Advice from an Apple Tech: Why it's essential to build a referral network

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No person is an island, and in the world of tech consulting, you’re going to need both help and allies along the way.

I’ve found this out both the easy way and the hard way over the years. Under easier circumstances, alliances formed when potential customers called or emailed looking for something specific that I couldn’t do or didn’t feel comfortable doing at that time. Case in point, iPhone repair. As much as I’d love to pick up the phone, hear the person explain they they’d dropped their iPhone and shattered the screen, then reassure them that I had the exact parts they needed in stock and could readily repair their baby for a good price, this wasn’t my area of expertise. Nor did I want to put the future of a device so many of us are umbilically attached to in my as-yet-unexperienced hands.

That’s where I found iPhone Joe, a local legend here in Berkeley. Although I’ve never met Joe in person, his fame has spread through the local tech circles in that he exclusively works on repairing and unlocking iPhones, iPads, and assorted Android handsets—and he does this extremely well. In a given day, Joe will hunker down in a Starbucks, take Web-based appointments, have his customers sit down down him and typically finish each project in under 20 minutes with an unprecedented expertise that’s led to some killer Yelp reviews. Where I found myself inundated with iPhone repair calls I didn’t feel I could handle and felt hesitant about, Joe filled in the blanks. He then started to refer specific Mac repair jobs over to me, and the relationship’s worked out for the best.

It’s the total disasters that sometimes bring out the best new partnerships and alliances, or at least show you who to go to in a pinch when something totally over your head comes along. A few weeks ago, I was disassembling a 2011 27-inch flat panel iMac to replace its optical drive. Easy enough job, I thought; I’d done this before and had no reason to worry. It was after I’d opened the iMac and disconnected three of the four cables connecting the LCD to the logic board that I accidentally applied too much pressure to the LVDS cable and sheared the connector from the logic board, leaving only a row of copper connector pins behind.

After spending an hour trying to refit the connector to its pins, shaking my fist at fate and realizing just how deeply I’d screwed up, I began calling around and talking with the guys at Fix That Mac, who recommended DT&T Computer Repair Services, an outfit down in Fremont that specializes in tricky logic board soldering and repair services. No more than two hours after dropping the iMac off to the capable guys at DT&T, they happily called to inform me that they’d soldered the broken connector, had the display working again and the iMac was ready to be picked up at any time.

In the wake of one of the worst mistakes in my tech career, I became aware of an outfit that could handle something I have yet to feel completely comfortable with. The business is top notch, professional, and I now have a place where I can take my hardest projects if need be.

Even if you currently have reservations about setting up a referral system, remember that this is part of the job. No single person can do everything, nor would they be expected to, and it’s still helpful to be able to point someone in the right direction, especially if the person you’re referencing can do a great job. Check around, see who your neighbors are, see what their strengths are, see what formal or informal agreements you can come up with, and work from there.

It’s not a matter of pride or ego as it is helping someone when they need it. Keep this in mind, have reliable people on hand and this can only help in the long run.

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