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In the professional services, there is no shortage of experts. After all, expertise is what drives our businesses. It’s why people seek us out and are willing to pay good money for our advice and services. Firms like yours are practically bursting with experts.
But some experts stand a little taller. And a few tower like sequoias above the rest. You probably think of these individuals as industry stars or thought leaders. But we’ve given them a special name: Visible Experts®.
Until recently, the path from unknown expert to prominence was poorly understood. Over the past few years, however, we’ve studied hundreds of Visible Experts, and we’ve learned a great deal about their professional journey. We’ve paid special attention to the strategies and techniques they used to raise their profile.
We also learned that these stars are not always gods among women and men. More often than not, they are regular folks like you and me. When they speak to a crowd of their peers, they are not necessarily the brightest minds in the room — which they freely admit. Most are ordinary people, albeit people who have taken their reputations to extraordinary heights.
So what’s their secret?
In this post, we’ll explain what Visible Experts are, what they do differently from ordinary experts and, most importantly, how any competent expert — even you — can retrace their path up the mountain until you reach your peak.
What Is a Visible Expert?
Visible Experts are professionals who have achieved prominence in their industries. They are quoted in the media and invited to speak at conferences. They are admired by their peers and sought out by clients. Their celebrity status allows them to command higher fees. And in rare circumstances, they may even become household names. Visible Experts are exactly what their name implies: individuals whose expertise and exposure rise above the rest.
At the very highest echelons, Visible Experts are often trend setters, innovators and leaders. But those aren’t essential traits. Most of them are mere mortals whose big idea was their conscious decision to build a personal brand. In fact, there are only three things you need to become a Visible Expert (other than actual expertise, of course — that’s a prerequisite):
A willingness to teach
Good communication skills
Visible Experts are teachers. That’s how they build their reputations. They willingly and openly share their expert knowledge without any jealousy or fear of revealing their secrets. In today’s Internet-fueled world, information on virtually any topic is a few keystrokes away. If you aren’t sharing your knowledge, then someone else will.
When you share your knowledge and teach people in your target audience how you solve the kinds of problems they have, something magical happens. You position yourself as a special kind of expert — one who not only demonstrates a mastery of the material but is unselfish, approachable and utterly helpful. The kind of person you can trust. It doesn’t take long before that trust develops into preference. So when your followers are in a position to buy services like yours, guess who goes straight to the top of their list? That’s right, you!
Of course, you can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t a strong communicator. Visible Experts are usually very good at translating complex ideas into easy-to-understand concepts. When you are writing or speaking, leave your technical jargon at home. Instead, communicate at the level of a non-specialist. For some people, this comes easily. Others have to work at it. If you are in the latter camp, don’t fret. Nobody is good at everything, and to a large degree, clear communication skills can be learned.
All aspiring Visible Experts have to acquire new skills and develop new habits in the course of their ascent. And that requires a sustained commitment. Whether you are learning SEO techniques or trying to write a blog post every week (or both), you have to set aside the time and summon the energy to make the steady, incremental progress it takes to climb the mountain. Visible Experts aren’t made in a day or a week or even a few months. You’ve got to maintain your new mindset for the foreseeable future. The good news is that it gets easier the longer you stay on the path.
The 5 Levels of Visible Expertise
In our research, we identified five levels of visible expertise. To extend our alpine metaphor, think of these levels as outposts positioned increasingly higher on the mountain. Most climbers are content to reach one of these lofty stages, while a few determined souls feel compelled to push through the thinning air to the summit.
Level 1: Resident Experts. This is where most experts begin their careers, and the vast majority of them never leave its ranks. These individuals are appreciated within their firms, and clients respect and rely on them. But beyond those boundaries they are virtual unknowns.
Level 2: Local Heroes. When experts get active in their local business communities, their horizons expand, especially if they use their outreach as an opportunity to educate their audience. They may speak at business events, write blog posts or conduct webinars. And they may even attract a few new clients.
Level 3: Rising Stars. Frequent writers and speakers on their area of expertise, these individuals are relatively well known among peers in their region. They can bring in excellent clients who are willing to pay more for their perceived expertise.
Level 4: Industry Rock Stars. Every industry has a small cadre of these. They are the experts who keynote major conferences across the country and are quoted in top media publications. Because they attract the best clients and can charge top fees, these high-profile stars are key players in their firms.
Level 5: Global Superstars. These are the elite experts, and their reputations often extend around the globe. No longer niche players, they are broadly associated with their industries — and some are even recognized by ordinary people. These superstars command ultra-premium fees and are in high demand.
Figure 1.Relative hourly rates buyers will pay, by Visible Expert level
Solo vs. Team Ascent
When you hear “Visible Expert” or “thought leader”, you probably think of individuals who have climbed to prominence of their own volition. And in fact, most high-profile experts make their way up the mountainside solo.
