The 5 Stage Essential Guide to Marketing Your Small Business or Professional Service Practice

Introduction

Welcome to “The 5 Stage Essential Guide To Marketing Your Small Business or Professional Service Practice”. This guide is ‘essential’ because the advice and information it contains is as equally valuable to a business start up, as it is to a well-established professional service practice.

So why have I written this guide? Well, over the last few years I have met and worked with many small to medium sized businesses who have all experienced the same problem – they much prefer actually delivering the service they offer than they do trying to find new clients and customers. They hate selling their services, and they really don’t know what to do to ‘market’ their businesses successfully.

Perhaps the problem is one of perception. When asked what they think marketing is, ‘marketing haters’ usually tell me that marketing is about persuading people, perhaps even against their better judgement, to come and hire their services. Well it’s no wonder that so many people who want to make an ethical living from offering a service that genuinely helps others take issue with marketing. Who wants to twist arms for living? (Well apart from osteopaths!)

I have a different way of looking at marketing, one that will immediately lift the pressure from those struggling with their marketing, and offer hope for a much brighter future. What if marketing is about attracting people who would love to hire you if only they knew what you are capable of achieving for them? What if marketing is about providing information to help people make the best decision for themselves? What if marketing is a subtle process of developing relationships with potential clients until they decide for themselves that they must hire you?

The aim of this guide is to show you that with careful thought, planning and ACTION you really can market your way to a successful future. Imagine not having to ‘sell’ your services ever again, being able to pick and choose the clients you really want to work with, and being able to spend more time actually doing what you get paid for rather than worrying about where your next pay cheque comes from.

You’ve just imagined the kind of marketing based business that you can achieve if you follow the advice given in this guide, and more importantly take the appropriate action. It’s not enough to merely read this guide. You can’t expect to achieve anything at all unless you take action.

All of the advice given in this guide is based on practical experience of what actually works. You may have spoken to friends, colleagues, your local Business Link, or even your Chamber of Commerce, but ask yourself how many of these people have had practical experience of successfully marketing a business just like yours?

What will work for one type of business may be completely inappropriate for yours. Before you spend another penny on marketing your practice, stop right now, and read this guide to learn how to invest in your marketing. When you know how to invest in your marketing, you will know that for every penny you spend on a particular marketing activity you will get a return on your investment. There will be no more guesswork and finger crossing, just a steady stream of new and repeat clients.

As the title suggests this guide will take you through five key stages in the planning and execution of a successful marketing strategy for your business.

Stage One – Your Key Marketing Message
You will learn how to devise your own Key Marketing Message that will form the foundation of all your marketing communications.

Stage Two – Building Your Case
Discover how to prove your credibility and boost your potential clients’ confidence in you.

Stage Three – The Three Step Strategy
Find out how to attract interested strangers to your business in the first place. Then learn how to convert them from strangers to friends, from friends to clients, and from clients to raving fans.

Stage Four – Your Marketing Materials
What you need to know to create marketing materials that actually do the job they were designed for.

Stage Five – ACTION!
Taking action, measuring and testing, sticking to your plan, and having the courage of your convictions!

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Stage One – Your Key Marketing Message
You may well have heard the old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is never truer than when applied to your marketing. However planning is not so difficult. All you need is a pen and paper (unless you prefer to type), and some time set aside for careful thought. Writing down your plans is extremely important. The very act of writing down your thoughts takes you a step closer to making those thoughts become a reality. Throughout this guide you will be required to do some written exercises, so you might as well get that pen and paper (or fire up your word processor) right now. It’s OK, I’ll be waiting.

The first stage is to identify your Key Marketing Message (KMM), which is a summary of your business proposition that your potential clients can easily relate to. Your KMM will become the foundation of all your marketing activity. This is why it is vitally important that you create your KMM before you do anything else.

There are five aspects to your KMM and we are now going to identify each of them in turn.

Your Ideal Clients
So you might think that your marketing should appeal to everyone, and that way you don’t exclude anyone that you could otherwise help. Wrong, wrong, wrong!!

By being too general you will appear to be a Jack-of-all-trades rather than a specialist. Think about the medical profession. Who gets paid more, works fewer hours, and is in greater demand – a GP or a specialist surgeon?

