rely on existing clients to send me new clients. i always strive to give each patient above what they pay for and ensure they do not have to return for the same problem. The result is afew very happy patient who are happy to refer to us their relatives and friends. My advice, your clients are not foolish, can recognize value for money.

    Concentrate on offering the best service that you possibly can and the money will come……in time, even Rome was not built in a day!

  3. Dee
    March 23, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Good stuff. If you think about it, we all depend on referrals. Each one of us.

  4. goodman
    October 6, 2010 at 7:38 pm


    Yes… i agree this site has REAL and SUBSTANTIAL content versus the so-called wannabe kenyan business and media outlets. just check the online standard forex quotes. They and nation look very idiotic for making news of exchange rates vs dollar rising. notice they are always optimistic on the shilling even weeks before a decline. As for bankelele.. i think the kelele part is true…empty debes there. They shouldnt come here with sour grapes coz u focus on REAL power moves not silly PR and stock events.

  5. mt
    September 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Weak=week surely.

  6. kenyanentrepreneur
    August 29, 2010 at 10:49 am


    That story is utterly hilarious :mrgreen: Quite foolish of the Norfolk, no? You don’t give anyone the room keys until you know for sure that their credit card has been fully charged (at least for the basic room fee’s).

    I find it hard to believe that someone would lose their entire business just based on one bad experience. Usually, if a business makes a mistake and I inform them, I expect them to correct it at no charge. In some cases, they’ve done that for me and I’ve gone back, but in others they haven’t and I just don’t return. So, why didn’t this caterer correct her mistake?

    Service oriented businesses are so hard because there’s so much competition. I mean, I don’t know what my mechanic was thinking by being so inefficient. They are tons of mechanics around and once I decided to move on my options were unlimited.

    So, I’d like to hear from Kenyan entrepreneurs who are in the service industry. How do you make sure your customers stay with you and don’t leave for the competition?

  7. Paul
    August 28, 2010 at 6:44 am

    KE, Remember the Julius Mwale character who was to have his IT firm listed at the NYSE? Well, you can read more on what he’s been upto here.


    Couldn’t find the original article you did.

  8. kenyanentrepreneur
    August 27, 2010 at 10:14 pm


    I don’t believe I singled out any one blog when I said that. So, I’m not sure why you picked that one. I made a generalized statement because I think a lot of them do that (including the business sections of most newspapers and the television reporters).

    Although, I suppose your right…to each their own. They can write what they want and I can chose to read or not read them, but isn’t everything connected? i.e. stock prices, mergers, buy-outs…whatever it is….they don’t operate in a vacuum.

    For me personally, if you just throw a bunch of numbers up on a board & tell me they either went up or down, …that doesn’t tell me anything about anything and I just noticed that all of them seem to follow this formula.

    I prefer the story telling formula where you write in complete sentences, which then allows people to follow your train of thought in a way that makes sense.

  9. xoxo
    August 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Why are you always dissing Bankelele? That blog is about banking and finance – buy-outs, mergers, stock prices and so on. There are blogs about economics, marketing etc. Not every “money” blog is about entrepreneurship. Write about your interests, and let the othe bloggers be :0)

  10. Anonymous
    August 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I know this lady who started her outside catering business using her mother’s small pots. She started cooking for small women and church groups function. By just word of mouth referrals, her business grew that in a given weekend, she would cater for about 10 weddings. When she screwed one of the functions just because it was small, the same word of mouth has brought her business to its knees in a very short time. That’s the power of referrals!

  11. Miriam
    August 26, 2010 at 1:25 am

    I totally agree with you that when you mess with one customer you mess with all their friends. Recently a certain hairdresser did my hair well but she stole some of my hair piece and insisted I had to buy some more. I know how many it takes to make my hair but I had no choice but to buy. Though she made my hair ok, I didn’t leave happy because that was robbery without violence and thus no referrals from me.

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