But there is another, less lonely way to reach the summit (or whatever level you aspire to achieve). And that is to make the journey in concert with others in your organization. Some firms put groups of professionals through a program designed to raise their expert profiles. The benefits to the firm should be obvious — increased visibility and higher fees. But the individual experts get the benefit of working through their challenges and skills training together. They can lean on each other for answers, insights and motivation when the going gets tough.
One firm that has done this is Nishith Desai Associates, an international law firm. They recently put seventeen of their attorneys through a year-long Visible Expert program. While a handful of participants failed to complete the program, the vast majority not only finished but made saw tangible results that were directly attributed to their new-gained visibility. For instance, many of the participants, some of whom had never spoken publicly before, were invited to speak at events around the globe. One of their practice areas was recognized by a major law journal as a leader in its field. A government agency reached out to one of their experts to help develop new regulations. And they attracted multiple new clients because of their enhanced market exposure.
A Map to the Mountaintops
In another post, my colleague Liz Harr provides a detailed roadmap you can follow to build your personal brand. I will briefly summarize it here.
Phase I: Set Your Strategy
Determine where you are today. Are you at Level 1, or are you starting from a more elevated position? Use the five levels described above to find out.
Identify your specialized area of expertise. Define your expertise as narrowly as possible so that people will easily be able to associate you with the expertise you will become known for.
Define your audience. When you start writing and speaking, you’ll want to know exactly who’s reading, watching and listening to you.
Find your angle. Try to find a single issue or point of view that you can become known for. If it is counterintuitive or controversial, so much the better.
Decide which tools you will use. From social media and web-based platforms to public speaking and podcasts, you have a bewildering array of tools to choose from. I suggest you start with the tools most often used by Visible Experts.
Assess your skills. Determine what you are good at and where you need help. You will need to assess your skill and experience levels in the following areas:
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Finding outside speaking and writing opportunities
Determine who is going to help you. Chances are you will need some help in one or more of these areas. Line up your resources early.
Phase II: Set Up Your Infrastructure
Create your media kit. You are going to be a public persona, so you’ll need an appropriate kit to promote yourself.
Enhance your bio/build your website. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself on your website.
Get set to blog. Blogging, combined with SEO, is one of the easiest ways to build visibility. Learn how to do blogging right and make sure you have a great platform available to get your voice out there.
Set up your conversion tools. Conversion mechanisms are an important way to turn blog readers and web visitors into prospects. Get these set up as soon as you start your new writing push.
Set up your social media profiles. Start with LinkedIn, and make sure your profile is complete. Later you may want add Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Select and prepare your email platform. You’ll need a platform that is designed for sending emails in quantity. Whether it’s Salesforce, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, MailChimp or a similar service, make sure it has robust reporting features so that you can see how successful your email is.
Phase III: Develop Your Skills
Set aside time each day to work on new skills. Make learning something new every day a habit.
How to Get Started
If you want to become the next Visible Expert in your industry, the first step is to commit to it. If you are part of a firm, talk to your colleagues and explain what you are trying to do and how it will help the business achieve its goals. If you can get the support of the people around you, you will find it easier to carve out time during the day to do many of the tasks it takes to build your profile.
While not everyone is cut out to be a Visible Expert, it is a perfectly achievable goal for most professionals. But you have to wantit. And you need to know that there is a proven, repeatable process you can follow to identify your strengths and weaknesses, set your strategy and develop the skills and infrastructure it takes to climb to the peak of your ability. Now start climbing!
Where to Learn More
Ready to dive into the details and get started? Download and read book that started it all — The Visible Expert. You’ll explore the underlying research, read inspiring stories of real-world Visible Experts and get the proven, step-by-step program that has helped countless experts rise to greater prominence in their fields. Best of all, it’s free!
If you want an instructor-led, learn-at-your-own-pace experience, take our online course, The Visible Expert Course. Over 7 class units, Hinge partner and Visible Expert Liz Harr walks you through the entire program and offers a wealth of helpful tips and advice. The course also includes useful worksheets, which are available nowhere else.
For step-by-step instructions to learn the key strategies and skills you’ll need on your journey to Visible Expertise, join Hinge University.
Visible Expert Consulting
Are you looking for a seasoned guide to lead you or your team through every step of the Visible Expert journey — with mentoring and implementation support along the way? Hinge’s Visible Expert Programis for you! Working with individuals or groups, we can tailor a program that suits your situation and budget. For more information, contact us today.
Top 10 Marketing Automation Strategies - part 1 - YouTube
Across professional services almost all firms have started to incorporate marketing automation in their overall marketing strategy. Here is the first segment in our three-part series where we provide our top 10 marketing automation strategies for professional services firms.
