How am I going to grow our firm?

It’s a question that every managing partner must answer each year. Of course it’s a question that many people are involved in answering. Yet, in the end, they turn to you for guidance.

Historically, making a few minor adjustments was all it really took. Sadly, that is no longer possible. What used to work no longer does.

Growing Frustration

As I participate in this year's round of planning retreats I’m sensing a growing frustration. Competition is so intense and the marketplace landscape is shifting so rapidly it’s hard to know what to do next.

Where are the answers?

As I have reflected upon this situation I’ve realized that many firms are learning some painful lessons that are new to them, but not to the professional services industry. In other words, you don’t have to make the same mistakes that your peers have already made.

Lessons Learned

So what are those important lessons that you need to learn? I’ve assembled my list below.

1. Referrals don’t work the way they used to.

For a long time, referral marketing was a reliable path to growing your firm. Do good work and it will speak for itself. The referrals will come and the firm will grow.

Want faster growth? Send people to a few networking events and have lunch with some referral sources and you are all set.

Well, the harsh reality is that good work is no longer enough. Clients want results, not activity. They want solutions, not just services. What used to be quality service is now becoming a commodity.

From Legal Zoom to TurboTax the pressure is on.

As for long lunches and networking events, “I’m too busy.” You’ll hear it from inside and outside alike.

And if you want further frustration you can try to get Millennials to attend traditional networking events. Good luck with that one.

Referrals are moving online. It’s faster and easier for the person seeking a new firm. Already over 80% of firms are getting referrals from people they have never worked with and probably will never meet.

Further, 52% of prospects say they have ruled out a potential new provider before they have even talked with them. Check their website, Google them, look them up on LinkedIn. Not a fit.

The scary part is that you’ll never know that you lost that precious referral your team worked so hard to achieve.

2. Specialists have a big advantage.

It makes sense then, that specialists have a big advantage. It’s easier for a referral source to remember what they do and for whom. They are easier to refer.

And when the prospect checks them out, they immediately see the relevance of their offerings and the depth of their expertise. They are worth talking to.

So why don’t more firms specialize?

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to add a service than to eliminate one? Oh the politics.

What about focusing marketing efforts on just a few specialties? See above times two.

3. Visibility of your expertise is key.

If you think you are selling service, you are missing the point. You are selling expertise. Services become commodities. Expertise holds its edge.

In our study of Visible Experts℠ we learned that the higher the visibility of firm’s experts, the more they could charge and the easier it was to get the most desirable new clients.

But the key is not whether or not you have people with exceptional expertise (most firms do) it’s whether the marketplace knows that you do. If no one knows you have the expertise it does you little good.

SEE ALSO: The Bottom Line: How Visible Experts Impact Their Firms

Of course it’s not as simple as just telling the world that you have expertise. It’s a little like honesty. Telling someone that you have it is not very convincing.

You must show them by demonstrating it in action. That is exactly why content marketing is so well suited to professional services. It allows the marketplace to sample your firm’s expertise.

Online Marketing for Professional Services: How to use online marketing to drive growth and profits

4. Social is no longer secondary.

Not so very long ago you could legitimately ask if social media was important to the continued growth of your firm. That time has passed.

The benefits of social media for professional services firms are now well documented. It not only helps the visibility of your firm’s expertise, it also helps you get found via online search.

And even if you are not found via social media, almost 2 out of 3 prospects will use it to check your firm out. Why so many?

It’s quick and easy to do. You probably do it yourself before an important meeting.

And as if that weren’t enough, a new study demonstrates the emerging clout of a social strategy. Employee advocacy is the new term for encouraging your staff to become brand advocates on social media.

The results of these efforts are impressive. They benefit both the professional as well as the firm. In fact high growth firms were twice as likely to have a formal employee advocacy program.

It’s hard to argue with results.

Up to this point I’ve focused on the lessons around what you need to do differently. I’d like to turn our attention to the how side of the equation.

5. The minimum required skill set for marketing success is growing.

It used to be that professional services marketing did not require a particularly sophisticated set of skills. It was common practice to hire or “repurpose” folks with limited background in marketing. Those days are rapidly becoming a memory.

If you consider the range of new tasks that must now go into a modern marketing plan you will likely realize that you are faced with a staffing or training challenge.

Necessary skills range from content writing and social media to SEO and marketing automation. There are important strategy decisions and hours of operational implementation required. No single person or small team can do it all successfully.

And finding people with the requisite mix of professional services experience and contemporary marketing skills is no easy task. Those who are experienced in professional services often lack the latest skill sets. Find the latest skills and you will often sacrifice any understanding of your industry or clients.

Faced with this dilemma many firms are turning to outsourcing some or all of their marketing needs. Of course that’s not your only choice. You can increase the emphasis on training existing staff and new hires as an alternative.

The one approach that won’t work though, is to pretend there is no problem. A flawed plan or poor execution both have the same sad result.

6. Simplicity is harder than ever to achieve.

Faced with all this complexity it is very natural to want to slow down and simplify things. “I know all of this is important but what’s the minimum we have to do? We’ll do that first and then do the more complicated stuff later.”

Nice try.

The problem is that simple solutions are getting harder to come by. Unless you are a solo professional approaching retirement, you will likely need to tackle an increasingly complicated and competitive marketplace.

The days of the local professional who is shielded from harsh competition are numbered.

Geography is collapsing as an advantage. The expert who knows your industry inside and out is easier to find and easier to work with then ever before.

7. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

This last lesson is a tough one. For some reason many professional services firms have gotten into the habit of making big plans and then not following through with sufficient funding or sustained effort.

The unfortunate result is campaigns that are doomed to failure before they have a chance to work. Remember, building the visibility of your firm’s expertise is not something that is accomplished with a single event or a couple of blog posts.

Reputations take time to grow and spread throughout a marketplace.

 Spending your resources on a series of sub-threshold efforts is not a recipe for success. You will experience much more success from doing a smaller number of marketing initiatives, but doing each one well.

Pick a few strategic programs. Do the proper planning, funding and follow-up to make it successful or don’t do it at all.

These lessons have been hard won. We have seen many firms learn them the hard way. You don’t have to be one of them.

Additional Resources

  • Find out more on becoming a sought-after expert in your industry by downloading a free copy of The Visible Expert℠ book.
  • Our Social Media Guide for Professional Services is designed to give you everything you need to know to build a comprehensive social media strategy for your firm.
  • Get a step-by-step guide to building a powerful referral strategy with our free Rethinking Referral Marketing executive guide.

How Hinge Can Help 

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠  to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.  

Online Marketing for Professional Services Book: How to use online marketing to drive growth and profits