One way you can define your specialist niche is by defining your ideal clients. Who are the clients that you most like to work with? Where do they live? How old are they? What do they do for a living? What sort of people are they? Get as specific as you can. Your KMM will be specially tailored to appeal to these people, so you really need to know who they are.

Spend some time now to write down as much as you can about your ideal clients.

Problem, Pain or Predicament
You may not have realised it yet, but your clients do not actually buy your services, they actually buy relief from a pain, problem or predicament.

Your clients don’t need to know how you are going to resolve their issues, but they do want to know if you specialise in resolving the particular issue that afflicts them or their business. This is an absolutely crucial point about your marketing that I really want you to get your head around right now. Many business owners get hung up on the actual processes of their services, rather than focussing on what their services actually mean to their clients. Clients are not really interested in what you actually do until they realise that you can make a positive difference to their situation.

Now write down all the problems, pains and predicaments that you can alleviate with your service offering. Be specific. The more accurate the description the easier it is for your ideal client to relate to it. Take your time, and be thorough.

What are the benefits of working with you?
Think of all the different ways that your service benefits your clients. You now need to explore the consequences to your clients of having their pain, problem or predicament resolved.

What does it mean to them to have you taking responsibility for something they couldn’t cope with by themselves? Do you save them money or time? Can you help them increase their profits? Can you help them save tax? Can you make them appear more professional? Can you improve the quality of their lives? What are the wider consequences? What are the real benefits?

Always try and take it a stage further. When you have written down a benefit, follow it with the phrase, “which means that” and carry on.

For example: “I provide a professional PR service which means that my clients can raise their business profile much more cost-effectively than display advertising alone which means that they can gain more business whilst saving money which means that they can afford to invest in providing an even better service which means that their clients are even happier to recommend their services, etc.”

Do this for every benefit you can think of. Do not confuse features with benefits. An automated press release software system is a feature, but the ability to deliver a press release to every available media outlet at the touch of a button is a benefit.

Think about this: no one really buys drills, what they really want are holes!

I really recommend that you spend a decent amount of time on this exercise as you will produce pages of useful material that you can later use in your marketing materials such as a brochure or web site.

What makes you unique?
What makes you different from your competition? How do you stand out from the crowd? What precisely can your clients get from you that they won’t find anywhere else?

If you can’t think of any reason why you are different, your potential clients certainly won’t. Get creative in your thinking. Ask your existing clients why they choose you over your competition – they are wonderful sources of marketing insight.

Perhaps you combine different services in a unique way? Perhaps it is the combination of your ideal clients and the types of issues you deal with that makes you unique?

Take some time now to write down all the reasons why you are unique. Remember, you are brainstorming, so write down everything at this stage, no matter how silly or trivial it might seem at the time. It is amazing how the most insignificant idea can later evolve into pure genius.
If you really can’t think of anything that makes you unique at the moment, then turn your attention to what you can do to make you unique. Perhaps you need to get a new qualification? Maybe there are changes you could make to the way you do business, or the way you deal with your clients.
Again, brainstorming is the key. Write down everything.

Risk reduction
What can you do to make it as easy as possible for your potential clients to choose you? Every potential new client fears the possibility of wasting his or her time or money. What can you do to reduce the perception of risk? Free trial? A rock solid guarantee? A page of genuine testimonials or client case studies on your web site?

Put yourself in your potential client’s shoes, think of all the possible risks, and then think of how you can remove the risk. As before, write down all of your ideas. The increase in the number of clients that choose you as a result of this ‘risk reduction’ will far outweigh the small minority of individuals who would try to take advantage of a free trial or money-back guarantee. Think about it!

Time to ‘chunk down’
You will now have copious pages of notes that contain all of the information you require in order to devise your KMM, but first of all you need to write a summary of your notes in the following manner:

“We help [ideal client description 1, ideal client description 2, etc] alleviate [pains, problems and predicaments] which means that they can [benefit 1, benefit 2, etc.]. Our approach is different because [what makes us unique]. To make it easier to choose us we offer [risk reduction].”

The exact words you use to link everything together is up to you, but your next task is to condense this summary into a simple, natural and flowing sentence that you can roll off your tongue anytime you are asked, “So, what do you do?”

