Posted 5th September 2010.
This is the second in a series of posts on how to get more clients via online approaches for your professional business. It's written specifically with small and independent consultants and coaches in mind – but the lessons are applicable to other professional businesses.
Relationship Building: The Missing Link
If you've been looking into internet marketing for any time you'll no doubt have heard the “secret formula” for success on the web – traffic x conversions.
It's a statement of the blindingly obvious really: to get business on the web you need to get visitors to your site and convert them into customers. In some ways it's about as insightful as telling an offline retailer that the secret of success is to get customers into their shops and persuade them to buy.
At least it's succinct and it helps to focus your activities.
But for getting consulting, coaching or other professional services clients online – it's not sufficient.
The trouble is that unlike buying a book on amazon or even a TV from an online electronics store, clients aren't going to buy complex, costly, intangible services after just one visit to your site.
Before clients have the confidence to hire you to perform a high value, high impact service for them they need to be convinced you understand their issues, you have the capabilities to help them, and that you'll be a good fit to work with them and their team.
That confidence isn't going to be built in one visit to your site.
You need multiple interactions. And the deeper those interactions are, the more the client's confidence will be built.
This is a big gap for most professionals. Visitors to their site passively consume the content, but there’s nothing to engage them and start up a relationship with them. Nothing for them to interact with – except perhaps a lonely contact form asking visitors to make contact if they need their services.
In fact, there are many ways to build relationships with website visitors. You can encourage comments and feedback on your blog. You can run surveys. You can create a forum for discussion around specific topics. You can encourage them to link up with you via social media. Anything that takes them beyond being passive consumers of the information on your site to being active participants.
Active participation and interaction is the key to taking your relationship to the next level. The more they feel they’re communicating directly with you – not just reading your material like they’d read a book from a distant author – the stronger your relationship will get.
For most professionals, the simplest way to get more interaction and more direct communication is via an email “newsletter”.
I put newsletter in quotes, because although that’s what they’re most often called – in fact their focus shouldn't be on news. Updates from professionals with news on what’s happening in their company, who’s moving departments, which clients they’re working with, and the latest services they’re offering are typically filed straight in the trash by clients.
But newsletters which share useful information about the area in which the consultant is an expert – and which the client needs ideas and support in – are read with enthusiasm and filed where they can be found.
Not by everyone, of course. Not everything you send out will be valued by all your subscribers. But keep producing valuable, insightful material and you’ll find you engage much more with your potential clients.
They’ll start emailing you. Thanking you for your material. Asking you questions. And eventually, contacting you about your services.
And, most importantly, since by signing up they've given you permission to pro-actively contact them – you're not reliant on them remembering to come back to your website and remembering how to find it. You can actively keep in touch and nurture your relationship with them – you're in control.
This was really brought home to me a few months after I started producing my own newsletter.
I noticed the number of emails and contact form submissions I was getting from potential clients had gone up. So I tracked back the communications from a few of the recent enquires which had eventually turned into clients.
Over half of the emails had come within a few hours of the person contacting me reading the latest edition of my newsletter.
It wasn’t the first newsletter they’d had from me. In most cases they’d signed up a few months previously. They’d read a few issues of the newsletter and clicked through to a number of other articles.
But reading the latest issue of the newsletter in each case had “tipped them over the edge”. They’d been convinced I knew what I was talking about and had contacted me with details of a particular issue they wanted me to help with.
And notice – in each case they contacted me. I wasn’t pushing anything at them. Over time the articles on the website and the newsletter had convinced them I was the right person to help them.
As you can imagine – that makes the sales conversations with these potential clients an awful lot easier than if I’m pushing and promoting, or up against other equally well positioned competitors.
There’s a saying in the world of online marketing that “the money is in the list”.
I hate the saying. I hate calling valued potential clients who’ve chosen to receive communications from you a “list”.
But the meaning behind the saying is absolutely true. Your valued subscribers are your greatest asset online.