The marketing challenges and opportunities facing knowledge-based businesses are very different from firms selling products. Chris Kaday suggests ten ways to help spread the word about your knowledge-based business
There are more and more individuals trying to convert their knowledge, skill and experience into a serious business than ever before. And yet so many are failing to meet the required critical mass or get sufficient cash in the bank.
Here are ten top tips that are designed to help anyone thinking of setting up a knowledge-based business or those who would like to be producing more results in their current business for less effort.
1. Make a plan
You might be working on your own but that's no reason why you should'nt have a business action plan setting out:
- precisely what you want to earn in the coming year;
- how many projects at an average project value you need to gain;
- how many opportunities and proposals you need to make to get these;
- what marketing you will use to create these opportunities;
- the costs of the business;
- how you will deliver the business you win;
- any specific issues or challenges you face and how you will address them; and
- what profit you expect to make on the bottom line.
Don't worry, you don't need to write more than a few pages with the key figures set out monthly and the things you have to do against them month by month. Every business, no matter what the size, should have some sort of written plan. After all, wouldn't you prefer to get what you want, rather than make do with what you get?
When you look at many knowledge-based businesses and their websites, the list of services the individuals claim to deliver is vast. These people seem to be experts in everything. Many think the more you offer, the more opportunities you get - but actually the reverse is true. These days, clients want specialists not generalists and you will be doing them and yourself a big favour by focusing on a narrow offering that makes a specific gain or solves a problem.
By choosing one particular business area or skill to promote and deliver you can quickly build a reputation and a successful business. It also means your website is more focused and you can more easily use SEO, blogs, articles, social media and the like to dominate that space. Also, when networking people immediately understand what you do and if they don't have the need right now they can probably think of someone else who does.
Here's a great quote: Specialism is about knowing more and more about less and less. Says it all doesn't it?
3. Keep it simple
Distil the essence of your proposition to the absolute essentials of what you deliver and the results you achieve. You have probably heard of an elevator pitch, which refers to the fact you should be able to get across the difference you make to any business or individual between the ground level and the first floor!
I was at a networking event the other day at the Institute of Directors. I have never heard so many mumbled and fumbled attempts at getting across the basics after the initial handshake. OK so what's mine? Well I often say I help people make their first million. That always gets a smile and they usually say - gosh I could do with someone like you or how do you do that? I follow it with the fact that I am one of the few business advisors who has actually made millions himself, so I can mentor from direct experience. That might sound a bit boastful, but it is always said with a smile and it gets the conversation off to a great start.
4. Focus on results
Your prospects and clients are far more interested in the results you achieve than the techniques and methods you use to deliver them. Remember the buyer's first reaction on hearing any proposition - "what's in it for me?". And yet so many websites are cluttered with methodology that gets in the way of the bottom line benefits. If you don't know the difference between features, advantages and benefits, then it's time to find out. Your site, mail shots and engagements will certainly be far more effective if you talk benefits - the real difference your knowledge makes to those you engage with. Also try to avoid the "me too" platitudes which could have come from anyone.
5. Make offers
When people read your website content do they just see a list of services and a contact page? Lots of knowledge-based sites are like this with the author providing absolutely no indication at to what you can get from them specifically and at what cost. The way to get around this is to continually make offers. A process, an audit, a workshop - in fact anything you can deliver for a set fee or for free. Some people think this limits you but your website visitors can always contact you for something outside any particular offer. If you just list what you do and ask for enquiries they might not contact you at all. Webinars and podcasts, for instance, are a great way of engaging with your audience to establish reputation, share knowledge and build trust. They also help brush up your presentation skills.
6. Find partners
It is hard setting out on your own in any commercial enterprise and especially one that relies on you to be getting and delivering business all at the same time. It is also hard to create the kind of exposure and contacts you need, especially in the early days. Assuming you have adopted my niche approach and are not trying to deliver the kitchen sink you can easily find others in your area who deliver complementary but non-competing services. The idea is to work with them to market your services together. Perhaps hold a free monthly business solutions clinic - show people how you work first hand and build trust. Grow your databases together and pass leads around too. You will also have someone who is in a similar position to yourself and could therefore be a great business buddy.
7. Be yourself
Some people think that as soon as they set out to attract clients, particularly in the corporate sector, they have to adopt a kind of language that they would never speak if you met them socially. They like to scatter their sites with stock pictures of Canary Wharf and anonymous people staring into computer screens. The golden rule is "be yourself". You will notice I have a chirpy, clear and sometimes challenging way of communicating which strikes a chord in most people. OK, some people might be put off by this approach but then we would probably not work well as client and mentor either. Authenticity works so don't try to be someone you are not.
8. Be social
Some people I meet wear their ignorance of social media like a badge of honour. This seems to be particularly true if they are over 30. Maybe you are one of these people? You want to meet people who match the target audience you have in your plan don't you? It would also help if you had some champions and supporters who could add value and stimulate you along the way. Well, believe it or not, all this and more is available through social media without ever having to leave the comfort of your desk. Make a cup of tea, munch a biscuit and do some web trawling with a mind that is open to the possibilities and willing to learn.
Twitter is a great way to promote your personality and build your business, by regularly telling others what you are doing and achieving in your business and passing on some tips and challenges too. I know an accountant who left a large practice some months ago who has built her business almost entirely through Twitter.
9. Give it away
Apparently, my grandfather, who I never met, used to say cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back a thousand-fold. I believe in this 100% and I give away my thoughts, ideas and advice all the time. And you know what? It comes back in recommendations, opportunities, direct business and the satisfaction of knowing I have made a real difference to somebody. Take a look at the top business advisor sites and you will see they give away lots of stuff which circulates around the web. By demonstrating and sharing their knowledge they build trust in their followers and position themselves as being the expert in their field. Do you hang on like grim death to everything you know, or have you fully adopted the principal of "givers gain"?
10. Never stop learning
Of course, you have some experience and knowledge that you want to promote and deliver but it shouldn't end there. Although you might well follow the tried and tested methods you have acquired over the years, there is also a need to learn new aspects of your field and maybe even have your views and assertions challenged too. Find out what others are saying and doing in your chosen area - it is always good to keep up with the competition. Attend the occasional conference and read a book about your subject at least once a year. This will either confirm what you do or add more - hopefully both.
Written by Chris Kaday.