How to grow your service firm
The symptoms that lead to stagnation are shared by most service firms. It's time to become an expert, says Robert Craven
You’re a management consultant, trainer, coach, creative, financial, or employment professional, homeopath, architect, accountant, solicitor, surveyor. The list goes on – you sell a service and it is probably a ‘professional service’… you sell some kind of expertise. So,
- Do you struggle with marketing? Do you find it difficult to do?
- Do you wonder why you don’t get the results you feel you deserve?
- Are you great at doing your skill but aren’t so sure about how to get more/better clients?
All roads seem to lead to the notion that the well-managed expert business can win over the clients…but how do you do it?
FACT: Most people like to buy from an expert and not from a follower…
FACT: One accountant is better than another in the mind of a client only because the client thinks that he is…
FACT: Marketing is not a battle for the product but for the mind of the customer…
Here’s the problem: Most PSFs (Professional Service Firms) think that the key to business success is their technical skill-set. They are wrong. They don’t understand:
- What people really buy
- What people really need from them
- What people really want from them
- The importance of a good bedside manner
- The importance of demonstrating benefits/proofs/testimonials
- The business development process!
Most ‘professionals’ were trained to be technically excellent, but no-one told them how to run a business.
Tip of the day: You should become an expert – become an expert in the world that you work in. People hate buying from a ‘follower’ or an ‘also-ran’ but love buying from an expert… whether you are an accountant, a homeopath or a plumber, you can do it. And because everyone will know and see you as the expert… they will ask you to do the work and they will pay a premium price!
So what does an expert do?
- An expert focuses – specific clients with specific problems/hurts/needs
- An expert writes – articles, white papers, books
- An expert possesses – the trappings you’d expect (online and offline), the knowledge, the expertise
- An expert knows – the movers and shakers, is an influencer
- An expert speaks – at conferences, events.
As well as the five attributes above there are two additional, yet underpinning, concepts:
- An expert has an ‘ology – a proven way of doing things
- An expert uses testimonials and endorsements – to demonstrate their credibility and underpin their reputation.
The interesting thing about these various aspects of being the expert is that they all interlock and inter-weave. Once you clarify your specialisation then you can walk and talk and write about it to confirm your expert status. Each element of The Expert! model supports the others. Experts present themselves in the position of authority or knowledge; they tend to be seen as what some might call ‘positioners’. They set out to adopt a specific position in the eyes of the customer whereas ‘prospectors’ are chasing work and clients.
The purpose of most expert activity is to command respect rather than to hustle for business. Often, experts take on what can described as an ‘education-based’ marketing approach to attracting new clients; and this education includes giving away valuable information and advice rather than giving a sales pitch.
The mindset of the successful expert is that:
- Their activity gets them the prospects that they want
- They maintain their dignity and professionalism because they are not using heavy-handed sales techniques… they let interested parties come to them – a client pull/attraction approach
- They are educating and showing people how their expertise can help
- They establish credibility and this recognition is a key driver in personal satisfaction
- They have a systematic process for communicating and for delivering work, which means that they are not constantly re-inventing the wheel.
Put simply, most professional service firms make life very difficult for themselves. The really small ones have no idea how to run a business; they spend most of their time struggling to find clients; the larger ones may be more successful but also struggle to keep clients in an ever-changing world where the clients, competitors and staff seem to be constantly changing their behaviour. I have to ask: “When most firms in your industry look pretty similar (actually almost identical) then why should people bother to buy from you when they can buy from the competition?”
The Expert! model was first launched on the unsuspecting public at our Bright Marketing seminars (in 2002) and since then the workshop has been delivered over 200 times to approximately 15,000 people. Every event has started the same way, asking the question: “What do you want to know how to do by the end of this session?”
At its simplest, the questions that audiences wanted the answer to came under one of five headings:
- What works?
- How to communicate? How to get heard?
- How to focus? How to target?
- How to stand out from the rest/how to be listened to?
- How to get more sales with no budget?
The answer kept coming back with The Expert! model as the starting and finishing point of the discussion. More importantly, it has been the application (explicitly or implicitly) of the model that has led to so many business successes.
Robert Craven is an entrepreneur, businessman and author who has run Mastermind Groups and action-centred learning with Warwick Business School, Business Growth Programme and London’s Accelerated Growth Programme among others. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm. He is managing director of The Directors’ Centre.