Face it…you know you’ve got to do something to keep a steady stream of clients coming to your professional service firm. But when it comes to the m-word (marketing), you’d rather not. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
If we’re good enough, clients will find us or we’ll get plenty of referrals.
We don’t have time – we’re busy enough and have to maximize our billable hours.
We can’t afford to market – we have no extra money.
We have brochures and a website – isn’t that enough?
We don’t know where to start, even if we do want to attract more clients.
We can’t get key people inside our firm to agree on how – or if – to start.
Promoting our firm is unprofessional, unethical, and tacky.
These are all legitimate perspectives and shouldn’t be minimized. But what if there was a painless way to get the following results?
High-quality prospects seeking you out and coming to you, instead of you having to seek them out.
Your firm reaching and helping more people with what you have to offer.
Increasing the volume of clients from which you can choose, allowing your firm to be selective and work with only those you truly want.
Differentiating your firm from your competition and articulating what makes you and your firm special.
Tapping new networks that don’t know about your firm yet.
Wasting no more money on ineffective brochures, flyers, web sites and other marketing materials – better yet, knowing if the investment you make is worth it.
Raising your fees and being paid what you are worth.
Learning how to grow and sustain your practice in any market.
My guess is that you’d be willing to take a closer look at some basic marketing principles and practices, if they could generate these results for your firm.
The Ugly Truth
Here’s the ugly truth about attracting more clients: you have to make it a priority constantly, consistently, and carefully. So what can you do to make it less painful…or even painless?
The answer depends on your firm’s view of marketing. Many of the professional service firms we work with tend to fall into one of two camps. Some firms are committed to using internal resources (i.e., partners, designated business development staff, or junior marketeers), and some won’t or can’t. Either way, marketing systems must become a core part of your day-to-day business practices.
Look Before You Leap
In both cases, you have to spend some time thinking about, developing, and testing what happens before you print brochures, develop a website, introduce yourself at a networking event, or write an article for a trade publication. Robert Middleton’s Five Laws of Marketing captures this well:
Build your base (careful attention to your message):
Get Attention: what you say and write to grab your prospects’ attention, introduce yourself, headline a talk or article, etc.
Uniqueness: what makes you stand out from your competitors, such as a specific promise, standard, or guarantee; you must be very clear on who you do and don’t serve
Value: what you demonstrate through information that you share before you get hired – free articles, white papers, survey results, workshops, etc. – so that when the need arises, the client thinks of only you
Authority: the proof that you’re qualified to deliver what you say you can do; demonstrated via case studies with measurable results, media appearances, testimonials, bios, company background, etc.
Reach out to the market (being constant and consistent):
Relationship Building Systems: networking, direct outreach (personal or mass mail); keep in touch systems; centers of influence (banker, advisors), joint ventures, client relationship strategy, customer creation system, relationship selling strategy, value-based pricing strategy, next level strategies
The key to these five laws is that all aspects of marketing must pull in the same direction. So if you have one vendor doing direct mail, another your website, and another your ads – particularly before you’ve built your base (laws 1 through 4) – chances are they’re all pulling in different directions. You must have a holistic plan that keeps your firm and your vendors pulling together.
Making it Happen
Knowing what to do is not the same as making it happen. That’s where most busy professional service firms fall down when it comes to marketing.
Whether you do it yourself or hire an outside firm to help you, here’s the basic process you should follow:
Make a research-based plan of action that’s strategic, contextual, and seamlessly aligned with your firm’s business goals; set priorities.
Establish a process to stay on track and motivated.
Use an approach that gets your team aligned and all working toward the same goals.
Factor in support, guidance, and resources for the hard work of implementation.
This Won’t Hurt a Bit!
You don’t have to tackle all of this at once. Take it one step at a time. Effective marketing takes hold organically and grows over time. A steady pace lets you experience and evaluate any changes thoughtfully. You can reasonably expect to put all of these things in place in about six to nine months. You’ll see results much sooner if your first steps are thoughtful, strategic, and carefully focused on building your base.
Want a prescription that will keep your business pipeline full of high-quality clients? Decide to add a little painless marketing to your weekly business routine and call me in the morning!
Levinson, J. Guerrilla Marketing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
Middleton, R. Laws of Marketing TeleClass. Action Plan Marketing, Inc. 2003.
Putman, A. Marketing Your Services. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1990