10 Steps to Growing Your Professional Service Business

When you offer a professional service, there are two big mistakes in how you think about your offering that can sabotage your sales and make it hard to grow your business:

  1. Your offering is just a commodity (because your customers think of it like that). When you think this way, your inclination to distinguish yourself from your competitors is to reduce your prices and, in Seth Godin’s words, “race to the bottom.” This is an excellent way to suck all of the joy and passion out of your work and turn everything you do into empty transaction.
  2. Your offering is massively flexible (because you don’t want to steer away from any potential customer). When you think this way, it’s easy to try to be all things to all people, and to succeed at being nothing to anyone.

Moving forward on the sales path is an elevating experience for the whole business.

These two mistakes represent two equally problematic ends of a spectrum. The good news is that there is a sweet spot in between them that can really serve you as you offer your services to the world.

That sweet spot is this:

Your offering is a unique and valuable solution to a specific market. It’s unique, because you are unique, and as a service provider, your personality is intrinsically bound up with the service you provide. And it’s valuable because it’s tailored for a specific kind of customer who will benefit from it.

Once you get into this kind of thinking, you are well positioned to head down a 10-step path of landing more opportunities and growing your business:

  1. Decide on a market. Instead of thinking about anyone and everyone who can benefit from your service, start thinking about who could benefit the most from your work. Who do you want to work with the most? Who do you want to help? What kinds of projects do you most want to do? If you design buildings, zero in on the kind of buildings you specialize in. If you are a financial advisor, get specific on the kind of person you want to help the most. If you are a business consultant, get clear on what size company, what kind of company, and what kind of business leader you want to foster.
  2. Create a concise message that communicates what your value is to that specific market. Part of what defines your target market is that they have a problem, or possibly multiple problems, that you can solve. Create a message that tells the story of how you help solve that problem for the specific people who have it.
  3. Tell that message to everyone you know. No matter who you’re talking to, it’s always a good idea to let them know about who you help and how you help them. This is because people know people. Your college friend could know a good prospect for you. Your neighbor might work in a tangential market. The person you sit next to on an airplane might have a sister you should talk to.
  4. Physically go to where your clients are. In this technological age, it’s way too easy to get stuck in front of your computer and think that you can build business with social media. But people don’t hire services blindly, they hire people who provide those services. You need to interact with them. Don’t just email them, call them. Don’t just call them, meet them face to face. The more face-time you get, the more likelihood you have of turning them into clients.
  5. Network. What you talk about when you interact with your prospects can make a huge difference in how well you build relationships with them. Don’t just chit-chat with them, and don’t sell at them. Get to know them. Ask about their challenges and their goals. Look for ways to help them — not just with the services you offer, but with the people and resources you have in your network. Truly care about them to position yourself as a real source of value in their minds.
  6. Present. Prospects from your market might belong to professional associations and naturally get together on a regular basis. If they don’t, you can create an event of your own and invite them to it. Or, you can go in-house to a target company. With any of these setups, you have the possibility of presenting to them to share your expertise with them. Anticipate their questions and provide them with answers. Address their concerns and talk about what it would take to achieve their goals. Give away your value to show them what a valuable expert you are.
  7. Follow up. Now that they know who you are and understand the value that you have to offer them, stay in touch. Check in on them to see what challenges they have, and what goals they’re working towards. Ask questions. Listen for opportunities to offer the help that your services represent. (This is what selling is.)
  8. Pitch. You have the relationship, you found the opportunity, and now it’s all about the pitch, the interview, the presentation. Make the most of it by preparing for it thoroughly. Strategize your approach. Design your content. Create your visuals. Anticipate their questions and prepare satisfying answers. Decide in advance what the decision makers are going to walk away with. Ask for the job, but make sure your pitch is about them and their success. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.
  9. Follow up (again). Check in after the pitch to see what else you can provide to help them make the best decision. Check in during the job to make sure you are providing everything they need to succeed. Check in after the job is done to make sure they have everything they could hope for from you. Talk to them about their future. Do they have something coming up you can help with? Be there for them every step of the way.
  10. Ask for help. Now that you have a happy customer, talk to them about how they could help you. You are looking to fill your pipeline, and right now you have capacity. What would they suggest? They might have some thoughts for referrals. Be prepared to ask for an introduction or two. The more introductions you ask for, the likelier they will be of spontaneously coming up with a referral.

What’s particularly exciting about this path is that it doesn’t end at #10. It’s not just a sequence, it’s a repeating loop — a spiral staircase, where each time around you get more leads to pursue, and more opportunities to transform into new business.

What are your thoughts? What’s in your way of climbing this spiral staircase to growing your business? What questions do you have? Share your thoughts below, or contact us directly here.

4 Comments

  1. Alison Ward on June 27, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Excellent article!

  2. Patrick Blees on June 27, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for the good words. None of this is a surprise, but it is always good to get refreshed about our approach to building our business.

    • Pete Machalek on June 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Good to hear it, Patrick! I’m sure for a lot of folks (especially experienced ones like you), this big-picture process is quite familiar. And I imagine for a lot of folks who already see this big picture, the “how” questions still remain. How do we tell the message about how we help this market? How do we lead these conversations and build these professional relationships? How do we present more powerfully and effectively? etc.

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