One of the hardest parts about marketing and business development in professional services is actually finding the time to do the ground work required to execute a marketing plan. It’s too easy for immediate client needs or firm management to get in the way. Unfortunately, marketing activities build on each other, so neglecting them will have compounding effects that you often don’t see until it’s too late.
Not only is it easy to push marketing off, but psychologically, marketing can seem like running on a treadmill: you’re working hard, but because the payoffs aren’t direct or immediate, it doesn’t seem like you’re going anywhere. To overcome these hurdles, it’s often easier to focus on building a library of quick, effective marketing activities, rather than investing in large projects that drag on and drain staff time. To get you started, here are five quick things that you can do today to get your marketing engine going – whether you’re the CEO of an established firm, or a new partner trying to grow their own book of business. Each of them comes with a commitment device – something you can put in your calendar that will force you to do the hard work by making it an expectation of an external stakeholder.
Let a prospect know you’re thinking about their problem
Think about the challenge faced by a prospect, either a new client or current client you’d like to re-engage, and write them a brief memo in an e-mail that details how you think about their problem. It doesn’t need to be the solution – that obviously requires more work – but you should be able to create a model or construct that gives them some advice. For instance, if your client is trying to improve communication between departments, you could list a few approaches successful companies have tried to solve the problem. The memo should take you no more than a few hours to write, and will give you an opportunity to show your expertise to the prospect. Plus, you can easily turn it into an article later that you can use the next time you come across someone with a similar problem. End the e-mail by asking the client if they’ve got some time to discuss further.
Your Commitment Device: Preparing for the meeting will force you to develop a deeper presentation, but you don’t need to do that right away.
Write up a quick case study about a recent project and send it to a prospect
Case studies are the bread and butter of firm marketing – they demonstrate your capability by showing a time that you’ve actually solved a client’s problem. But it’s easy to let ‘writing a case study’ become a big undertaking. So to make sure that the case study is relevant, think of some recent work you’ve done and how it would relate to another prospect or client. Send a quick e-mail letting them know that you just finished some work you think they’d find interesting, and schedule some time to talk further about it.
Instead of writing a long recap, take some select slides from the project – perhaps outlining your problem assessment, your approach, and some key findings, and blind them to a sufficient degree that you won’t offend your original client. Then add a slide describing what you accomplished for the client in both quantitative and qualitative terms, if possible with a quote from the original client. Not only will this support you in your meeting, but you can hand it off to a more junior team member to turn into a full case study.
Your commitment device: Once you’ve got a meeting with a prospect, it’s easier to find the motivation to get a case study ready.
Bundle articles you’ve written into a quarterly newsletter
Many firms create thought leadership only to have it languish unread on their website. Give your content a second life by sending out a digest e-mail to your contacts. List articles that you’ve recently written with a brief description, along with a few other articles from outside your organization that you think they’ll find interesting. Make sure to include a few words about recent projects you’ve wrapped up, especially if they demonstrate a new capability. Give it some quick design and send it out as your new quarterly journal. Add a reminder to your calendar for 90 days from now to do the same thing again.
Your commitment device: Once you call it a quarterly newsletter, you need to send it out on a schedule. Luckily, a quarterly cycle gives you enough time to collect new articles without creating a side-job as a writer.
Schedule a panel with clients and suppliers
Think of a topic that’s relevant to your target market – don’t spend too much time thinking, just pick one – and reach out to a client to see if they’re interested in joining you to present about it in front of a small group. Most clients will be flattered, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one. Ask them for available dates, then book a small meeting space at a hotel or restaurant to serve as a venue. You can expand the panel by inviting a second client, a partner company, or a vendor to join with you. Unlike a presentation, a discussion doesn’t require you to build as much new content. There are also advantages to keeping the discussion small. First, it’s fewer people that you need to recruit to attend, and second, it creates a more intimate setting for your guests to interact with each other. Engaging a supplier to join you also gives someone else skin in the game to fill the room, and potentially introduce you to new people.
Your commitment device: Booking the space and engaging with a client will force you to work on the content. But you don’t have to do it right away – first start inviting people to the event.
Schedule a training for clients and prospects
For many consultants, marketing is really client education: showing prospects what you can do for them and what it’s like to work with you. This is especially true for niche practices and boutique consultancies, but even established firms have an opportunity to train their clients on new approaches. One of the most useful ways to convince clients they need to work with you is to host a training that gives them a taste of what an engagement would look like. You don’t have to have create all the curriculum today. Instead, create the marketing brochure that outlines what you’ll cover, when it will take place, and a reasonable price for a day-long session. The price shows that the training is serious, but you have the flexibility to offer significant discounts for your target audience – for instance, senior level executives, or decision makers at a firm that refers business to you. Sending out the brochure and collecting sign-up is your commitment device.
Your commitment device: Invite members of your contact list and start working on registering attendees. Once you’ve got people committed, you’ll be motivated to work on content.
Find someone making a mistake and offer to help
When you scan the news, do you see people running into the types of problems your firm helps with? If you’re a digital agency, maybe you just read about a business with a great product but minimal digital presence. Or you’re a partner at a law firm and you see a company wading into litigation they look woefully unprepared for. Send a cold e-mail to the executive in charge of your interest area and let them know how you can help. Many of them might say they have the problem under control, but it only takes one for you to land a new client – and you’ve found them at a time when their problem is becoming readily apparent to the outside world, so they’re obviously in need of help.
Your commitment device: Unlike traditional cold-calls, you already know that this person needs help in your area, you just need to figure out if it’s from you. Once you get a meeting, you’ll be motivated to come up with content to discuss.