Across professional services almost all firms have started to incorporate marketing automation in their overall marketing strategy. Even if they have, they don’t often know the best ways to utilize this tool that they’ve just invested in. So in this three part video series I’m going to share the top ten strategies for your marketing automation system.
First is a strategy around attracting more new leads. Marketing automation is perfectly setup for one of the primary goals in professional services, getting you business. So through techniques like SEO, sharing in social media, guest publishing in outside publications, marketing automation helps you promote all of that and cast your net wider, thus attracting more new leads.
A second strategy in marketing automation is better qualifying those new leads. We all know that all leads are not the same. Just having traffic to your website, for example, is not enough. But marketing automation helps you test measure and then refine the different techniques and you’re helping bring more qualified leads to the table in that way.
The third strategy I want to share with you is around segmenting your list. Marketing automation is perfectly set up for this. Without marketing automation, firms often have just one huge list. We know that not all leads are equal. Marketing automation helps you be smarter about what you’re sending and what you’re putting in front of the leads that you just acquired.
Now if you’re interested in learning more about strategies for your marketing automation system, I encourage you to check out hingeuniversity.com/courses. We’d love to see you there.
As professional services firms continue to place greater emphasis on their own marketing, they are looking outward for expertise in the multitude of disciplines that make up a modern marketing campaign. With so many choices to consider, it’s becoming harder for companies to distinguish between those selling hot air and marketing partners who can truly help a firm grow.
Is hiring multiple vendors better, or is a full-service firm the way to go? Should you hire a marketing consultant or a marketing agency? What if your firm doesn’t have a full-time marketing staff? What if you do have full time staff—does that make a difference in who you hire?
Our own prospects have shared these questions with us again and again. Over time, we’ve noted five characteristics that clients and prospects look for in a marketing partner.
1 – They have what I want.
Coveting what others have usually isn’t an attractive behavior. But when it comes to hiring a marketing provider, that’s exactly what you ought to do. Do they do for themselves what you’d want them to do for your business? Do they have a message that resonates with target audiences? Do they produce valuable content? Does their website truly present their value proposition? Are there clear paths that lead you to a next step? Your marketing provider should demonstrate all of these qualities as proof that they can truly deliver.
We’ve all seen marketing consultants with a weak website or a bad brand. Remember—they’re in the professional services business, too. If they don’t do a good job with their own materials, what makes you think they’ll do any better with yours? If they make excuses about being too busy with clients’ work to attend to their own marketing, don’t buy it.
Make it a priority to work with a marketing agency that will push itself and its clients. Mediocrity is not allowed and accountability is a must.
2 – Transparency across every dimension of the partnership.
When it comes to hiring a marketing agency, what does transparency mean to you? Consider the following dimensions of a marketing partnership:
Level of effort and schedule: As conversations progress with the agencies you are considering, are they talking to you about your own projected level of effort and timeline for the scope of services? Just because you have decided to hire an outside provider doesn’t mean that all marketing tasks are off your plate.
A good marketing agency will consider your engagement as a long-term partnership. In partnerships, there are tasks for each side. Understanding the stakeholders that need to be involved at every level, the amount of effort they will need to dedicate, and a projected timeline with meeting dates and level of participation required will go a long way to creating a successful outcome for both parties.
Flexibility in purchasing services: Do the other agencies you’re considering offer alternative models? There are times when fixed fees make sense and times when a retainer model is a no-brainer. The benefits of a contract arrangement must be beneficial to both parties. The same goes for when payments are made for services rendered. When having contract conversations with potential marketing agencies, are you exploring equal monthly payments or milestone payments? What about paying with credit cards?
Another aspect to consider is whether your firm can benefit from a cost savings by signing up for a bundled, packaged or subscription engagement. We all know that, in professional services, having “benched” staff isn’t profitable. A packaged approach is a win-win for both parties—the hiring firm can save some dollars and the provider firm can ensure billable staff. A la carte services can make sense for some needs, but in certain situations, packaged services are more appropriate.
Team makeup: We’ve all heard (or experienced) horror stories about the “bait and switch” that can happen in professional services. Hopefully, it’s a tactic your own firm doesn’t employ—so why would you hire a firm that does? Are you asking the right questions when it comes to the team’s make-up? Is the person “selling” to you going to be engaged in the collaboration between their firm and yours? Or will they bring in folks that you’ve never met?
Is your business so focused on cost that it’s only considering solo marketing consultants (or even worse, the boss’ nephew)? To gain productive and valuable marketing insight, you need to employ a group of blended skill sets— digital, research, analytics, creative, writing, strategy, social, project management and more. A solo marketing consultant is going to have a very rough time effectively rebranding your firm and will be stretched thin working on your deliverables. Cost is important, but not at the expense of relevant experience, adequate resources and results.
