- Growing your professional service business to generate more revenue is a difficult task to achieve without proper marketing.
- In order to implement a proper marketing strategy to grow your small business without spending a fortune you need to know who exactly you are targeting.
- There are way too many aspects you need to beware of, so you should definitely start learning about all of them - from lead generation to customer retention and beyond.
Growing a service business beyond turnover of a couple hundred grand a year can be a challenge. Initially, you start out building your business in the area of skills you have expertise in – and during that time you focus on great service.
Chances are you’ve worked for years in your field for someone else and you decide to step away and freelance or contract to a large client. Maybe you’re just THAT good at what you do - you realise that you’d make way more money if you were the boss taking care of everything. That way you’d have creative freedom, right? Except that’s rarely how it works in practice.
In reality, you pick up a handful of clients pretty quickly. You do a good job for them and get referrals coming in for more work. However, there’s a problem - you’re not in control of the referrals.
Referrals are great when they’re coming in thick and fast - but the downside is you don’t know when the next one is coming in. You don’t know what their expectations are, and it’s difficult to challenge those expectations when you have clients who are talking about
- What you do,
- How you do it, and
- How much you charge.
As a result, you tend to get stuck doing the work you’ve always done. You’d love to be able to leverage and scale - but contractors and freelancers don’t do a good enough job and you don’t have the turnover to be able to hire full-time staff who have the skills to deliver on all the work.
It’s a problem we’ve all faced in growing our business beyond “just me” - the founder, the originator, the person delivering all the work, but it gets worse. As the business grows, so do the administrative obligations - ensuring the books are up-to-date, bills are paid and taxes are done. Soon, you find yourself working extra hours on client work AND making sure the business doesn’t burn down while you’re not looking. It’s stressful, to say the least.
Nearly every business owner I know has, at some point, had a meltdown around having to do it all themselves and wanting to walk away back to a day job.
But remember, you got into business for a reason - you didn’t want that type of lifestyle. So, how do you break free? How do you build up the business so it’s not just you? Time after time, I see prospects coming to me who want to achieve exactly this. Their business has good bones - they’re good at what they do, but the consistency of new work just isn’t there. They go from feast to famine month to month. When the big projects land, everything is great - but they’re not in control of where the next big client is coming from. This is really the first big problem service businesses tend to have – and you’re not alone. In fact, the more professional and highly qualified you are, the harder it hits.
The Role of Professional Development
When you think about your professional development - you’ve probably spent a ton of time building your professional skills. You’ve probably gone to university, done a ton of study and practical experience to get good at what you do. In my business, I’d spent 5+ years at university, plus work placements. Then I spent years working in a business before I ever considered going out on my own. I’d spent thousands upon thousands of hours honing my skills. Naturally, my technical skills were pretty damn good (if I do say so myself).
Now contrast that with the amount of time you’ve spent honing your business skills. Learning how to market yourself, sell what you do, hire people properly, you’ve probably spent nowhere near as long building those skills. So, it’s OK to feel like you don’t know how to acquire more clients. It’s OK to feel a bit awkward when you’re having sales conversations or trying to get new clients to sign on the dotted line.
You simply haven’t done the hours to get good at those skills.
What To Do Next
The first thing to identify is that if you want to grow - you need to be in control of your acquisition of new clients. Referrals are great, but if they aren’t coming in consistently, you’ve got a huge problem. If you don’t know how to spend money to acquire new clients - you’re in for a difficult time growing your business. I learned the hard way that you can be keen on growing a business but if you don’t have contacts to call or people to have sales conversations with - it’s almost impossible to grow.
Once you recognise that referral and people coming to you is not the answer, it is time to figure out how to attract clients to us and be active when it comes to acquiring them, rather than just passively hoping they show up on our doorstep, credit card in hand, ready to buy our services.
In order to do that, you need to be able to have a conversation with prospects. Both literally in terms of a sales conversation, as well as with your marketing. So much of small business marketing is cheap and nasty. It just talks about your products and services with no real benefits for the client. If you’re in a business that is not especially unique, which is most businesses, it’s very difficult to stand out - even if you are exceptional at your job.
The key to any great marketing is to truly understand your best clients.
Not the small and annoyingly demanding clients that nobody wants. I’m talking about the best clients. The clients where, if you had 100 of them drop on your lap, you’d be ecstatic to get on the phone and talk to them about how you can help them.
- You need to understand their actual situation.
- You need to understand the distinction between what they say their problems are, and what the real problems are.
- You need to know where the landmines are before they step on them. If your marketing can point out the landmines and give them those lightbulb moments - even better.
The more personal you can make it, the more you can demonstrate that you understand their situation - the better your will be positioned to be the authority.
