Entrepreneurs starting or scaling a professional services firm should realize this type of business is different than a retail shop, manufacturing company or e-commerce store.
Instead of selling a tangible product directly to the end user, it involves marketing a defined set of skills based on experience and personal expertise.
The buyer can’t physically touch and feel that service but must rely on awareness, reputation, and trust before selecting a company for accounting, coaching, financial services, IT consulting, legal work and/or health care.
Our firm is currently in its 17th year. We offer developmental optometric services to clients, not only in our home base area of Glen Carbon, Illinois, but to others nationwide. Over the years we have tried various marketing strategies to grow the practice. Fortunately we have developed a winning combination resulting in an extremely large increase in both patient volume and net profits. Following are some lessons learned, ones that can be applied to anyone wishing to start or grow a professional services business.
1. It’s OK to be a small fish in a big pond.
When we first started we were in a very small rural area. We were the big fish in a small pond. Unfortunately it was a very small pond. While patients did visit us from the surrounding towns there just weren’t enough of them to sustain our practice. This triggered a move to a larger area, about one hour away. It was also a suburb of a major metropolitan area. Though competition was greater, we were able to carve its own niche and attract dozens of new patients. Moving to an area where there were more potential clients became the foundation for our dramatic growth.
2. Brand and Differentiate Your Firm.
Google any firm in any service category. It is challenging to determine how one firm is different than the next. That’s why professional services firms need to develop a marketing strategy that separates their business from the competition. In our case we were one of the first developmental optometry firms to use YouTube. It helped us educate the public on a variety of eye related issues that really were not being addressed. It also helped establish our firm as experts in the field. Since this medium is hugely popular, and relatively inexpensive to use, we were able to create a large of number of videos and reach a great number of potential clients most efficiently. Today we have hundreds of videos on YouTube, and a strong presence on various forms of social media. It has enabled us to reach potential patients not only in the U.S. but internationally as well.
3. Work in tandem with other professionals in your industry.
Since our firm is one of the few developmental optometric practices in the nation, we often are called upon by other eye doctors in remote locations for consultation regarding their patients. Some are even located in Europe and South America. This consultative approach holds true for practitioners in other industries as well. Attorneys who specialize in one area of the law can often serve as a referral source for those in other practice areas. The same is true for a financial planner who may wish to connect with an insurance professional or a real estate broker who can serve as a referral source for a mortgage lender. Developing relationships with those in complementary businesses can be a real boost for the growth of your firm.
4. Hire a business coach or consultant.
Few of us in professional services are trained in strategic business growth. It is not what we do. In order to ramp up our practice we engaged with a business consultant who has started and operated many large and small businesses. The consultant helped us set up many standard operating procedures, helped us create a higher functioning team and helped create benchmarks for growth. He has paid for himself many times over. Service firms can scale quicker and more efficiently by engaging with someone who has done it all before.
5. Consider new ideas for practice growth.
Those in professional services should research and analyze different ways to grow their firms. In our case, we started consulting with other eye doctors who wish to learn Developmental Optometry or wanted to add it as a service offering. The consulting piece has added to our revenue stream and increased profits. You can study industry trends and determine the right type of additional specialized services that best fit your practice, personality, and business goals.