Marketing is not always top of mind for professionals in business, but it has become a must if you want to grow your practice and create new opportunities for your team. While word of mouth is often a driving force behind professionals’ success, having a marketing strategy is now essential to ensure you’re bringing attention to the services you provide in a way that is both effective and respectful of your existing client base and referral partners.
In hand with a dedicated marketing budget, your marketing strategy will fuel the flames of your firm’s growth.
Here we provide the advice you need to develop a marketing strategy and effective marketing budget for your professional services.
Overcoming Ineffective Marketing Budget Ruts
Before you can begin developing a marketing strategy you need to understand the best approach for your marketing budget. Many firms lack forward planning and approach their marketing on a day-to-day, need-only basis.
Unfortunately, this fails to deliver results because you lack the ongoing drumbeat required to build momentum to grow your firm’s brand as the authority in your market. Another approach is to stick to the same old marketing tactics you’ve used in the past, without exploring more cost-effective tactics that are usually less time-intensive and produce a higher ROI.
Often in this case you fail to use any form of analysis to measure your results, which means you are very likely using a strategy that isn’t working for you. No adjustments are made to your spend, and you fall into an endless cycle of overbudgeting when you compare your results to your spend.
If you have a partnership, your team might get together once a year to brainstorm marketing ideas, and then set your budget based on your ideas. This might be a “fair” way to handle your marketing strategy because everyone gets input, but it fails to use a logical budget process based on available funds, and expected ROI. Again, this process tends to see a lot of wasted dollars, time and very little ROI.
However, strategic marketing planning is very different. In this case, you develop a systematic plan aligned with your strategic business goals. Instead of throwing dollars at opportunities as they arise, using old and unproven tactics, or allowing everyone to contribute tactics without a strategy, your decisions are based on your most relevant target ideal client.
Strategic budgeting allows you to maximize success by using proven marketing tactics that see a higher ROI. In other words, your marketing dollars contribute to more new leads and clients, by using a smarter approach. You plan ahead using goals that allow you to achieve a purpose with your marketing tactics.
Determining Your Marketing Budget
You can approach your marketing budget in two ways:
- Bottom-up: In this budgeting model you consider the cost of the strategies and tactics required to meet your marketing goals.
- Top-down: In this method, you base your marketing dollars on the same marketing strategy as your competition.
In both scenarios you are setting out your marketing plan first, so you can determine the cost and come up with a pretty accurate budget. In most cases, you’ll find your bottom-up approach has to include strategies and tactics your competition is using for your marketing plan to work and meet the market’s standard.
The main difference is that the bottom-up approach allows funds to plan tactics, while the top-down approach is more generalized looking at the overall predicted spend.
Benchmarking Against the Competition
With proper research, you can determine what marketing strategies or tactics are likely working best for the competition. There are many resources publishing research on industry-specific marketing budgets. However, you are looking at a few factors when it comes to benchmarking.
First, you want to consider your industry group. This is important because each professional service faces different compliance issues for marketing.
Therefore law firms want to look at best practices for lawyers, not a general look at a collection of services such as dentists, accountants, and lawyers. Another factor based on professional industries is recurring need.
This impacts your budget because in some cases you might have a constant flow of clients such as a dental service, while something like technology services needs a constant flow of marketing tactics as many jobs are one-off.
That said, there is a new breed of hybrid firms that can complicate the industry benchmarks. If you offer a range of professional services to make your clients’ lives easier as a sort of “one-stop-shop” you want to consider other hybrid firms offering similar services.
However, you also want to look at the individual industry as well, to help contribute to the composite benchmarks if your firm is quite unique in what you offer.
Spend Based on Firm Size Firm Size
While it might seem unfair, keep in mind that smaller firms need to spend more on marketing than larger firms. This is because larger firms have a larger referral base allowing them to maintain ongoing work that becomes more self-perpetuating.
Smaller firms have fewer clients and less capacity to serve larger client groups, so they tend to have to spend more to attract new clients, while also contributing to some form of marketing strategy to help retain clients or gain more referrals.
Budgeting Inclusions and Exclusions
It can be hard to determine what one firm includes, and another excludes from their marketing budget. Some might include labour costs for their marketing team, while others won’t. Also, there can be variants based on annual spending vs special projects.
A firm might invest in launching an SMS platform or an app to make things easier to generate leads for example.
Both scenarios would boost their spending for that year. Determining what you want to include in your benchmark will impact your points of comparison. Otherwise, it’s comparing apples to oranges.