Fluency in remote access: There’s a reason your business is thinking about hiring a marketing agency. Your clients are placing greater demands on you. You’re trying to grow the firm. Your bandwidth is limited and fitting more face-to-face meetings in a day is just not possible. Today’s technology can save us time and bring us as close as we can get to a face-to-face meeting.
As you consider marketing agencies, evaluate their comfort level with technology. Are they efficient in the use of virtual meetings? Can your business get the benefit of an entire specialist team? Or, do you just get one person that comes out to meet you? In today’s transparent client–provider relationships, access to that entire team, even virtually, can pay greater dividends than a single face-to-face meeting. And don’t forget that great value can come to your firm by being able to pick up the phone and talk to one of the many specialists that are staffed by the marketing agency you hire.
3 – Demonstrated success is all the proof you need.
When interviewing potential service providers, how easy is it for you to get references from businesses with challenges similar to yours? The best way to learn what an agency can do for you is to talk to their current and past clients. Even if the reference isn’t in the same industry as your firm, they’ll be able to provide insights on project delivery, team dynamics, overall client management and success rates.
There are other ways to gauge the efficacy of the marketing agency you’re contemplating. Consider the case studies or design portfolio posted on their website or the variety in the references they present. Inquire about their involvement or knowledge of your industry. Have they written or presented to trade organizations aligned with your core business? Are they a quantifiable thought leader? Remember, professional services are much more complicated to market then most consumer products. Is the firm you’re considering committed to educating themselves and those they target?
While referrals are on the decline, we know that nearly 60% of buyers of professional services look to their friends or colleagues for referrals on a business provider. If the marketing agency in question is a leader, then someone in your network is likely to have heard of them.
4 – The firm knows that even great strategies fail without implementation.
When considering a marketing agency, it’s important to evaluate their approach to strategy implementation. Beyond the reports, plans and data they’ll present to you, how will they help you understand and execute on the required implementation? You may remember an old commercial where the CEO compliments the strategists and then asks them, “What now?” To the CEO’s amazement, the response was, “We don’t know—we just come up with the strategy.” How will that strategy be implemented and measured?
Another way of evaluating these criteria is to think of it as a diagnosis. Do they understand the issues and recommend a workable solution? If you’re not convinced the marketing consultant has the right diagnosis, you’re not likely to be happy with the cure. Our research shows that one of the most important reasons that professional services buyers are unhappy with providers is that they don’t solve the key problem and provide poor quality deliverables.
5 – Culture is a pixel-deep.
Most of us are in the habit of searching online for information about a firm or individual we’re about to meet. It’s no different when evaluating a potential marketing agency. Check out the company’s website and social media presence. This goes back to the first criteria: Do they have what I want?
Through their website you should be able to get a feel for their culture. What are the age demographics? A blend of younger and more seasoned staff will provide a greater likelihood that your firm will benefit from experience, continuous improvement, and the latest trends and techniques. Is their culture one that fosters a profitable client-vendor relationship? Our own research verifies that expertise and experience will trump cost any day.
Partnering with a marketing agency is not a decision to be made lightly. It requires hard work, trust in the expertise shared by both the vendor and the buyer, and true collaboration—even when implementation may not be progressing as smoothly. It’s no surprise that firms which grow the fastest and are the most profitable are more likely to use outside marketing resources.
Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠ to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.
5 Situations when M&A can Hurt Your Brand - YouTube
Today we’re going to talk about M&A as it relates to your brand and how it could go wrong and what you might be able to do about it.
All right, thanks for joining today, we’re gonna talk about M&A as it relates to your brand, and if you can guess from the little crashed rocket, we’re gonna talk a little bit about how it could go wrong, and what you might be able to do about it. So the first thing we’ll talk about is culture clash, and I think anybody who’s been through a merger or acquisition knows that there’s a potential for culture clash. Sometimes it’s little, it’s a small team, sometimes it’s more pervasive. But let’s go right to the beginning of how these deals come together, and I think you can understand how a brand gets set up for this. Oftentimes there’s principles and kind of behind scenes conversations going on, they don’t necessarily have the benefit of talking to the teams that are going to be tasked with finding a way to work together. Furthermore in today’s connected culture, even the systems that teams use to collaborate can be a friction point. So it’s important that principles and owners and the folks involved with the deal are at least attuned to the culture as they’re going into these discussions, so they know just what kind of challenge lays ahead.