The process of condensing this information will help you hone your ultimate KMM. First of all you need to condense the ideal client descriptions. What do your ideal clients have in common? Can this be used to describe them? If your ideal client descriptions are too diverse, consider narrowing your focus. Perhaps there is one group of clients who are more ideal than the other? If your ideal client description is too broad you will attract fewer clients from a wider range. If you narrow your focus you will attract more of the clients within your ideal client description because your KMM will speak to them personally, rather than in a general way.

Now do the same for the pains, problems or predicaments. What do they have in common? Can this be used to summarise them? Again focus is the key. Do you want to be an expert in your field, or a Jack-of-all-trades just like everyone else?

Continue this process of ‘chunking down’ for your benefits, what makes you unique and how you reduce risk. You might find it easier to ‘chunk down’ in stages. If you start with four pages of notes, try and condense that to two pages. Take a break, and then try and condense two pages to one, and so on.

When you think you have your KMM test it. Role-play the conversation when someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” Does it feel natural and flowing? Are you comfortable with it? Does it really ‘speak’ to the people you want to do business with? Does it ring true? Does it really describe you? If not, then revise the words until you feel good about it.

Now imagine that you are actually speaking to a potential ideal client. Change the subject of your KMM so that you are addressing them personally. How does it feel? Again, feel free to change the words until you feel comfortable with it.

Stage Two – Building Your Case
So now you have your KMM, which will become a powerful tool to attract the attention of your ideal clients, but attracting attention is just the first stage in gaining a new client. Anyone can attract attention (just think of screaming kids in a public place), and hopefully your KMM will attract the right kind of attention, but how will you demonstrate to prospective clients that you are for real?

No matter what claims you make with your KMM, you must be able to back them up. Nothing is more convincing than a personal testimonial from a satisfied client. It’s a bit like a personal recommendation. It lets potential clients know that there are others who have hired you and have come away satisfied, if not ecstatic.

If you have an established business you can ask your previous clients for testimonials. If you are just starting out then you could offer your services for free in exchange for testimonials. You could also devise your own client questionnaire that must be filled out before and after you do business. If you choose your questions carefully you will have the basis of a powerful testimonial from every session (assuming that you really are good at what you do). Never, ever, be tempted to use a made-up testimonial. If you are found out you will ruin your credibility forever, and besides it is not necessary if you are skilled in your profession. Finally, it is courtesy to ask your clients if you can use their words in your marketing.

Testimonials are very powerful marketing tools and you can intensify their power with client stories or case studies. These can take the form of short stories. Follow the formula of PSR – Problem, Solution, Results. Describe the situation that caused the client to seek your services, summarise what happened when you worked together, and then describe the bottom line results. Finally garnish with the relevant testimonial.

You testimonials and client stories can be used in a brochure, on your web site or as part of a presentation. In fact testimonials can even be put to good use on the back of your business cards.

Another way to immediately establish your credibility with a potential client is to give them a taste of your expertise. You may offer free introductory service, but another way is to write an informative and useful article or report that not only offers immediate benefit to the reader, but also establishes you as an expert in your field. Although it may take you a while to create, once written you can hand it out as many times as you like for limited or zero cost. Consider publishing it as a PDF that can easily be emailed.

Stage Three – The Three Step Strategy
Now that you have your KMM and have established your credibility, what are you going to do with them? Well, we are going to use them to build relationships with your potential clients. This process of building relationships is what is missing from most of your competitors’ attempts at marketing. If you don’t believe me take a look at your competitors’ ads in your local Yellow Pages. Typically the ads will feature the business name most prominently, followed by a list of services, professional qualifications and then the contact details. What attempt has been made to establish a relationship?

Let’s take a look at an example to illustrate the importance of building relationships. Imagine that instead of marketing your services you are looking for a marriage partner. Imagine that you are in a room full of potential partners. What are you going to do?

You could try going up to each one in turn and ask them to marry you, but that might take far too long. You could try and get everyone’s attention by standing on a chair and shouting, “Who wants to marry me?” To be honest I doubt that you would get much response, and I’d be very wary of anyone who responds positively without knowing a bit more about you!

So, how about you stand on the chair and shout, but give a bit more information? “My name is Andy Fearon. I am a marketing professional. I have a degree in psychology. My phone number is 01442 386135. Does anyone want to marry me?”

