Here are a couple of reality checks for owners and managers of professional services firms and advice-based businesses operating in today’s hyper-connected marketplace.
One, prospective clients are increasingly checking out you and your people online before committing to doing business with you (indeed, before they even put a call in to your office!).
If social media (indeed, the web generally) has done one thing, it has turned us into expert ‘hunters and gatherers’ of information. We’re out there doing our homework, checking you out online, asking questions of our social networks and forming our opinions as to whether or not we should put you on our ‘to-contact’ shortlist.
QUESTION: If we visited your website and social channels, what would we find? Would it add value to our decision-making process, or give us confidence your firm knew what it was talking about?
Secondly, the explosion of digital channels in recent years has brought with it a heck of a lot of noise. Your existing and potential clients are bombarded professionally and personally from every angle, not just from brands but also friends, family and their extended networks across multiple social channels.
Needless to say, many of the traditional communication methods (usually used to broadcast one-way promotional messages, I might add) are increasingly being filtered out by the intended target, rendering them way less effective than, say, five years ago.
QUESTION: Is your firm cutting through the noise with its communications and resonating with potential clients?
Reconsider your marketing communications
All this suggests that professional services firms and advice-based businesses need to fundamentally reconsider the way they communicate with the marketplace. And by reconsider, I mean think seriously undertaking a thought leadership-based content marketing program as a way to increase visibility, grow influence and build brand authority and reputation.
I’m not talking about throwing up the odd article on your website or publishing a LinkedIn Company Page update every now and then, but strategically developing a multi-channel content program and then implementing it over time with passion and purpose.
Think about it for a minute.
People – your potential clients – are not interested in your company or services, but what’s in it for them. They’re more interested in their own life, their own career or business.
Put simply, they want to shine, and to do that they need the right ‘inside’ information, news and ideas that will make help them make smarter decisions, or improve their perspective on a topic or issue that’s dear to their heart, or better understand a trend or opportunity that’s percolating underneath the radar. If you make them look cleverer than the next guy (or gal), then so much the better!
By understanding your audience and what’s important to them, by providing them with relevant and interesting news, information and ideas in the form of multimedia content that’s produced with enthusiasm and authority, then your firm will not only increase its chances of standing out and cutting through the noise but also resonating with would-be clients.
And if these potential clients hear about your firm and are interested, they will visit your website.
Imagine if you blew them away with the depth and breadth of the issues and topics you covered in your content – rich articles that provoke thought and ideas; videos where your people willingly (and cheerfully) provide insights, advice and up-to-the-minute tips; SlideShare presentations that give a unique perspective on a subject they are interested in; perhaps a free downloadable PDF e-book or guide that will arm them with information around a relevant topic.
Now we’re talking! Not only are you demonstrating your people have a solid grasp of their subject matter (thus boosting credibility), but you’re also showing you’re willing to be useful, generous and helpful (excellent traits for a professional services firm). These are positive things that will help earn your business a ‘tick of approval’ from potential customers.
Add into the mix a vibrant presence on social media – e.g. a Twitter account through which your firm shares interesting articles, ideas and information with a growing following, a LinkedIn Company Page where people can interact with your business (as well as with individuals via their personal LinkedIn pages).
Being able to deal with humans directly through social media helps build rapport and trust. Again, these are all positives when it comes to influencing the buying process.
In short, as a result of your dedicated content marketing and social media efforts, your firm is more visible and talked about than ever before, boasting a reputation as an authority in the industry, potentially even a thought leader (which in turn can lead to all sorts of opportunities including media interviews and speaking engagements).
The fact you’re also discoverable on search engines is a bonus!
The alternative, of course, is …
Your firm looks spookily like your competitors, with a boring website on which you bang on about yourself and how great you are, using industry jargon that no-one understands. Your social media channels form a barren wasteland that screams ‘we don’t care about you!’, and instead of building and cultivating an audience of fans, followers, advocates and supporters who are happy to share your content with their personal networks (not to mention recommend your firm), you interrupt and bombard an unsuspecting public with self-centred marketing messages that deliver zero value.
Every professional services firm can now become its own bona fide media company and communicate directly with its audience using social media and online publishing platforms.
This means your organisation has power in its virtual hands. Use it wisely, with empathy and humility, and you’ll become a more talked-about and impactful brand as a result.