For those of you who have run a business in the past, whether it was successful or not, getting a business reference for that period in your life can sometimes pose unique problems. In essence, you did not work for anyone (other than yourself) and most companies don't want a reference from you.
So, what is a small time business owner supposed to do? My first piece of advice to people who find themselves in this type of situation is, don't lie! As a matter fact, no matter what situation you find yourself in when looking for a job, you should never outright fabricate. Murphy's law dictates that it will come back to haunt you and you may very well lose a job that you worked so hard to get.
When you find yourself in the unique situation of needing a reference from a period when you ran your own business, you basically have three options. You can contact a customer that you had a long-standing relationship and ask that they give you a reference; you can contact one of your partnered with another business owner in providing products or services, you can ask that business owner to provide you a reference.
While we like to think that people are nice all the time, all of us know from past experience that people can be fickle. So, if you plan to use a former customer, make sure that it is someone that you had an excellent business relationship with and that you feel would always speak highly of you no matter what his or her personal situation is at the time.
There is nothing worse than expecting a great reference from someone and your prospective employer calls them at a bad time and that person gives you a not-so-glowing reference.
This is another situation that can be adversely affected by the attitude of the person who receives the call for a reference. When you contact a supplier to provide you with a reference, offer the advice that they can treat the reference call the same way they would if another supplier was calling for a reference to offer you a credit limit with their organization.
Also, make sure that you had a sterling relationship with the supplier you choose as a reference. If you have any doubts in your mind about an incident in the past, don't use that supplier as a reference.
The Partner Business
This is another situation that is fraught with uncertainties. So, make sure you choose someone whom you had a stellar relationship with and that your partnering agreement was beneficial for both parties. Again, you can coach this reference in the types of information you want them to provide to prospective employers. Ask them to provide information about your business acumen, your punctuality, your willingness to go the extra mile and any other related skills that will help you get a job.
All in all, getting a reference for a period of time when you ran your own business can be challenging and often leave you unsure of the outcome of using a previous customer, supplier or partnering business owner. However, if you will just take the time to coach the reference some and prepare them for calls from prospective employers, everything will turn out fine.