Most people offering professional services went into business to do something they love. Many then find that loving doing something isn’t always the basis of a great business. No matter how good you are at the services you offer, building a business involves its own set of skills and marketing is key.
Here are five basic principles to keep in mind:
1. Remember to sell yourself.
This is the biggie. If you remember one thing after reading this article, this is the nugget to hold on to. Marketing a service is not the same as marketing a product. When you market a product – a special gadget, a car or whatever – you are telling someone how good it is and how it will improve their life. When you market a professional service, you are marketing yourself. How you can help, how you approach what you do, how good you are at your job. To buy from you, people need to want to work with you.
This means that some of the traditional marketing tools aren’t very effective. In the world of product marketing, advertising is king. Huge amounts of money can be spent keeping brands high up in the conscience of the consumer. Billboards, TV commercials and magazine adverts all keep us aware of particular brands in a crowded marketplace. But if you’re selling professional services, advertising is one of the least effective tools.
2. Some of the best marketing is free.
Credibility isn’t something you can buy and yet this is what you need to sell professional services. You need to take time to garner recommendations, testimonials and third party endorsements. Pick marketing methods that allow people to get a sense of who you are. Networking, online discussions and public speaking are all great ways to get known. Building relationships with journalists takes time, but good publicity is priceless.
My most effective marketing tool came about without planning. When I moved to Ireland I was asked to volunteer on the board of the International Coach Federation. Being President was hard work but gave me a national platform, international speaking opportunities and hand in hand came plenty of offers of work.
3. It’s not rocket science.
At its most basic, marketing is simply telling people what you do, and then telling them what you do again, and again, and again. Consistency is key. The basic premise of the marketing programmes I offer is to select marketing tools you are comfortable using, and then use them every single day. You can use scheduling tools to help, but it’s important that you keep telling your customers your story or your voice can get lost in the fug of everyone else’s marketing. Make sure what you say is authentic, interesting and hopefully useful. But most of all, keep speaking.
4. Build your foundations first.
Make sure you are clear who you are marketing to and what you are offering. What value do you bring? What makes you different? Imagine you run a lettings agency and there are five others in your town, why should a landlord pick you? Your unique selling point might be something about the service you offer – an annual spring clean of all properties you manage, for example. Or it might be something special about your target market – you only work with clients who have multiple properties.
Take time to analyse your niche market. Having a niche helps you target your marketing, saving time and money. Try to get in their brains, where do they live, what newspaper do they read, how do they spend their spare time? Then think through their emotions. What would make their life easier, what’s important to them right now? Price? Time? Convenience? It’s obvious that busy working families have different priorities than retired people, but what triggers prompt sales? Understand your audience and tailor your message so it fits their needs. Get this right, and everything else in your business strategy becomes more straightforward.
5. Social media is a tool, not a solution.
Social media should be part of your marketing mix, but not the only ingredient. I’ve given a number of talks to local enterprise groups lately and walked away with a sense that people feel bewildered by social media. Many people struggle with thinking through what channels to use and how to build a professional presence. At the same time they are putting so much effort into social media that they are ignoring other options available to them.
Nowadays most businesses really are expected to have some form of online presence. But there is no need to feel overwhelmed. Just as I get help with my tax returns, there are many cost effective options, like Nick Lewis Communications, out there to do this work for you. Rather than spending hours worrying about your Twitter feed, you would be far better off acting as a brand ambassador for your business and leaving the daily churn to someone else.
Mary Anna Wright runs regular programmes to help small business owners attract more clients. She is a highly regarded coach, working with clients from around the world and has over 20 years’ cross sector communications experience: www.maryannawright.com