I recently connected with Wendy Eppinger, founder and owner of “Ask Wendy,” a free local professional referral service. What does this mean exactly? It means that if you are in the middle of remodeling your home, doing x y or z, you call Wendy and get help. Wendy helps you by getting you connected with her “A” list of tried and true service providers. She’s done the hard work of going out and finding the best people to get your job done and now she is available to help you!
That’s right, no more wasting your time, searching and hoping that the job gets done right. This is about the power of local networking. Sound interesting? I thought so!
Wendy, thanks for doing this interview with us today. First of all I would like to congratulate you on your idea and creation for your business Ask Wendy*. This is simply a great idea and it seems like you have found a way to create real value for both your clients and their customers.
Can you start by sharing a little about how you were inspired to create this business and how it actually works?
I know it’s hard to believe, but all the elements of my business just clicked one day in 2008. I had just made it possible for one of the contractors who worked on my house to receive construction jobs worth $200,000 and a little thought just popped into my mind: “Hmm….what’s missing in this picture? … Me!” All my past experiences and background seemed to play into this idea of a local referral business.
I suppose it all started in 1992 when I arrived from Atlanta, Georgia and would head up to the Gourmet Coffee shop every morning (where Allyson’s is today). All the contractors in town seemed to be there, as well. I was very comfortable among folks in the building trades, having been a project manager in construction in San Francisco and also working as designer and owner of my own playground company in Atlanta. I am very outgoing; I love meeting interesting and creative people, and I love connecting people with one another. During the four years I was manager of the Clay Angel, a high-end pottery shop in Ashland, I felt as if I were the Chamber of Commerce connecting with visitors and residents alike. Volunteering with the 4th of July parade for several years and being on the board of the ICCA Homeless Coalition contributed to my being connected with a variety of people in the Rogue Valley.
Ask Wendy* supports local service providers in many fields. I’ve known some of these folks for 20 years! The majority of work deals with the home – for example, roofers, landscape contractors, pet sitters – but I also represent “an honest used car salesman,” a medical insurance agent, a videographer and many others.
Because I only represent two service providers in each category, my providers are eager to sign agreements with me and feel that my fees are very reasonable. There is no charge for my marketing and advertising labor. In other words, it’s free to the service provider unless I bring them a real paying job. And of course, there is never any charge to the client.
What criteria go into your choice of local businesses to represent?
I have high design and craftsmanship standards. I have had my house renovated three times using three different contractors, and as a result I know their work and all the sub- contractors, as well. Visitors seem to enjoy the design work of my home and one of my largest referrals was from a visitor to my house. If I don’t know the providers personally, they have been recommended by someone in the trades whom I trust. Everyone in the building trades has the appropriate licenses and insurance.
I also look for good value and excellent budget considerations in the services I recommend.
Will you share a little bit about your own learning experiences involved in remodeling your home and how you went about getting referrals and finding relevant and valuable information for getting your jobs done?
No one should hire anybody without references and, if possible, one should always look at previous construction results. I have always looked at previous work by anyone in my provider network and have never been disappointed. I trust the general contractors. Because my background also includes furniture making and crafts, I have high aesthetic standards. We are lucky in Ashland because we are a small town and the community-building that occurs here
just naturally includes many good, responsible workers. Because this is such a small town, you have to do good work because word of mouth works both ways!
Obviously the type of service you provide saves time, saves money, probably even saves a lot of headaches or heart aches. Can you talk a little bit about this?
Well…I have done the legwork and scouted out good people. As I said before, this is a small community and in the two decades I’ve lived here I’ve had plenty of opportunities to discover which workers are the ones I can confidently refer my friends to.
You currently represent something like 58 different referral categories. Can you give us a quick run down on that?
A: accountant, auto repair. C: catering, cleaning, carpet installation. D: dry-rot repair. S: slip covers. V: videographer. W: window installation, window cleaning. Almost all the letters of the alphabet – I think you get the picture. Actually, almost all my providers represent services that I have needed at one time or another.
How are local people connecting with and finding you?
Here’s the fun part: I have actually been to 1,424 houses with my fliers as of this month! I really enjoy walking around different neighborhoods, meeting new people; there is always something to see and I get wonderful exercise.
Mine is a simple concept: what can be simpler than a phone call? I can also be reached at email@example.com. But really, the old “word of mouth” works the best. This is a wonderful way to connect and I feel fortunate to have so many friends and acquaintances.
So, people can actually call you for free and you are happy to talk with them?
Definitely. I really enjoy talking with prospective clients. Sometimes I even refer people to them who aren’t on my list (so I don’t get a commission), but I feel that when they need someone else they will call me back.
How do you make money? Do people pay you a fee to get referrals?
No. There is never a charge to the client…ever. That’s what makes Ask Wendy* unusual. Clients don’t have to sign up or pay a cent. My money comes as a percentage from the service provider once they have signed a contract with the client.
What if a referral doesn’t turn out well for someone? Can they provide this feedback to you?
I always ask for feedback and I will always follow through and share that feedback with the providers. Fortunately, I have good people providing services and I haven’t had any negative comments about the quality of their work.
Talk a little bit about your own experience and views of community networking and building sustainable economies.
Networking is my thing! I enjoy talking with people and hearing their ideas, and I love to connect people. Supporting local services is what community all about – the money and goods will stay in our community and enrich our lives.
What are some of the most common projects you assist people with?
House painting, plumbing, pet sitting, alterations, and help with medical insurance.
What might be a project someone is working on at this very moment that you could help them quickly navigate through?
Perhaps someone can use help with cleaning gutters and raking leaves! They only need to call Ask Wendy*.
OK, how do people reach you?
The easy, old-fashioned way: call me at 541-482-7303. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you only talk on the phone, or do you come over to people’s houses to consult with them?
It’s the licensed service providers who go to their home to consult. They have the specific skills; I just make the referrals.
Any last thoughts or comments for our readers?
Here’s the bottom line for me: IT’S FUN!