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How to market a service business

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By Chantal Cornelius, founder, Appletree Marketing

Do you sell products or services? The two are very different and the marketing that works for products won’t work when you’re selling services. This might like sound like a bold statement, but it’s one that needs to be made clear to small service businesses, if they are going to effectively promote those businesses, without wasting money on their marketing.

When you provide a service – such as coaching, consulting or training – you are selling something intangible that cannot be seen, as products can. It’s much harder for clients to compare your service to your competitors’. You are actually promoting yourself – your own time, expertise and experience. You can’t show your service in an advert or flier, as you can when selling products, so what are the best marketing tactics for service businesses?

Here is a simple ABC that you can follow:

Ask for referrals

When you provide a service, clients have to know and trust you before they will buy from you. They are more likely to call when someone recommends you, rather than when they see an advert in an internet search. When you last looked to buy a service, did you ask people you know for recommendations, or did you turn to the Yellow Pages? We all prefer to buy from someone we know, or who has been recommended by a friend or colleague. There is less risk in working with someone who comes recommended.

  • The best time to ask for referrals is when someone says “thank you” to you. This can be a client you’ve just helped, or a prospect who asks you for some advice
  • Every time you receive a referral, send a personalised thank you, such as a card, to the person who recommended you. When a recommendation becomes a job, send something else to thank your referrer, such as flowers, champagne or chocolates
  • A great way to receive referrals is to give them. Be generous and think about who you can connect. When did you last give a referral? Who could you recommend right now?

Business networking

When you sell yourself as a coach, consultant or trainer, your clients buy you. People have to meet you or see you in action before they will buy from you. A great way to meet potential clients is through networking. This gives them the chance to start getting to know you, to decide if you’re someone they can work with.

Here’s how to make networking work for you:

  • There’s a huge range of networking events that you could attend and it’s easy to waste time and money going to the wrong meetings. Look for the ones that attract your ideal clients
  • Stop selling. Too many business owners try to sell themselves to other people while networking. When you meet someone for the first time, how can you know if you’re a good fit? Spend time asking questions and getting to know other people. Offer free advice or put them in touch with other good contacts
  • Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Networking is about building relationships, getting to know people over time and developing trust. Keep attending events and keep in touch with people you meet. When are you next attending a networking event and what questions will you ask?

C is for content

When you provide a service, you need to prove to prospects that you know your stuff. Another powerful way of doing this it through content, which lets you demonstrate your expertise.

How can you use content to promote your business?

  • Write about what you know. Sharing knowledge and experience through written words works by showing that you really know about your topic. Share your expertise through email newsletters, blogs, online articles and social media updates. It will help build up trust without having to write sales pitches
  • Speak about what you know. Whenever you’re on stage, video it and put that video onto your website. Create short video clips of advice too
  • Write even more about what you know. Put all your knowledge and expertise into a book. Done well, a book can become a powerful business card and help you promote your business

There are hundreds of marketing tools that you can use to promote your service business. If you’re not careful, you can spend too much time and money not getting the results that you want. Work on the ABC of marketing and you will start to see much better results than a scattergun approach. Even if you’re on a tight budget, stick to these three activities and you’ll get a really good return on your investment.