Out of Date Numbers
Research can be misleading if you aren’t paying attention to the dates. A few years can make a big difference in costs, which can send the wrong message to your budgeting plan. Always use the most up-to-date data available to keep your numbers accurate and relevant. If not, you could find your budget falls short.
Don’t Just Measure Against Averages
When you measure against the average firm you also can end up either overshooting or falling short on your budget. Averages are a good starting point, but you also want to see how that average compares to the top performers in your industry. If you set an average budget, you can expect to see average results.
A combination of higher performers and averages helps you find the right budget to perform well.
Using benchmarking allows you to make data-driven decisions to set an effective marketing strategy with a budget to support it.
Audience and Strategic Marketing Strategy
To have an effective strategy you need to define your goals so you can target the right audience. Although generally speaking your goal is to expand your client base, you need to have goals to measure your success and fine-tune your plan. Your business goals include:
- What you wish to achieve
- How far you can grow your firm
- Whether you will expand your team or partners to meet the needs of new clients
- A period of time you wish to target to meet your goals
- What areas of your firm you wish to expand
- What segment of your audience will contribute to the most growth
- How you can deliver more value to clients
- What area of your firm is seeing the most growth
These types of questions help you understand where you are headed, and who you need to target to get there.
Once you have a clear picture of your goals, you can begin your audience research. Who are the people who will help you meet your marketing goals? What segments make up this target audience? Who are the people or groups that influence your audience’s decisions? What referral sources are available to you?
These questions are important because if you can identify segments, you can understand needs better and also segment your marketing efforts to see better results. This can also complicate things when it comes to your budget, as segmented marketing costs money. As a result, you need to understand how to prioritise your segments to improve responsiveness.
Researching Your Target Audiences
In order to prioritize your audiences and segments you need to research your targets:
- Secondary research: This is a good jumping-off point as it uses insights from research conducted by industry experts such as trade associations, research companies, publishers, etc.
- Primary research: In this case, you fund your own study to understand your target audiences. This costs more money, but it also provides more information relevant to your firm. The results will be of a higher quality and can be used in combination with secondary research. Keep in mind this cost has to be added to your budget.
When you combine both methods you reduce the risk for wasted effort and can use data to make informed decisions about what segments to target and how to do so effectively.
Relevant Audience Research
Your research can certainly lead you down a rabbit hole. Therefore you want to focus your research to fine-tune the process. Three important areas of research for professional firms include:
- Opportunity Research
By evaluating the viability of alternative markets or audiences within markets you can find out where your efforts might find the best response. You can also look into who you would compete against, and where your brand might stand out the most. Within these markets you want to find out what audience will appreciate and need your services the most, so you see the best ROI.
- Brand Research
It can be very helpful to understand how people perceive your brand as well as who your main competitors are. You can learn more about what prospects are thinking as well as their pain points so you can then align their needs with your unique selling points to compete more effectively. Your message becomes more relevant, so you are more likely to create meaningful, persuasive marketing campaigns.
- Client Journey Research
In this case, you are focusing on what your average customer experiences on their journey from the moment they first engage with your firm to the time you feel you have either converted them or created a long-time client (your customers’ endpoint will be based on your industry norms). This provides insights such as how most people find your types of services and how they conduct research such as blogs, conferences, referrals, etc. These details are key to creating an effective marketing strategy and determining the methods and channels to reach your ideal prospects.
Research is meant to offer valuable knowledge so you can develop an effective and highly targeted marketing plan.
How to Develop Your Marketing Strategy
One of the first things firms should do is make sure they are creating a strategy, not just a list of tactics. Marketing strategy creates the direction for your marketing tactics such as how you want to position yourself, what messages you want to deliver, brand considerations, etc.
This provides the base for your overall marketing plan so you can then determine the best methods and channels to help you achieve your goals. Tactics can change, while your strategy should be reasonably sound. This might still seem a little too generalized, so below we outline the elements an effective marketing strategy requires.
This is key to your marketing strategy’s success. When you understand your audience your entire messaging and channel methods fall into place beautifully. Otherwise, you are flying blind or generalizing your messaging too much, so you fail to connect with any of your segments at all.
Your Unique Value Proposition (or Selling Points)
If you can’t define your UVP, your audience won’t either. You need to make sure your unique selling points are clear and that they meet the needs of the segments you target. A good clue to help with this component is often found in your brand research and customer journey data. You are sure to have either a brand philosophy that might focus on customer service or a major differentiator such as a niche service or niche customer profile.
Either way, you are looking for something that is authentic and true to your brand, is proven to your customers every day and also resonates with your customers.