Again I doubt this approach would really help you find a compatible partner. Besides, what if everyone else was standing on their chairs yelling at the top of their voices? Who’s going to hear you above all that noise?

So let’s take a look at what is really wrong with this approach. People generally don’t marry complete strangers. They prefer to take their time to get to know a person before making such a commitment. They build a relationship first.

Your competitors’ Yellow Pages ads are asking potential clients to make a commitment in a single step, a truly unrealistic proposition. From complete stranger to paying client in one step? I don’t think so.

There are three steps in the evolution of the relationships you want to establish. At every step you must make an offer and that requires the potential client to actually do something in order to progress to the next step, and you need to be very clear exactly what this is. This three-step process will also allow you to weed out the time-wasters and freeloaders.
In the first step you want to attract the attention of interested individuals and make them an offer that costs you nothing or very little to fulfil, but gives them a genuine benefit. You can use your KMM to do this. For example, “Is [problem, pain or predicament] ruining your business/life? Then get a FREE [report, info pack, introductory session] by [calling this number, sending an email to, visiting this web site, etc].”

You might consider writing your own “How to” guide. For example, “How to instantly increase your cash flow”, “A simple technique to immediately improve your business relationships”, “Beginner’s guide to upholstery repair,” etc. Not only can these guides and reports offer your potential clients genuine benefit, but they also demonstrate your knowledge and expertise.

Some thought is needed about how you make your initial offer. You want to reach as many people as possible for as little outlay as possible. You don’t need full page, full colour advertising or flashy brochures to do this. You have a simple offer – “Get something free and useful without obligation in exchange for your contact details.” There are countless ways you can ‘deliver’ your step-one offer. Here are a few relatively low cost examples to get you started:

• Yellow pages – display or listing ad
• Other directories – display or listing ad
• Newspaper – display or classified ad
• Consumer magazine – display or classified ad
• Poster, flyer or leaflet at shows or exhibitions
• Outdoor posters or on your car
• Run your own seminar or workshop
• Run a joint venture with a complementary and non-competing business or organisation
• Direct mail – letters, mailers, postcards, etc.
• Publicity and press releases
• Publish articles, reports or a newsletter
• Write a book
• Distribute business cards
• Media interviews
• Networking groups
• Make telephone calls
• Use your web site and email (but do not SPAM!)

Make a list of all the ways you can make your offer. How will you do it? What will you need? Write it all down, it’s part of your plan.

By offering something that is relevant to the very people you want to work with, only those people make it on to your marketing list, and you don’t waste time and effort trying to establish relationships with individuals who have no interest in your services, and since you make the offer without obligation, there is no pressure or sense of being sold to.

Some of you may have considered using direct mail to generate new clients, and if you are like most people you probably thought about buying a list of contacts from a list broker and sending at least a letter, if not a brochure and info-pack, to everyone on the list. So you have the cost of the list, the cost of the letters, info-packs and envelopes, as well as the cost of postage, and if you are lucky enough to hit the industry standard you may get a response from 1% of your list. It’s no wonder so many people hate marketing!

Now think about how the three-step process makes your marketing more efficient. Your initial offer will generate a list of contacts with whom you can now develop a relationship. If you were to use direct mail at this stage, your response rate will be much higher since you know that everyone on the list has shown an interest previously.

Since these individuals agreed to receive information from you, your follow up contacts are merely ‘keeping in touch’. You can ask them what they thought of the information or session. You can send them further useful information at intervals, or even special offers and promotions. The point is that they have expressed an interest in what you do – they are ‘warm’.

It is important to keep in touch with everyone on the list at least once every three months, even if it is just a phone call. You’ll be surprised how many of these people will become clients – eventually! Every time you make contact you must make another offer, and be clear to explain what is required in order to take up the offer. For example, if you are offering further information, explain how to obtain it – and make it as easy as possible (web sites are great for this). If you are offering a reduced rate for a new client, then tell them exactly what they need to do, i.e. make the phone call. This second step is all about making it easy for warm contacts to become first-time clients.

