I see it all the time: when I ask a principal at a professional service firm what marketing they are currently doing, they explain that they rely on referrals and word of mouth to attract new clients.
Are you in this position? As an established firm you are right to be proud of your reputation – this is a valuable asset that ensures the public knows who you are and the quality to expect if they come to you.
However, it is a mistake to think that a good reputation always follows good work.
I’m sure you have seen examples of businesses that do a great job for happy clients, but no-one else seems to have ever heard of them. They seem to operate in secret.
At the other end of the spectrum are the firms that lead the field, that everyone knows, and that attract all the best opportunities. Yet often when you look behind the scenes they may be only as good as every other provider. Their reputation seems unnaturally good.
So how do you create a great reputation?
There is no denying that being good at what you do is a prerequisite. The best strategy in the world won’t hide serious inadequacies.
But once your service is competent or better you can encourage your reputation to grow and flourish.
A key step is to understand how referrals work in today’s world. If one of your clients tells their colleague about you, the first thing that person will do is Google your name to learn more.
What they see in Google decides whether they take the next step.
Of course, any negative press or reviews will reduce the likelihood of them going any further.
Happily, there are ways you can influence your reputation online.
Affirm the referral
The first is by strategically using the assets you have complete control over to affirm the messages your referrers give.
What do you see as your core strengths? What do your clients say about you when they are giving a referral?
Whatever those core messages are, make sure they are reflected in your online presence. Consistency of your brand message makes it easier for your clients to refer others to you, and also makes the referral process itself more effective as new clients continually see the same core messages.
Show your professionalism
Whoever refers others to you is doing you a great service, so do your best to make them look good in return.
The best way to do this is by exceeding the expectation that has been set.
If the searcher sees that you have a professional website, with good photos and clear information on your services, this is a subconscious tick. Social proof like good reviews and comments from other happy clients is another tick. Professional design and branding. Tick.
Right now the searcher is comfortable that the referral they have been given is legitimate and your professionalism is apparent. If they move forward and contact you, then your service provision also needs to back up your brand promise, so that their experience of you is complete.
Search and respond
Unfortunately, not everything people find about you on the internet will be under your direct control. Review websites and apps are common, and encourage reviewing professional service providers (and every other type of business).
Chances are, some of these websites will mention your business by name, and will be found by searchers.
Responding to reviews is like any other PR exercise: you need to remain professional, courteous and compassionate. If the reviews are negative, don’t enter into long arguments; instead, apologise lightly and offer to follow up by phone if appropriate.
When you find good reviews, thank the reviewer and give any additional insights you may have. In this way you are showing your brand and building your reputation in the marketplace even in arenas you don’t control.
In today’s world, searching the internet using Google is the main way people will learn about who you are and what you do.
Make sure what they see is good.