I was thinking recently about what kinds of marketing really work for entrepreneurs who own professional-service businesses. Even when we deliver something tangible – a new web site, or a consulting report – we are still selling our expertise and insight. And we generally are not cheap; most one-person businesses charge $100 or more an hour, so our clients usually aren’t impulse shoppers. (Although I do have an image in my head of buying a half hour of time on the QVC network, in between “Beauty By Tova” and Diamonique jewelry, where I can encourage people to buy my consulting services now and SAVE!)
Recently, I was talking with a coaching client who had just started his business providing research services. He told me that he was calling companies that were advertising for researcher positions, telling them that he was available to do this work as a freelancer. The problem with this approach is that he was spending his time doing one-on-one calls to people who were looking for an employee, not a freelancer. They probably do not have the authority to hire consultants, and the hiring manager is focused on filling a position, not bringing in a freelancer. As he found out, most of his marketing time was spent identifying who was NOT interested in his services.
The goal of marketing is to get people to come to you rather than for you to go looking for prospects. This is why cold calling virtually never works for professional services; people generally aren’t willing to invest in services by someone they don’t know anything about or have any reason to trust.
Likewise, direct mail to people who don’t already recognize your name and know your reputation for excellence doesn’t work − at least not as a primary means of getting clients. Think about it… If you needed a doctor to treat your child’s epilepsy, would you go to someone who had just sent you a postcard or brochure?
No, you would rely on recommendations from your physician; you would conduct research to find the experts in the field; or you would consult with a patient advocacy group. In other words, you − the client − would look for the best person with the expertise you need.
Rather than casting our marketing material onto the waters, we are much more successful when we work on establishing our credibility within our clients’ environment. I’ve been watching this approach work well with one of the people I’m coaching. Marketing professionals are his client base, so he identified his local chapter of the American Marketing Association to focus on. Not only has he been attending the monthly meetings, but he volunteered to serve on the membership committee and is now the membership director. He has the opportunity to contact all new members, to work closely with the chapter board, and to establish his credibility within his market.
Had he put in the same amount of time (and spent considerable money) developing and sending out direct mail pieces or making cold calls, he would not have had the success he has seen so far, nor would he have built a referral network of well-regarded marketing professionals who know his work and respect him. Telling anonymous prospects about your skills and expertise is one thing; demonstrating it to people who will become clients and referral sources is in another league altogether.