The second challenge that we’re going to talk about is differentiation. And a lot of times in those deals looking at something that sounds really good on paper can lead to a delusion of a firm’s differentiation. What might be differentiated as constituent parts, can come together into more ambiguous hole if you’re not careful looking in. Sometimes the ideas of how we get from A to B might make sense from an internal perspective, but looking from the outside in it’s important to see how the market is going to perceive that combined differentiation of your firm.
You also can’t discount a merger and acquisition as just a major distraction. There’s a lot of logistics that go along with a merger and acquisition, if you’re looking at it from the brand respective. Just think of all of the collateral that needs to be updated, the messaging that needs to be updated. This piece, usually teams might have hives about, but they can work through, it’s pretty logical to work through the steps to combine brands and look at that if a roadmap is in place, but no matter what it’s going to take some effort and some consideration from the teams to get through that, and that sometimes can take your eye off the ball.
So if we’ve delude our positioning externally, and we might be grappling with some evolving roles internally and cultural alignment, imagine what that looks like on the outside. It could lead to marketplace confusion, so it’s really important to have a strong roadmap to communicate a merger and acquisition to the audiences you care about. And when I talk about a roadmap, I’m going beyond replacing logos on letterhead, doing the logistics, website updates and all of those things, but thinking about the transition plan itself. So if a brand that has really strong equity is coming into the fold, perhaps that transition is longer and there’s more communication and associated budget with that, than a brand that’s coming in with pretty light equity and may not be as known in the marketplace, then the larger brand can continue and kinda hold the gravity for that.
So to bring it all together, if you watch out for these potential pitfalls, you can avoid an overall loss of brand strength, whether that’s through delusion, confusion, loss of differentiation within the marketplace. Having a good roadmap in place, working through the logistics, making sure that you’re attuned to aligning cultures within the composite brand can really help make that transition as smooth as possible, and realize the efficiencies and the 1 plus 1 equals 3 formula that everyone is really striving for.
If you’d like to learn more about this, I encourage you to check out our Visible Firm Course on hingeuniversity.com. Thanks, we’ll talk to you soon.
In our recent study on professional services firms, we found that 87% of buyers will actually rule out a service provider before even talking with them. What kind of impact should that have on your strategy?
Hi, I’m John Tyreman. Thanks for tuning into Hinge’s Research Roundup. In our recent study on professional services firms, we found that 87% of buyers will actually rule out a service provider before even talking with them. That’s why it’s important to keep a pulse on your target market and keep marketing strategy in mind when you’re developing messages on your website. If your buyers can’t connect the dots between the services you offer and the challenges they’re trying to solve, then they’re probably likely to move on to the next potential solution.
For more research-backed insights, visit hingemarketing.com, connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @John_Tyreman. Happy branding!
In the second installment of Lee Frederiksen’s series on top marketing planning tips, hear about the final three techniques that your firm can use to optimize your marketing plan. Now, let’s go on to tip four.
I’d like to share some more marketing planning tips with you. In the prior one, we looked at three techniques, three tips that are helpful. Make sure that you review what’s happened in the past, what’s changed since the last time you did planning, do some research with your target client, and focus on doing fewer things but doing them better. Now, let’s go on to tip four, match your marketing channels to your audience. If you’ve done your research, if you’ve followed your audience, you’re gonna be able to ask them, where do they go when they’re trying to research a topic, when they’re looking for expertise and advice? That’s a clue to where you should be, so they can find you when they’re looking.
The fifth tip is to treat marketing as a team sport. You know, in the past, in professional services, we often thought of marketing as a solo activity, the lone rainmaker who had a tremendous kind of background and level of contacts, and a Rolodex full of people. That’s not the way it is anymore. Marketing is a more complex, integrated function that requires multiple people, and no one person has to do everything. So focus on your talent and get it together, and work as a team.
Finally, use proven marketing techniques. You’re gonna find that there’s a lot of research that Hinge has done and shared on which marketing techniques work better. You’re also gonna find and be able to match your audience with where they are. And using proven techniques that are aligned with where your audience is almost always produces a superior result.
If you wanna dig deeper into this topic, explore Hinge University further. Look at the range of courses and quick tips that are very helpful to getting you grounded in a marketing plan that’s gonna work for your firm.
5 Situations when M&A Strengthens Your Brand - YouTube
Today we’re going to talk about M&A in your brand and five situations where an M&A can really strengthen your brand, some opportunities to really improve your brand as you grow through mergers and acquisition.
All right, today we’re gonna talk about M&A in your brand and five situations where an M&A can really strengthen your brand, some opportunities to really improve your brand as you grow through mergers and acquisition. First thing I wanna talk about is the opportunity to fill in gaps in service offerings and or client lists. So, bringing in the right partner, right merger or acquisition can help add specific talent, can help fill in services that might be next in line for services you’re already offering, and it might expose you to new audiences that can come into the fold. So, this is a really important lead into talent itself and intellectual property that teams might bring into the fold to help fill those service gaps and offerings. Looking at mergers and acquisitions as a way to bring in whole teams in a very difficult talent market is a great way to grow. And sometimes these teams will bring in processes or intellectual property or even data that your firm may have been missing out on.