You need to present your case for hiring you at the same time as making your irresistible offer. Make sure your warm contacts are aware of all the benefits of your services. Use your testimonials and case studies. Highlight any guarantee you may have. Your offer could take the form of a free demonstration, consultation or evaluation. You could offer a free gift or voucher. Perhaps you can offer a discounted price for a limited number of respondents, or within a limited time period. There’s always the classic “buy one get one free” offer.

The final step in the relationship building process is to turn your first time clients into ‘raving fans’. Again you must keep in touch with these people on a regular basis, but your offers must be tailored specifically to them. What do you want from these clients? You want them to come back, again and again. You want them to recommend you to other people. You want them to write glowing testimonials. Think about what you can offer them in exchange for what you want, but at the end of the day the best way you can impress any client is to give them exceptionally good service, make them feel very special, and be extremely good at what you do.

Take some time now to identify exactly what you will do for each of the three steps in your strategy. Where and how will you make your initial offer? What will you provide respondents? How will you follow up? What step-two offers can you make? What information can you provide to help warm prospects choose you? What can you do to make your clients feel special? How can you improve your service to them? What incentives can you give in exchange for referrals?

Stage Four – Your Marketing Materials
So now we have the message, the credibility and the strategy, the next stage is to develop marketing materials to carry your message. These materials can range from a single line classified ad, to a full colour glossy brochure. Everything that carries your logo or business name has potential marketing value. Your business cards, letterheads, compliments slips, even your car. Of special importance is your web site. There has been a lot of cynicism about web sites since the dot-com crash of a few years ago, and it is completely unwarranted. Your web site can be the most powerful and cost-effective marketing tool in your repertoire as long as it is designed and used correctly.

Many people have experienced poor results from their web sites because they never really considered the purpose of their web site. If you consider your web site to be a virtual shop-front then you’d better make sure that there’s a way in. What use is a shop front without a door?

If you publish a web site, register with a few search engines, and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring, you will probably be waiting a while. However, if you consider how your web site can contribute to your three-step strategy, you can really make it work for you. Is your step-one offer displayed prominently on the home page? Can you use the web site to distribute your free information? Can you collect email addresses of interested prospects for future email marketing? How else can you use the site to support your other marketing activities?

For you to be sure that you get what you really want from your marketing materials you need to know what you really want. This may seem obvious, but let me explain. Every item in your arsenal of marketing weapons must serve a particular purpose. Where does the item fit into your three-step strategy?

For example, do you use your business cards as part of your first contact with a potential new client? Then make sure your step-one offer is on the back, and a version of your KMM is on the front.

Is there any point spending out on fancy artwork for a black and white flyer? Will it be worth paying a little bit extra for a really beautiful brochure knowing that you only send them out to really hot prospects? Why do you need an impressive animation on your web site if it takes an age to download?

Think very carefully about the function of your marketing materials. You are providing information that will help people decide whether or not to use your services. You are not trying to impress them with your cutting edge artwork – what does that prove?

You need to make sure that your marketing materials convey a consistent message. Does everything look as if it came from the same business? Do you have a recognisable logo? Visual impact is important, but the graphics should support your message, not be the message.

Does all the written content support the case for buying your services? If the copy is all about you, it won’t sell. If it’s all about the reader, his or her problems, and how there is hope to resolve those issues, they’ll read on. Have you used your KMM as the basis of your message? Have all the benefits been made clear?

Is there a definite call to action? Is the reader left in no doubt what is required from them if they are to benefit from the offer? Don’t just write the telephone number – tell them to call it!

Unless you are an expert copywriter, graphic designer, web developer and you have your own printing press, I would strongly recommend that you seek the services of professionals when producing your marketing materials. Nothing can ruin your credibility more than marketing materials that scream “home-made” or “amateur” because people will assume your services are equally “home-made” or “amateur”.

However, by thinking carefully about the purpose of your marketing materials you can give your hired experts a very comprehensive brief on what you require. You must choose your experts carefully. Make sure they really are experts, and not someone trying to get paid while they learn. What experience do they have in successfully working with people like you? Can you see examples of their previous work? Will they be sensitive to your needs, or just override you with what they think is best for you? Finally, the cheapest are rarely any good!

Stage Five – ACTION!
There’s nothing left to do now but take action. If you have devised a classified ad – publish it! If you have fantastic new business cards – hand them out! If your letterheads are now prominently displaying your KMM – send out some letters!

