There are a lot of very good reasons for a professional services firm to consider an online marketing program. As our recently published online marketing study shows, firms that have robust lead generation programs

  • grow up to 4X faster;
  • are 2X more profitable; and
  • are able to effectively recruit new employees.

These benefits apply across all professional service industries, from accountants to management consultants to technology firms and government contractors. It simply makes good business sense to go online. The only question is how best to do it?

Outsource online marketing or stay in-house?

It’s an important business question that your firm must answer. In a previous post in this series we made the case for outsourcing your online marketing.

We also explored the typical costs to outsource online marketing. Now it’s time to pull those strands together and determine the right strategy for your firm.

Let’s walk through the decision making process step by step.

1. Start with the big benefit

You’re not developing an online marketing program to save money (although online lead generation is less expensive). Most likely, you're trying to attract more new clients among your target audience. What is the value of a new client? Start by calculating the revenue associated with a new client. How much are they worth in the first year? How long do they typically stay once you have them? What is their “lifetime value” to your firm? Most people are surprised at how big these numbers are if they have never stopped to consider them before. Once you understand what's at stake, it's much easier to commit to an online marketing program.

2. Consider what's involved in doing it the right way

In our online marketing study, we uncovered a very strong relationship between a firm's focus on a particular online marketing technique — such as search engine optimization (SEO) or blogging — and the benefit they experience from that technique. If you don’t invest enough to do it well, it won't deliver much impact. Of course this is true of traditional marketing, too. If your networking consists of going to one event every couple of months and standing by the cheese dip, you aren't likey to get many leads. Be realistic and be prepared to do it right — or don’t do it at all.

3. Consider in-house resources

Executing an online campaign involves time, expertise and an appropriate strategy. You must do the right thing and have the skills and time to do it properly. There is no such thing as “free” marketing … including social media. Someone has to take the time to learn how to do it well, develop an appropriate strategy and execute it. Consider the costs of that person’s salary and any lost revenue if that person is billable. Also, identify if any portion of the effort must be done internally. For example, creating accurate content may require input from a knowledgable team member. In most cases, however, white papers or blog posts can be drafted by a professional writer, then reviewed internally for accuracy. There may be some tasks (SEO for example) which your team simply lacks the expertise to carry out. If this is the case, seek out an experienced firm or consultant to educate you.

4. Review outsource options

There is a well-developed marketplace for outsourced online marketing services, though the quality and breadth of these services ranges widely. I recommend you seek out consultant or firm who knows your profession and can deliver the full range of services that you might need. Coordinating multiple vendors can be a daunting task, so if you are relatively new to online marketing you may want someone who is inclined to educate you over time. When you first embrace online marketing, take the time to develop an overall plan to provide a blueprint for the tasks that lay ahead.

5. Divide up the key responsibilities

At the outset, you will find tasks that must be outsourced because your team lacks specific skills or time. But some functions are probably best kept in-house because you have available talent and time. You may also find that some tasks are simply impossible to delegate. Consider starting out slowly and moving tasks in-house when it is clear that you have both the time, comfort level and talent ready to take them on. Resist the natural impulse to keep tasks in-house to save money. Remember (see Item 1 above), the real money at stake here lies in the success of the effort, not the cost of execution. First succeed, then save.

Most professional services firms will adopt a hybrid approach. Some key tasks will be outsourced and others will remain in-house. That's not a bad model. As staff gains experience with online marketing and the program accumulates a track record of success, it is much easier to develop the necessary in-house resources or settle in to a stable partnering relationship.

To get you started, you can find out what an online lead generation program should look like by downloading the online lead generation guide offered below.