So, that’s a real opportunity to win the war for talent, by bringing in whole teams so long as you’re thinking about how they might culturally align, do the tools match, are you gonna be able to integrate them smoothly? That will allow you to really leverage those synergies if the teams are offering complementary services, have complementary talent, and we’ve worked to align their culture and understanding of the combined brand, then you can really get a 1 plus 1 equals 3 formula going and really use those synergies to the best of your abilities. Sometimes even that will open doors to creating a new business model. So, looking at the services and the talent on their own, they were working well as a business standalone. But coming together, you may have an opportunity to completely reposition and look at efficiencies throughout the whole process of your delivery and come to the table with something new.
So, with all of those things, if we have the opportunity to add a new business model or we’re leveraging new teams and bringing new talent on deck, you have a real opportunity for your brand to evolve quickly, really take some shortcuts in the learning curve that’s usually associated with organic growth. Now, that comes along with some real discipline in terms of roadmap and how your messaging these mergers and acquisitions to your audiences. But if that’s done right and you’re keeping an eye on a cultural alignment as you go, there’s a fantastic opportunity to really shave time, sometimes even years off of that growth path.
If you’d like to learn more about this, I encourage you to check out our Visible Firm Course on Hinge University. Thanks and I’ll talk to you again soon.
The first 100 days of a new marketing leadership position can be both exciting and stressful. Whether you are new to your organization or the role, you’ll be tempted to come in and start making changes on Day 1. After all, you’re an experienced marketer and that’s why you’ve been put in this position, right? It is true that your experience and enthusiasm have helped you get the job, but now is the time to listen before you act.
Before You Start: Be Prepared
Particularly if you are new to the organization and position, make sure you have done enough preparation to hit the ground running. Chances are, you learned a lot about your new firm during the interview process, but now is the time to dig deeper. Before you start making big decisions or dispensing advice, do your research on the industry, your customers and your competitors — and anything else you can learn about the business. You want to make a good impression on your first day, and you will feel much more confident with a little research in your back pocket.
If this is a new role but you’ve been with the organization for a while, you should already have a sense for the business. But you should still do a little outside research to refresh your perspective. Sometimes when we’ve been with an organization for a while, our view becomes clouded. We think we know who our competitors are and what’s happening in the market, but it doesn’t hurt to take another look. And taking on a new role is a great opportunity to do just that. More often than not, you’ll find that things have changed.
Days 1-30: Listen & Assess
The first 30 days is more a time to listen than a time to talk. Resist the urge to walk in on day 1 or even week 1 and declare a major change. You and the organization need time to get acquainted.
Meet with as many people as you can
Start with your team, including your external vendors/partners. Learn as much as you can about what’s working, what isn’t, and why. At the same time, meet with key internal stakeholders, including executive and practice leaders, as well as your peers in sales, finance, HR and IT. Gather their perspectives on marketing and keep an open mind. It is easy for people to say, “marketing isn’t working,” but dig in and try to understand at a deeper level what that means to them. You may find some common themes that you can address later on.
Assess the skillsets of your team
As you meet with members of your team, start assessing the skillsets you have in-house. At the same time, consider what skills you may want to add to your team, and which ones you will need to outsource. The tools and techniques of marketing are continually evolving, so it’s important to know your team’s strengths and limitations.
Review the data
Gathering the perspectives of others is important, but it won’t necessarily give you all the intel you need. To broaden your view, dive into any relevant marketing data that you are able to get your hands on. Review your website analytics, marketing automation reports and any other marketing metrics available to you. Look for trends and seek answers to any anomalies or gaps you find. The data may tell you a very different story from your conversations with staff.
Days 31-100: Strategize & Plan
You’ve spent your first 30 days building a foundation. You’ve likely gathered a mountain of information. Now is the time to make sense of it all. You may find questions that have gone unanswered, or you may be struggling to reconcile conflicting perspectives or information. If finding answers to these issues will help develop a more robust marketing plan, now is the time to conduct research to help fill in the gaps. Often, this means hiring an impartial third-party research firm to survey your marketplace and/or your internal team. A plan built on anything but a solid understanding is not going to give you the results you expect.
You should also spend some time reviewing the firm’s existing marketing plan (if there is one) and budget. Depending on where you are in the planning cycle, you may need to see the existing plan through while you begin thinking about modifying it for the future. If the timing is right, and you find that the current plan is not sufficient to accomplish your goals, now is the time to outline the changes you will make. Use this time to build a solid, strategic and executable marketing plan.
