10 ways professional services can think like a client to attract new business

If you’re a professional services business owner, you may be leaving your marketing ‘til last. Last in the budget. Last on the team agenda. Last thing you do before you clock off for the weekend.

For many professional service business owners, marketing stops at the logo and the website. The rest is often seen as a ‘nice to have’. Marketing takes up time that could be spent on business development or the ‘actual work’, right?

In fact, if you’re not investing in blogging, social media engagement, loyalty programs, guest-podcasting, or community events, you could actually be doing your professional service business a disservice.  

The proof is in the data. Follow these strategies for successful professional service business marketing – based on documented insights* about what prospects and clients are actually seeking.

1. Showcase your results

Clients of professional service businesses say the best way to market to them is to develop a reputation for producing results. In fact, for professional services buyers, the single most important factor in selecting a provider is expertise.

Forget about being humble – start talking loud and proud about your client success stories, in-house talent, business partnerships, and any awards you’ve won!

2. Invest in your website

80% of prospects use a professional services provider’s website as the most common way to ‘check out’ a business. A lead-generating website is sometimes called the “Queen of Marketing Materials”. It’s a key ingredient for turning visitors into fans and fans into clients.

What story is your website telling prospective clients? Does it showcase what you do, and align with how you want your business to be perceived in the marketplace? If not, it could be time for a website refresh.

3. Make your people experts

62% of visible experts** contribute to a business’s brand-building activities, and 66% of visible experts accelerate growth and business development for their firms. Visible experts attract their clients from: 26.6% referrals; 26.2% speaking engagements (other than keynote); 13.9% authoring books; 13.9% search engine; 12.3% blogging; and 11.5% social media.

So what’s a ‘visible expert’? It’s a staff member with a name and a face on your socials. It’s you talking about what you do best as a guest on someone’s podcast. Or it’s an article you’ve written for a relevant partner business’s blog.

4. Know your ideal client

71% of businesses who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas (i.e. the ideal client they want to work with) versus 37% who simply meet goals and 26% who miss them (USA, 2016). 64.7% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals have updated their personas within the last 6 months, compared to only 8.7% of companies who have missed lead and revenue goals, and 18.4% of companies who simply meet lead and revenue goals.

It pays to do your foundational brand identity work. If you’ve been in business a year or two, set aside a few hours to revisit your ‘ideal client’ or ‘ideal community’. Ask your staff which current clients they love working with and why – this should be your true north for future target clients.

5. Be human

Your services are less important to clients than you think. The nifty graph below proves there’s a big difference between the value you and a prospect place on your services! People want to work with a business who understands them.

Start with the challenge or problem your prospective client is facing – not with an outline of what your services are. This approach is most helpful when your service has a greater impact than your client appreciates. Say you’re a copywriter working with clients who want to increase their website sales. First look at what challenges would be created by declining sales – like letting staff go, or losing revenue. You run a law firm? Is someone suffering confusion or embarrassment – or facing a hefty fine – in a situation that your advice could quickly rectify?

[Note: A/E/C = Architecture, Engineering, Consulting] Hinge Marketing, 2018.

6. Go beyond a ‘one size fits all’ model

Successful businesses have ‘segmented’ their ideal clients, and they target different types of content to different client groups. That means the person on the receiving end feels they’re getting the personal treatment.

But let’s be honest – who has time to create that much content when you run a small business and don’t have a dedicated marketing team? How then do you create an offering that doesn’t feel like a ‘one-size-fits-all’? Think about what your business offers beyond your core services. Could you establish a loyalty program or a mentoring system? Can you run a monthly webinar featuring a special guest? My client Katie at Propeller Advisory has been running weekly webinars during Covid-19, where her clients share their expertise with her entire community.

7. Teach to build trust

A business that ‘teaches’ takes on a special status in the eyes of their ‘students’. When you produce a wealth of practical, high quality and accessible materials in your area of expertise, the people who read it begin to trust and rely on you.

Your prospective and current clients want inspiration and actionable insights, including***:

  • Tips, tricks, and best practices – 70%
  • Industry trends and predictions – 62%
  • How-to / 101 explanations – 61%
  • Expert interviews – 60%
  • Solution case studies – 59%
  • Data insights and original research – 55%

8. Put your brand out there

To strengthen your brand, you need to convey a strong reputation at the same time as increasing your visibility. One key method for this is content marketing. Go beyond regular blog posts on the website and look for how you can get in front of people, where they are. Try print features and advertorials in relevant trade press; event sponsorship; or LinkedIn Live and Instagram Stories.  

9. Reap the rewards of research

Firms that do frequent research (at least once per quarter) achieve more growth at 33.3% with 20% profitability compared to firms who do no research and gain just 2.8% growth and 11% profitability. Approach your clients for feedback on a service you’ve offered them. Send out a SurveyMonkey survey to key clients. Or partner with another firm to research and release a report on key trends and challenges in your sector. This gives you intel, but it also offers something back to your community. For example, Pitcher Partners runs a legal survey each year for their law clients.

10. Think community, not client

If 2020 taught us anything, it was the power of community. The global Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S.A Black Lives Matters protests that spilled around the world and the ongoing struggle for women’s rights (#MeToo) showed that there is hope and strength in solidarity.

What does this all mean for the professional services business owner? I’m taking my inspiration from Amy Porterfield. She teaches business owners how to translate their skills into digital courses (and has created Tony Robbins’s courses). She’s a globally successful professional services business owner who focusses on bringing her clients together as a community to learn. She’s also shifting from talking about ‘client personas’ and is encouraging business owners to think about ‘client communities’ instead.

Sources and further reading

*Hinge Marketing, Inside the buyer’s brain, Report, 2018

**BrightTalk Research, USA, 2019

***Heinz Marketing – Building visible experts, Article, 2014