Your Marketing Position
This often ties in with your UVP. For example are you more affordable than your competitors? Do you have a simplified online approach to your services? Are you an elite service? Using your differentiators you can determine your market position, so your audience understands why you are the only choice for their needs.
This takes all of the above elements into consideration to help you create a very unique message that showcases your UVP, positions you in the market and speaks to your audience in a meaningful way. You might find you have a few different messages for each segment, but at the heart of each message, you must maintain your brand voice and marketing position.
Understanding the objections prospects tend to raise can help you create messaging designed to overcome objections and encourage commitment.
These elements will help you develop a strategy that ensures your tactics are suited to your target and that your tone and position make it clear what differentiates you from the competition.
Layout Your Tactics
Once your strategy is developed you can start filling in the details that help you meet your goals. Your biggest contributor to your tactic decisions is your audience. This is why the audience is so important to all of your planning. You can determine the best ways to reach your audience instead of simply going with the usual channels or the latest ‘flavour of the month’ marketing hack. The nature of your profession also helps dictate where you’ll find your audience.
Combining Traditional and Digital Methods
Profitable firms tend to set their sights on a good mix of both traditional and digital marketing methods. The trick is finding the right balance so you maintain a presence in the most important mediums, so your advertising dollars see more impact. Once again, research is the best way to find out what marketing techniques are the most effective for reaching your audience/segments and for your industry.
Setting goals considers your current performance and then looks at achievable goals that help you meet your desired business outcomes. They shouldn’t be so easy they need little to no effort to achieve them, yet achievable based on the resources at your disposal.
Setting Goals and Measuring Metrics
When you decide on your techniques, you want to set suitable goals for each channel you are using. This allows you to measure your success based on how well you meet those goals. Successful firms focus on three metrics to measure their effectiveness:
- Business Outcomes: These are your business goals explored for your budget planning. Some examples would include:
- Revenue growth
- Number of new clients
- Type of new clients
- New leads
- These are the types of metrics successful firms use and are often sourced either through their financial or CRM systems.
- Increased Visibility: Your website traffic is one key indicator to measure how well your visibility is improving. A good way to make this metric more precise is to direct different advertising techniques to specific pages of your website or use landing pages specific to those ads. You can measure each campaign and see which ads get the best results. You can also use social media to understand visibility such as how many shares you get, or new followers. One last idea is to use ads to try to solicit more emails for your email campaigns. All of these metrics can be measured against leads from each technique and point of contact.
- Establishing Expertise. This is a lot more difficult to track than our other two metrics, but it can be done. Some examples might include:
- Offering a white paper that people request via a form or download from your website
- Blog post visits and time on page averages
- Number of people signed up for an online or in-person seminar
- The key is that all of these metrics point to the educational content you provide. You can keep track of this data to quantify interest and look for signs people are viewing you as an expert or influencer in your industry. Following how many times the same visitor accesses your content helps show they view you as an authority as well. You might even have more sites of authority asking to link to your site, have you provided content for their site as a guest blogger, etc.
- Tracking Implementation: This is an internal metric that helps measure your ability to execute your plan. Setting dates to implement each technique and then measuring your ability to meet those deadlines tells you if you have a suitable team to keep up with marketing implementation. If you fail to meet goals, you can look at implantation to see how much impact it is having on your marketing plan.
Through your tracking, you can determine where you are having issues meeting goals and where you succeed. You can use this info to then improve your techniques.
With a plan in place, techniques outlined, and a better understanding of the resources required to execute your plan, you can set a budget to see if you can manage your strategy.
Your budget development includes estimates for your marketing channels such as building a website, marketing automation such as emails responses or SMS apps, costs for paid search or digital campaigns, costs to maintain elements such as blog articles, social posts, etc.
If you are lucky, you combine your bottom-up and top-down methods and they align well. In this case, your budget is set, and you can start implementing your marketing strategy. However, you could face some challenges when things don’t even out.
Your Bottom-Up Is Too Low
If your bottom-up budget is lower when you look at your benchmarks you might have overlooked something, or the costs you used could be too low. You might also be too sporadic in your marketing activities or the way you planned your resources is falling short to get the outcomes you set for your goals.
Your Bottom-Up Is Too High
You might have made an error in your calculations such as counting something twice. You might also be including a major expense like doing primary research or building an entirely new website. One last possibility is you’ve oversaturated your frequency of marketing activities.
Always consider removing a tactic from your plan to reduce your budget as opposed to trying to save on all your techniques. Otherwise, you’ll find you see less than desirable results across the board.
As long as you continue to track your results, make suitable adjustments and consider new ideas, you will find the ideal balance to make the most of your budget while executing your ideal marketing strategy to meet your goals.