Three Marketing Hacks That Professional Services Firms Need To Embrace
There are many reasons why small and medium-sized professional services firms don't market themselves. Too busy with client work. Fear of rejection. The belief that selling will diminish their professional stature. These are all great excuses that limit the volume of prospective clients, increase revenue volatility, and sometimes result in merging with another firm to survive or even closing up shop.
Most lawyers, accountants, architects, doctors, financial advisors, graphic designers and consultants of all types establish their own business because they believe their professional skills are of great value and that there will be market demand based on recognition of their expertise. But, unfortunately, success as a business will always rely more heavily on the ability to market their services, rather than on the quality of the services they deliver.
Many practitioners refuse to accept this seemingly unfair business reality that favors marketing skill over professional talent, holding fast to the belief that word-of-mouth referral is the only marketing strategy they should ever need. And although that approach worked for many professional services firms in the past, it no longer will sustain consistent revenue growth and profitability in a new age where people rely on electronic devices, rather than on human interaction, to identify, evaluate and select services. For better or worse, this now applies to everything from selecting a restaurant or day care center to choosing a dentist.
Professional services firms that accept this new business dynamic often face a dilemma: They cannot afford to engage a marketing advisor and believe they lack the talent to market themselves in an effective manner. The good news, however, is that most firms don't need professional marketing counsel, and there are a few simple marketing tactics they can do for themselves that can have a significant impact on the growth and success of their firm.
Here are three simple "marketing hacks" that all professional services firms need to embrace, with or without the assistance of a marketing advisor:
Grow your network.
The traditional "Rolodex" of business contacts has been replaced by electronic databases and social media networking platforms, including LinkedIn. The top marketing priority of every professional services firm should be to constantly grow its list of clients, prospects, business contacts and referral sources.
Here's an effective hack to accomplish that goal: Every time you meet an individual, either in a business or social setting, ask for their business card or contact information, and add them to the firm's database of contacts. Someone you meet on the golf course may not appear to be a likely prospect, but their brother, co-worker or next-door neighbor could be, and they are likely to be networked on social media. Asking for contact information can be difficult for some practitioners, but you'll find that most people are happy to comply, and will reciprocate by asking for your information as well.
If asking people for contact information is too much of a hurdle, LinkedIn can provide a very effective way to grow your firm's network, simply by searching for the profiles of individuals you've met and sending them invitations to join your network. You should also send invitations to people you've not met but would like to include in your network. Your invitation should include a brief, introductory note, and if they do not respond, you've lost nothing.
Build top-of-mind awareness.
Even with a robust database of contacts, if you don't knock on their doors from time to time with relevant, interesting information, they will forget you. In fact, less than 5% of your target audience is likely to be "in market" (requiring your services) at any point in time. The good news is that firms need not reach out any more than quarterly to maintain top-of-mind awareness with important audiences. In fact, some firms send out so much information that recipients grow tired of it, creating a negative brand impression.
Here's an effective "content marketing" hack that can yield positive results: Each quarter, publish a simple interview with one of your clients in a way that showcases their background, ideas and success. (It should not mention your firm, or imply that your firm is responsible for your client's success.) The additional benefit of this tactic is that it builds client loyalty, and even if a client declines the interview invitation, they will be flattered that you asked.
What's important is that people are always interested in reading about successful people. They will have far less interest in learning about your firm's most recent hire, or where your team placed in the local 5K charity race. The content you send out need not demonstrate how smart you are. The goal is simply to remind people that you are available to help them, or to be referred.
Always reach out directly.
Some firms invest significant effort to create content for their website's blog, for their firm's LinkedIn page, or for X (Twitter). But most of that content will never be seen by their target audiences because they are always attempting to hit a moving target. The absolute best opportunity to gain the attention of your firm's target audiences is to contact them directly, either through email or snail mail.
Here's the hack for reaching and influencing clients, prospects and referral sources: Write down and commit to four dates during the year when you will contact them directly. Mid-January, mid-April, mid-June and mid-October work well in terms of when your contacts are more likely to be in the office and not distracted by holidays or vacation planning.
If you've built your database, and created content that people are likely to read, then this hack should simply involve pressing "send" or licking envelopes.
In truth, effective marketing does not require a degree or specialized training. By making a commitment to follow these three simple marketing hacks, professional services firms can achieve the same or better results — in terms of consistent client work and revenue — than their larger competitors with full-time marketing resources.