Does your professional services firm have a minimal marketing budget or lack in-house marketing staff? Are some of your competitors outspending you 2, 5 or even 10 to 1? Under such circumstances, attracting new business may seem like an impossible goal.
But professional service firms with small budgets can market themselves effectively and build their clientele with many low-cost (sometimes even free) marketing options allowing you to stretch your funds.
Relationships and Customer Service
We’ve heard it a million times, that relationships and good customer service will increase your business development efforts. Even though this is a simple concept, many organizations do not have clearly mapped out training and processes to assist in this endeavor. Start by creating a reference guide for employees of what is expected of them by way of customer service and relationship building. Examples include: return phone calls within a certain amount of hours, give progress updates before they are requested, be well versed in the firm or company service offerings. These activities, although simple, go a long way in developing trusting relationships with your clients.
Satisfied clients are your best source for new business, so be sure to check in with them at least every three to six months. Although phone calls are acceptable, face-to-face meetings and the informal conversations are much better. Invite your best clients to non-billable activities such as lunch or a social event where you can have a good chat.
Similarly, cultivate non-client referral sources such as other service professionals serving the same group of clients. Remember that referrals are a two-way street: Your best leads will likely come from professionals to whom you’ve referred business.
Also, encourage those suited in your firm to attend conferences and other business, professional and industry events as time permits. Simply by talking with other participants in your niche, service or industry you can increase awareness of your firm and start relationships that result in referrals or engagements. As an example: A new manager in my firm recently received a referral from someone she had only met once because she attended an event and spoke to this person about what she did and where her practice was located. Even though she didn’t know the person well, he referred her because she came across as credible and our firm was in the right location for the referral. If she would not have attended the event, she would not have received the referral.
Agree On Who You Are as a Firm
Without the resources of hiring a branding consultant, you need to understand who you are as a firm and how you want to position yourself to the public. This will allow your staff to better articulate one focused message. Brainstorm ideas about what your firm does well, (for example, keeps costs down or boasts a high rate of clients in a certain industry) and how it differentiates you from similar firms.
Once you’ve established a brand “identity,” deploy it at every opportunity and in all possible formats. Establish talking points for meetings with prospective clients, informal chats with referral sources and speeches to community groups. Include key messages in your marketing collateral, on the home page of your website and in advertisements and paid sponsorship spaces.
Be sure to train ALL of your employees on effective ways to communicate your brand. As simple as it sounds, the key to successful branding is repetition, repetition, repetition.
Competing with the Big Guys
In many ways, the Web provides a level playing field where dedication and enthusiasm counts more than money. Although you should not skimp on building an attractive, easy-to-navigate and search-engine-optimized (SEO) website, a staff member can be responsible for updating your site. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google + — probably the most effective communication tools available online — cost nothing to use.
If you don’t have a blog, consider starting one using a free platform such as Blogger or WordPress. The Web arguably has a glut of blogs, but there’s always room for one more that addresses a specialized niche or provides insights on current issues in an engaging voice. Blogs are a great way to communicate with clients and prospective clients in real time. They also help to feature established and up-and-company employees.
And don’t forget to participate in online forums related to your area of expertise (keeping in mind the forum’s rules about business solicitation).
Although you’d probably prefer a more robust budget, it’s possible to build your clientele on a shoestring if you stay creative with your ideas, prioritize expenditures and take advantage of low-cost marketing strategies.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]