Days 100+: Execute
Now is the time for action. Share your plan with your team and key stakeholders. Figure out which pieces of your plan you will execute in-house which you will delegate to outside resources. For the pieces of your plan you will outsource, be sure your marketing partners are willing to work as an extension of your team. And make sure that everyone on your team — inside and outside your firm — knows their roles and responsibilities. Measure, test, and adjust as you go. You’re now off to the races. Give it everything you’ve got.
Find out how to turn your firm into a high-visibility, high-growth business. Download our free executive guide, The Visible Firm®, in which we layout a detailed roadmap of this research-based program.
Need to train your marketing team in cutting-edge growth strategies and marketing techniques? Check out Hinge University. These are the same resources Hinge uses to teach our professionals!
How Hinge Can Help
Don’t know where to start? Hinge can help put your firm on the road to greater visibility. Our research, positioning and branding services — as well as our flagship Visible Firm® program — are designed to take your firm to new heights of marketing performance.
More than a decade ago, Hinge set out on a mission to understand what drives extraordinary growth in professional services.
This has been no easy task. We’ve witnessed the professional services industry undergo tremendous change in that time. Buyer behavior has shifted dramatically, recruiting and retention is harder and rapid advances in technology have left marketing departments overwhelmed.
But there is hope. Some firms have shown an incredible ability to grow rapidly in this environment. These high-growth professional services firms grew 5X faster than the average service provider. And they’re not just small- or mid-sized businesses, either. In our latest High-Growth Study, we saw rapid growth at every level.
1 . High-growth firms were 67% more likely to leverage M&A
We’re seeing it more and more. Professional services firms are starting to pursue mergers and acquisitions as a primary growth strategy. In the study, we found nearly 38% of high-growth firms grew via M&A in 2018, compared to less than 23% of no-growth firms.
While there are many benefits of growing via M&A, it can present new, complex marketing challenges.
For example, in 2018 Hinge worked with several global, national and regional firms that had grown rapidly by strategically acquiring smaller firms for their specialized service offerings. The services they added were complementary and the acquisitions brought valuable talent with them, but the resulting “house of brands” lacked cohesive positioning and messaging. These firms shared a few common challenges:
The need to understand the brand strength of their acquired firms to inform integration and communication plans (how much, how soon).
The need to understand external brand perceptions to uncover common ground and help unify internal teams.
The need to develop a repeatable strategic approach that can be applied to future acquisitions.
In each case we started with brand equity research, from which we were able to quantify the equity of each acquired brand and uncover potential synergies and areas of conflict.. Ultimately, we used these insights to develop integration and branding strategies for future mergers.
By understanding and addressing these M&A marketing challenges, professional services firms are able to grow rapidly and maintain a consistent brand message.
2 . Differentiation is the top marketing priority of high-growth firms
If a professional services firm can separate its business from the competition it can win more business and avoid competing on price. Of course, differentiation is easier said than done. High-growth firms appear to be successful in setting their businesses apart. But how?
There are many ways to differentiate professional services firms, but truly impactful differentiators must possess three qualities. They must be:
True – Your differentiators have to be grounded in reality.
Relevant – If it doesn’t matter to your clients, it doesn’t matter.
Provable – Anyone can claim a quality. You have to be able to prove it.
In addition to setting firms apart from their competition, a robust brand differentiation strategy allows firms to be more targeted in their marketing efforts, speaking directly to the most relevant audiences.
Marketing is an investment of both time and money, and high-growth firms understand this.
When we analyzed marketing budgets, we found the high-growth cohort had a median marketing budget of 5% of annual revenues. Both average- and no-growth firms had median marketing budgets of 3%. Further, an impressive 36% of high-growth firms invested 10% or more of annual revenues in marketing (compared to 23% of no-growth firms).
Of course, not all marketing investment will show up on the ledger. High-growth firms understand the importance of doing marketing the right way. This is evident in the level of effort they put toward the marketing function.
For instance, high-growth firms are able to publish two guest blog posts a month while no-growth firms struggle to secure even monthly posts. They’re also 3X more likely to invest a high level of effort in webinars and, as a result, they’re experiencing twice the impact from this channel.
We also saw that high-growth firms are more than 3X as likely to publish original research as a part of their content strategy. We know from experience that doing primary research can be a significant investment, but many high-growth firms do not shy away.
4 . High-growth firms get the right balance of traditional and digital marketing
We noticed that the average marketing mix of high-growth professional services firms is very balanced. With half of their marketing mix focused on traditional channels like speaking engagements and networking events, and the other half focused on digital channels like SEO and social media, high-growth firms are able to reach their target clients in all the right places.