Let’s face it; if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen. Your first step in your strategy is to collect the contact details of interested prospects. Do everything you can to promote your first-step offer.

Drop into conversation, “Oh by the way, do you or anyone you know, need to deal with [pain, problem or predicament]? Yes? Well you/they might be interested in this free [opportunity, info pack or article].”

Go to networking meetings and tell everyone that you are looking for [your ideal client] so that you can offer them the free [opportunity, info pack or article].

Go to companies and organisations that may have potential clients within them and make your free offer available to their staff.

Brainstorm ideas for how to reach as many of your potential prospects as possible. As long as your offer is compelling and easy to understand you should be able to get your message across to a lot of people in a short time.

Is there another business or organisation that offers non-competing and complementary services to your own? Perhaps their clients could benefit from your offer? Would it make your partners look good to their clients to make this offer available? Will your chosen partners give you additional credibility?

Remember you are not ‘selling’ anything at this stage – you are merely trying to find people who can benefit from your offer. You are generosity itself!

As you build your list of interested prospects you can start your step-two marketing. It will be most useful if you set up your own prospect database. You can use a spreadsheet programme to do this. For each contact you will obviously need to record contact details, but you can also record information about your progress with the client. What step-one activity did they respond to? How many follow-ups have you done, and when? What happened as a result of those follow-ups? What useful information have you discovered about them from conversations?

Recording this information is very important as it allows you to measure the effectiveness of your marketing activities. By cutting out ineffective activities, and focussing on what really works, you will tune your marketing so that you will need to invest less and less to get better results. However it is important to be patient. Print advertising can be notoriously slow in gathering pace. Readers may need to see an ad repeated over many issues before they take any notice and respond. Once you are committed to a course of action, see it through. One advert that produces no responses is more expensive in the long term than twelve adverts over the course of a year that result in a hundred responses, but not until the eleventh month.

Execute your step-two activities as soon as you start to build your prospect list. You can use your spreadsheet to make sure that you contact your prospects at least once every three months. If you do a specific promotion, make sure you record the results. For example, how many letters did you send, and how many people responded? Poor results are often due to a poor offer, rather than an unsuitable medium. If a direct mail letter does not work, try adjusting the offer or headline, rather than just giving up on direct mail. If in doubt, hire a professional.

Your step-three activities will follow after your prospects become clients. Whatever you planned for new clients, do it! Again record everything in your spreadsheet. Keep in touch with them regularly otherwise they could easily forget you. Remember, it is far easier and cheaper to persuade a happy client to come back, than it is to find a new one.

Make sure you ask your clients for testimonials (use a ‘client consultation questionnaire’ if necessary) as well as referrals. Many people feel awkward when asking for referrals, and this is communicated in the way they ask.

In my experience the best way to ask for a referral is to be direct and confident. Try this, “Just one more thing before you go, I’ve got a question for you.” Pause for acknowledgment. “Which three people/businesses do you know that could benefit from my services?” Wait for list of names.

If you pussyfoot about and start your request with, “Can you think of anyone who …” you will often get the answer, “No, sorry, not right now, but I’ll think about it,” but by being direct you will get more names. Simple, eh?

Make sure you know your limits. Whatever you planned to do, make sure that you are capable of achieving it. Keep testing, measuring and improving. Make sure you have space in your diary for the extra appointments. And don’t give up!

Final comments from the author
I hope you have found this guide useful, but if you are anything like me you read through to the end as quickly as possible, skimming over the exercises. I strongly recommend now that you go back to the beginning and start again. Read slowly, letting the information sink deep into your consciousness, and spend some useful time actually doing the written exercises. I have kept this guide as brief as possible which means that the relatively few number of pages belies the sheer volume of information contained. It will be well worth your while reading this guide a few times to make sure that you have extracted everything useful from it.

As an added incentive to use this guide properly I will be happy to review your exercise notes, absolutely free of charge! That’s right, I will gladly review your Key Marketing Message and Three-Step Strategy and give you valuable feedback and suggestions. All you need do is send the information you would like me to review by email to andy@fearon-design.co.uk

Kind regards and best wishes

Andy Fearon