5 reasons marketing your service-based biz is harder than selling red lipstick

It’s challenging to find unique and engaging ways to promote a service-based business.

Personally, I’m guilty of putting my own business marketing at the end of my work queue. I tell myself it’s because client work is more important. Secretly though, I know it keeps me busy hustling up one end of my office, so I avoid tripping into the gaping black hole at the other end where my comms and sales efforts should be.

It was different when I was marketing big professional businesses. In an environment with lots of people doing interesting things, good ideas and stories have a habit of finding you. And it’s different again if you have a product-based business.

As a small services business owner, you have to invest effort, time and more than a little creativity into marketing your services.

If you were selling red lipstick, on the other hand…

You would have glamorous, red-lipped models to drape across your social media.

…but services aren’t tangible. You can’t see them, touch them, or spread them out on a table for an Instagram flatlay. You and your staff could wear red lipstick and be photographed for your socials, but your service offering won’t be immediately clear.

Tip: Build a collection of photos and films in Unsplash and Pexels that are ‘on brand’ (look ‘n’ feel, values conveyed). Book a photoshoot of you and your team to roll out across the year. Behind-the-scenes photos build trust and rapport with prospects.

You’d give people a chance to try it on and see if they actually prefer the pink.

…but service based businesses don’t have a try-before-you-buy model. We expect people to hand over the big bucks and trust we’ll achieve their desired results.  But what if our skills don’t meet their needs? As a service-based business, we have to work harder to convince our prospective clients that we look good together.

Tip: Run a free webinar sharing your expertise, so people get a sense of your intellectual calibre and working relationship style.

You’d be stocked in a MAC store, where you can be compared to five other versions of you.

…but service-based businesses are an island. There are few places you can go to compare a law firm, accounting firm, real estate or HR consultant side-by-side. This means people have to research harder and longer before they make a decision.

Tip: Use client stories to showcase what you offer and can achieve for prospects. This short-cuts their decision-making process.

You’d instantly and obviously transform your wearer.

…but the impact of a professional service business offering usually accumulates over time. Clients may have to wait a month or two to see results. In some cases, you may be holding onto clients for a whole year, and only delivering an annual service.

Tip: Check in regularly with your clients via phone and email to stay connected. Ask about their needs, and what you can do differently to meet them.

You’d trade on an iconic public reputation that precedes you by 1000 years.

…but service-based business owners are often building reputations from scratch. Red lipstick has history. It’s a signifier for lust, daring, power and confidence. On the other hand, many service-based business owners are fighting the negative or dull reputations built by those who went before them in their field.

Tip: Network with like-minded business owners in your industry, and begin to create a new reputation for what you all offer – and what excellence looks like in this new business landscape.

Marketing a service-based business is distinct from marketing a business that sells tangible products. With unique challenges however, comes fresh ideas and new opportunities. Service-based businesses should keep an eye on what their product-based biz friends are doing. Product-based businesses are incredibly talented at marketing directly to consumers. There’s no reason we can’t adapt their ideas for our own audiences!