However, there is more to achieving high growth than having a balanced marketing mix. If a marketing message doesn’t resonate with target clients, or if shared content isn’t providing any value, it doesn’t matter what or how many channels you use. You have to get the message right first, then you have to amplify it on the channels your target clients actually use.
Below are the top digital and traditional marketing techniques most used by high-growth firms.
Top 5 digital & content marketing techniques used by high-growth firms:
Top 5 traditional marketing techniques used by high-growth firms:
Branded marketing collateral
5 . High-growth firms find a way to make their expertise visible
High-growth firms also tend to have highly skilled subject-matter experts on staff. By building awareness around these thought leaders and their expertise, high-growth firms are able to cultivate what we call Visible Experts.
Visible Experts are widely recognized thought leaders in their field. Other practitioners and media seek them out for their perspective and subject-matter expertise.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, though. It takes a lot of work to build the visibility and credibility to reach this level of thought leadership marketing. Signs of this hard work were more evident in high-growth firms than their no-growth counterparts.
In addition to their tendency to produce guest blogs more frequently, high-growth firms were more than twice as likely to have their subject-matter experts make guest appearances on outside podcasts. And they were 65% more likely to pursue strategic marketing partnerships with other organizations.
Doing this kind of marketing activity is a good strategy to expose new audiences to the perspectives of these subject-matter experts.
Marketing is more than the sum of its parts, and the firms that grow the fastest understand this. They take a strategic approach to marketing by focusing on what makes them different, exposing their experts to new audiences, selecting the channels actually used by their target clients and putting in the effort required to execute on this strategy.
High-growth firms are a bright spot in the professional services arena. They’ve overcome massive changes to the industry and buyer behavior, and they stand out with their exceptional marketing practices.
Fast growth is possible at firms of any size. Download the executive summary of our 2019 High Growth Study and start applying lessons learned from the best-performing firms in the industry.
About the Research
The 2019 High-Growth Study is an extensive market research report detailing the perspectives of over 1,000 professional services executives and marketing directors. We compared the fastest growing firms (those that achieved compound annual revenue growth of 20% or more) against firms that didn’t grow at all. By contrasting these results, we were able to identify what high-growth firms do differently — and what other firms can do to emulate their success.
Let Hinge help you create and implement a research-based strategy to increase your firm’s visibility and growth. Hinge’s Visible Firm® Program is the leading marketing program for professional services firms that want to market themselves like industry leaders. Ask about it today!
As a professional services provider, you sell expertise. And there are people behind that expertise which means that one of your top priorities is attracting top talent. How do you do that? It’s all about developing your employer brand, which is really your reputation as a place to work.
As a professional services provider, you sell expertise. And there are people behind that expertise which means that one of your top priorities is attracting top talent. How do you do that? It’s all about developing your employer brand, which is really your reputation as a place to work. Now, there are really six steps that I want to take you through to think about when you’re developing your employer brand.
The very first step to take is to think about your overall growth strategy. Are you primed to grow organically? Are you primed for acquisition or are you thinking about a blend? Understanding your path to growth is going to impact the way you position yourself as an employer and the type of talent you need to attract.
Step two is to research your prospects and your competitors. Why not research your candidates? Well, understanding how your prospects are responding to the marketplace, how they’re making decisions, and how your competitors are selling the same types of services and expertise that you are, helps you in turn understand how you need to be positioned to attract the top talent to set you apart.
The third step, then, armed with an understanding of your overall pathway to growth and how your prospective audience is going to respond and who your competitors are, you’re ready to develop your strategy. This is all about knowing how you need to be positioned as a firm, and as an employer, to attract the right talent that’s going to get you to that growth path.
Step four is to build the tools to then communicate that brand strategy that you have just built. It’s going to be part infrastructure, like a website, like templates. It’s going to be part marketing techniques and part strategies. Building all of that together in your toolkit is what will help you communicate this employer brand that you’ve just built.
Step five – you’re ready to launch the brand. Now this is not about a press release that says you’ve got a new website and you’re ready to be the employer that your strategy says you’re going to be. Launching the brand is actually something that happens over time. And this is about proving and living that employer brand that you’ve just developed through things like a thought leadership strategy, allowing your prospective employees to experience the expertise that you’ve build your brand around.
Now you’re ready to take the last step in building your employer brand. This is about optimizing for visibility as well as impact. So think about getting your reputation out there, the word of who you are as an employer through thought leadership, through guest publishing, through social media posts. All of these things will help you get more visibility around your brand and be more impactful for the folks you need to attract.
Now if you’d like to learn more about building your employer brand, I encourage you to go to hingeuniversity.com/courses. We’d love to see you there!