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Marketing for 2011

How you can market your professional services firm using thought leader strategies

“The days of the magic marketing bullet are gone,” says Brian Barquilla, founder and publisher of Jacksonville Business Advantage, a lead generation firm specifically designed to introduce professional service firms to new client relationships, at the most recent Knowledge is Power workshop.

“As a general rule, it’s accepted as good practice to be wherever your customers are,” says Barquilla. Whether it’s marketing with virtual boards, social networking, advertising, events/dinners/lunches, or networking, are you sending the right message?

Of all the marketing techniques, there is one you have the most control over—word-of-mouth. Referrals from satisfied clients are your best next potential clients, so how do you encourage word-of-mouth?  

“It doesn’t magically happen,” says Barquilla. “You have control of what is said about you, your reputation, and how you are perceived among your peers.”

So what are the best practices to position yourself as “THE” subject matter expert? How can you engage clients and prospects in live meaningful professional interaction?

Using the thought leader strategy

Using the thought leader strategy means to find every opportunity to share your expertise at industry trade groups or private invitation events, making yourself available to the media and industry insiders, publishing white papers, and even writing a book.

“Progressive firms and individuals do this for the purpose of starting new relationships, says Barquilla. “It works in getting business because it builds your credibility, influences decision makers, and spreads goodwill for your company.”

So why don’t you do more of it? Because it goes against everything you were taught. For example: A CPA suggested we conduct a simple, two-hour workshop to call attention to his business. Through interacting with our readers, we knew there was a “pain” about reading financial statements, balance sheets, P&L, etc., as most small business owners are not experts in finance.

But when we approached him with the idea on coaching business owners on how to extract data from financial reporting to make better decisions, he balked at the idea stating clients normally pay him $200 an hour to do that. While he was right, he didn’t immediately understand that in a group setting, he was stimulating thought and opening doors to new business.

After the event was over and people were standing three deep to set appointments, it was immediately clear the effort paid off.

Barquilla says that by embracing thought leader principals, you remove the anxiety and pave the way for meaningful conversation.

Lessons learned

While marketing your services for 2011, keep some of the following tips and lessons in the forefront of your mind.

•Lesson #1: Embrace the “Give a little, get a lot” model. You may have 16 years of formal education, but that doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage over your competition. “Be willing to demonstrate your expertise and earn trust to engage your next client,” says Barquilla.

•Lesson #2: Use a third party if possible. Most people you deal with know what you do for a living, so hosting your own event can compromise your credibility and hurt your attendance. “It would be better to find a host organization,” says Barquilla. “And, in most cases, you can still invite important prospects and clients.”

•Lesson #3: No infomercials. “You have a captive audience and it’s the content they want to hear,” Barquilla says. “Don’t worry, being the expert in the room is all the advertising you need.”

•Lesson #4: Put some lipstick on that pig. Not everyone will find your topic exciting, so find a local hook or hot topic to draw some similarities. Maybe even find a partner to help you accomplish this. “If it creates win/win relationships, do it—and be creative,” says Barquilla. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make our event spectacular?’”

•Lesson #5: Form channel partner relationships. Partner with other firms or complementing professionals to give you more value and double or triple your marketing power. Use each other’s network to create leads.

•Lesson #6: Offer some real take-away value. You want to make people glad they invested their time and money with you. If your content is weak, hold off talking until you can be proud of it. Get a third-party opinion from someone you trust. Consider a handout so people can reference you later.

•Lesson #7: Charge for it! Mistakenly, too many professionals offer free seminars because they think that if it’s free they will get better participation. That is not usually the case. “What you will get is less participation and poor-quality prospects,” says Barquilla. “It’s all about perceived value.”

Have confidence to charge for your events. If your clients think twice about $20, do you want them as a client anyway?

•Lesson #8: Don’t lose the moment. Document the event by videotaping it, voice recording it, or offering it as a podcast. You can use these in the future to engage new prospects and give current clients peace of mind that they are working with an industry leader.

“You can also repurpose your content on your website, offer podcasts, make a video link in your e-mail signatures, and create e-mail newsletters,” says Barquilla.

•Lesson #9: Follow up. One way to follow up is to have a third party make phone calls and ask questions such as, “Thanks for attending the event last week, did it meet your expectations? What would you like to hear about in the future? Any questions you didn’t feel comfortable asking in front of the group?”

These questions are designed to bring out pain and uncover some business if it’s there. “You can also try sending out online surveys on your presentation,” says Barquilla. “Make it as easy as possible and short.”

•Lesson #10: Make yourself available. Be sure once an event is over you clear your schedule the next day so you can return all calls and e-mails in a matter of minutes and hours, not days. Barquilla says if you wait until tomorrow, you are yesterday’s task. Book those new consultations within 48 to 72 hours if possible. Stay top of mind!

•Lesson #11: Alert the media! Give the media something to write about and make their job easy by giving them a good press release. Include your media contacts on any mass communication efforts. Give them your private cell phone number and get back to them immediately. Let them repurpose your content for you. In short, make yourself easy to work with.

What’s next ?

To succeed with the  “thought leader strategy,” one of the first steps is to determine your best audience. Start with trade organizations and professional groups because they all have something in common—they are looking for ways to keep their members interested and educated.

Pitch a ready-made, entertaining presentation with a well-thought out topic and an executive summary as well as some slide samples. “By making a presentation entertaining,” says Barquilla, “you keep people’s attention—and that’s smart business.”


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