Sometimes professionals say, “I don’t market my services; I rely on word-of-mouth to get business.” They don’t seem to realize these two statements are contradictory -— if they are getting plenty of referral business, they have marketed their services quite well! The issue is not a decision of whether or not to market your services, but is instead a decision of whether to assume responsibility for it and become more effective at it.
Actions you might not realize are marketing decisions:
What you name your business
What information you print on your business card
How you let people know you are available
How your resume or company brochure looks
Who answers the telephone and how
How you dress for encounters with prospective clients
How you respond when someone asks what you do
How you treat not only clients and prospects but also employees, associates and even competitors
All of these factors contribute to the image people form of you and are far more critical to the success of your business than you might realize.
For instance, does your business name indicate what services your business performs? If it doesn’t, is your business name accompanied by a tagline that states your field of work?
Does your business card provide all necessary data such as the type of work performed and your complete contact information? As a marketing consultant reviewing and analyzing professionals’ marketing materials, I see cards with important information omitted, such as the email address and even telephone area codes. I’ve seen two cards with no zip code after the address. What do these cards say about the professionals, i.e., what impression does their marketing create?
Particularly if you have chosen not to advertise your services, how did you announce that you had opened a business or practice? However you did it, and whether you did it effectively or not, it was a marketing action.
You're Not Alone
Fortunately, you’re not expected to already be knowledgeable about marketing, any more than you would expect people in other professions to be proficient in your discipline. Marketing help is available from books, magazines, the Internet, knowledgeable friends and marketing professionals. The key point is to realize that the decisions and actions that create others’ perception of you should be planned and well thought-out, as they constitute your marketing.
Prospective clients have no way of knowing what quality of service you will provide, so they must take clues from the appearance of your business card, stationery, resume or brochure and other materials, and website; your physical appearance and grooming; your manners and communication on the telephone; and even your promptness in returning phone calls.
The quality of your materials influences the perceived value of your services. Printed materials, whether produced professionally or on your personal computer, don’t have to be costly, but they should be error-free. Typographical, spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in printed materials are inexcusable. We all make mistakes as we create and craft, but editing, correcting and proofreading comprise the second half of the job.
It is critical to have someone else proofread your writing and composition, because we all have difficulty finding our own mistakes. I frequently notice errors in professional brochures, even some that are quite expensively prepared. I have to conclude that not enough people proofread them.
Your Office Speaks
Often the initial impression you make on a prospective client results from the phone response in your office. If the phone rings several times before being answered by a person or a recording, the caller feels that his time has been disrespected. If the person answering is flippant, cold or, worse, rude, your image has been tarnished, perhaps permanently.
The time it takes you to return calls answered by someone else on your voice mail or through an answering service is also a factor in the prospect’s view of your services. An inquirer can’t help but associate your promptness or tardiness with your perceived work ethic and respect for deadlines.
In addition, if you determine that you can’t or won’t accept the proposal, are you as polite and as helpful as possible under the circumstances? You may not want this engagement, but you do want this person to be a referral source—the most effective kind of marketing.
Appearances Do Matter
“Dressing for success” doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit for a man, or stockings and low heels for a woman if she wears a dress or a suit with a skirt. What it does mean is deliberately deciding what to wear for encounters with prospective clients, keeping your impression in mind. Whether the most effective look would be a business suit or other attire representing your profession or trade is an individual decision, but make it a conscious decision, because it matters. Perhaps a person could be sloppy or careless in appearance and be meticulous in work performance, but the prospective client has no way of knowing that—he can only conclude by what he sees and hears.
Does Your Dry Cleaner Know What You Do?
When asked what services your company provides, do you respond completely, smoothly and briefly or do you stammer, give a terse, incomplete description or ramble? Articulating your area of expertise and services is the core of marketing. Compose a brief statement that explains your work, using words people outside your profession will understand, and practice saying it aloud.
Business owners don’t always realize that their services are publicized, either positively or negatively, by individuals they might not consider referral sources or detractors. Employees discuss their work with others. Competitors speak either respectfully or resentfully about you, based, at least in part, on your attitude and actions toward them.
Remember that when you interact with another person, regardless of who the person is, you are marketing yourself and your services. You are enhancing his picture of you, or you are diminishing it.
Performing marketing is NOT optional. Marketing is the actions, whether deliberately strategized or unplanned, that communicate the availability, quality and value of your services. Marketing shapes the image people hold of you and your business and reflects your judgment, thoroughness and professionalism. You can take charge of this message and make it contribute to your success.
by Rosalie Hamilton, the Expert's Expert, author of The Expert Witness Marketing Book and President of Expert Communications, the business development firm helping experts get more clients.