People think that the way to be the authority is to have credentials, or a book, or a ton of testimonials. In reality, people don’t care about that stuff. They care about your ability to highlight their blind spots. To show them what they don’t know. That is how you establish credibility.
You wouldn’t just rock up at the doctor with a sore leg and ask the doctor to amputate.
- The doctor would stop you right there and ask you a ton of questions.
- They’d run a lot of tests.
- They’d figure out what’s really going on - so they can recommend an appropriate treatment.
If you’re not doing this with your prospects - I’d highly recommend you start adding a diagnostic element into your sales process. It builds trust and rapport with your client extremely rapidly while also positioning you as the expert to show them the solution - which may or may not be your product.
The father of all modern marketing - Jay Abraham calls this method the strategy of pre-eminence. It’s about telling your prospects what they need to hear and putting their needs above yours to make a sale. Most people think that the equation for an ideal client is simply people who need what we do + people with money. But ultimately, that’s a great equation for building a business where you end up resenting all the clients and wanting to burn your business to the ground.
A better way to think about it is:
- What is your value, your skills and problems you can help with?
- Who are the people you can actually help? Note, you can’t help everyone that needs help; and
- Who are the people you ENJOY working with? Remember that not everyone you enjoy working with actually needs help.
In the middle of those 3 areas is an ideal client.
This is incredibly important because once you think about this ideal client - you’ll find that your actual service offering may need to change. This is a good thing!
Ultimately, There Is Only 3 Ways To Grow A Business:
- Bring in more clients and sell what you already do.
- Sell something more leveraged and more expensive so that you can make more money with the same amount of effort, or less.
- Systemise and automate the business so that you can do more of #1 and #2. This might mean bringing on staff to do the work, it might also mean bringing in technology or other solutions so you don’t have to do absolutely everything yourself.
This is critical to understand, because in most cases, the reason you can’t grow is because you’ve tapped out your personal time. You literally can’t work more hours - but you can’t really change your pricing either because referrals are coming through the door that have certain expectations on pricing.
So, once you’ve figured out your ideal client - changing your service offering to match their needs is a good thing. If you want different results in your business, you need to do different things.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”- Albert Einstein.
- We need to offer more expensive, more highly leveraged products and services to a more affluent client, or
- We need to hire or systemise so we can actually deliver more work., or
- We could bring in more clients.
In reality, the best answer is all three. This means doing marketing. For most service based businesses - especially professionals - marketing is often seen as a dirty word. I know what you might be thinking: I’m good at my job! I don’t need to market.
Why Do You Need Marketing?
I know how you feel. I have thought the same thing in the past! I’ll just be so good they can’t ignore me! But think about it, if that were true - Apple, Coca Cola, Woolworths and Coles - all those big brands that are excellent at what they do wouldn’t have to market. Except, they market like crazy, don’t they? Do you think there’s a reason for that?
Now look, I understand that you probably don’t have the marketing budget of Apple or Woolworths. Neither do I, this is why niche is so important. Because we don’t have millions of advertising dollars at our disposal,
- We need to craft a marketing message that we can put out to the marketplace in a cost-effective manner to bring in prospects to our business.
- We need to effectively pick off our high value targets.
- We need to find them and get our message in front of them.
Never before has there been a time where you can acquire prospects as rapidly and as cheaply as today.
Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms have enabled businesses of all types to get extremely affordable leads. Even with the Cambridge scandal going on – high quality direct response marketing is still working well.
This is why, if you’re good at what you do - you must market well. Because all your competitors who aren’t worthy to shine your shoes are out there running terrible ads and picking up clients. Clients who have poor experiences and don’t get the service they deserve. I’ll be the first to admit - it’s not easy. But neither is getting good at your craft - and you’ve proven you can do that. You can learn this too.
As a small business, the goal of your marketing is best to be direct response marketing. One where you can spend say $1,000 on ads to get say 20 phone numbers of qualified prospects. Once you learn that, you can effectively spend money to acquire clients - think about how many of these 20 leads you’d close talking to them on the phone or with an appointment.
For most professional service providers where sales are more than $3,000 - this strategy does really well. You can begin to bring in new clients simply with a phone call. How many of those calls would you want to do a week? If you’re working out your figures - the answer is probably as many as possible.
Once you have a system like this built into your business - all of a sudden you have control of the lead generation and client acquisition side of your business. All of a sudden, you’ve got money and work coming in that means you can afford to put people on to do the work. You’ve got cashflow to be able to put on more high end services and more exciting experiences for your clients.
All of a sudden you find you’ve stepped beyond doing all the service yourself. Because ultimately, you didn’t get into business to do it all yourself. You wanted to build something of value, and for most service providers jumping the $150k hurdle is a big one.