How to find potential customers
Professionals dislike talking bluntly about encouraging the right people to ask them to provide appropriate services in a timely and profitable fashion. They tend to put together adverts, leaflets and websites, and then wait hopefully...
But progress moves on.
Internet technology, particularly, is very fast-moving – in fact, its rate of progress is roughly doubling every decade now. And our understanding of website marketing psychology is improving too. As a result, websites aren't working as well as they used to.
This means that crossing your fingers (do I hear you say, 'things aren't actually too bad at the moment'?) is likely to make you increasingly unattractive to potential clients. Like any advert or leaflet, your website shapes the number and quality of new clients asking for your help.
People do value help from professionals
Clients of professional firms feel they are getting more value for their money than they used to. Research says so (it's from the USA, but the internet is now a global market-place).
That's nice, I think, BUT – it's because they are using the internet to search for professional services even more than they used to.
The Internet has changed the professional world
Years ago, we all learned to search online for consumables and small things we could get by post. Now clients are researching us, the professionals, in exactly the same way. And it's no good standing on our pride – this is a relentless tidal change in public habit. It's not unlearnable!
So your website, which cost so much and took so much of your time to design, is now less effective than it used to be. This is partly because competition on the internet amongst professional service providers has increased. And it is also partly because the search engine companies change their rules to adapt to what their customers want... which leaves your previous engineering behind.
And it's still changing...even faster
Internet technology has expanded beyond websites and email – it now includes social media, maps, news and educational articles. And website design has changed, searching methods have moved on and our understanding of customer psychology has improved.
So can a few words in your content, and a few pieces of code in your html. And that's just the beginning...!
The speed of technological progress is clearly accelerating. This means that a small website, listing your services and showing your team members is no longer enough. Both search engine and human visitors want more.
It needs to look up-to-date to searchers – otherwise they'll go elsewhere.
It needs to help searchers research their problem – otherwise they won't stay long.
It needs to actively encourage contact – otherwise it is only a research tool for them.
People haven't changed, but marketing has
As well as the technical side, there is another factor to consider. Human psychology hasn't changed, but the way we use what we know about it for advertising purposes is changing.
1. Websites that I call 'first generation' were worded as if they were posters. They were treated as a new sort of digital billboard. Big or small, their messages were descriptive. Essentially they were announcements.
2. Second generation websites are invitations. They are addressed more personally. They specify what the 'party' is – the opportunity that you might want to benefit from. And they make it very clear how you can RSVP.
This difference is about our mindset when we write our websites (and adverts).
But not everyone is aware of this. I see recently upgraded websites for national corporates who are still writing in announcement mode. And many TV adverts are the same. It may be interesting and informative but it is distant and impersonal. Hardly anyone will respond. And stranger still, some websites (and emails, and leaflets) lack any RSVP details so people can't respond, even if they wanted to!
So we need to catch up more often
Things get out of sync so quickly nowadays – it is no longer just a matter of updating your newsletters and team photos. You can so easily lose continuity – technical staff move on, website hosts move goal-posts, and competitors encourage client defection... and more.
The biggest danger is that potential clients won't even find your website in their internet searches. The way we word our 'content' (as the web designers call it) and the other hidden-from-view signals that Google inspects impacts it's display about our website in its results pages. So a beautiful website, or an extremely informative one, can be pushed out of sight amongst all the other Google results, which means that you have no chance to impress interested people.
That will result in your website only being visited by people who already know of you. And that is a only a small percentage of the clients you could help.
What's your website's job, anyway?
Gone are the days when having a website was just fashionable.
Nowadays, websites have a job of work to do. But which job do you want your website to do? This is a good opportunity to review what results you want from it – and check how it is performing.
Bring in more clients – just focussing on numbers as you either have growth ambitions, or you currently have more capacity than is being used, or
Bring in as many clients, but more cheaply than your current marketing methods – that is, attract more clients through the website and allow you to cut back on other methods, or
Bring in a different quality of client – those more suited to your specialisms, your staffing distribution or your positioning ambitions
If you haven't got a clear winner amongst these, at least list them in order of preference.
After you have checked whether your website produces what you want, it is worth setting yourself the task of renovating it to get better results. That means rewording your 'content' and re-engineering your technical settings.
Rewrite your content from the ground up
First, define who your Ideal Clients are. That helps you know who you want to attract. Only then can you properly brief your copy-writer, whoever it is. Remember your favourite past clients and seek the common threads. It's not always easy, but it does make a big difference. You may come to realise that your website is doing a really good job of attracting the wrong clients!
Second, prioritise actively helping the right clients find you. Stop your website being a boring billboard that people pass by without a second thought. Identify the differences between you and your competitors, emphasise the unique benefits you provide that your Ideal Clients will find attractive and clearly encourage them to make contact.
In the professions, this is not easy. The underlying rules about the service provided are the same for everyone in that profession so the area of uniqueness available is reduced.
And often, people need professional services only sporadically, so your relevance to each individual may be very low at any given time. And there may be an understandable reluctance about competing with colleagues...
Focus on helping Ideal Clients find you
This needs website renovation, not more website design.
You need safe, ethical and professional methods to get you:
More visibility in search engine results, and
More visitors who read enough to be impressed, and
More ideal prospects actually clicking or calling you
My suggestions to boost the effectiveness of your website in bringing you suitable clients:
Catch up soon. We can't predict the future, but we can create it. Your website plays an increasingly important role in gaining you clients – 70% of your prospects check it out before contacting you (2). So you need it to work effectively at attracting the right people, otherwise you risk putting them off. You need dedicated time and you probably need a new budget – things aren't as simple as they used to be!
Review your existing content and revise where necessary. It needs to be very readable for Ideal Clients, highly relevant and actively helpful to their problem and/or opportunities, and leading towards real contact. It's important to choose the right content for your website (3) (just like your adverts & leaflets). Consider getting an impartial assessment from someone other than your website designer. Your messages are massively important.
Research your market. Ask your new clients how they found you. Did they use the website? How helpful was it? What would they like improved? Put simply this means finding better ways to present your professional value to potential clients (4). This is free and it's valuable – after all, clients are the final judges of your website's work.
Find professionals who can give you the three requirements: high visibility through search engines, impressive relevance to Ideal Clients and action-triggering. Nowadays this goes beyond graphic design and website code writing. Professional copy-writing is not journalism and search engine optimisation requires tweaks of many factors, high-speed hosting and constructive systems management. If in doubt, try window-shopping.
Future-proof where you can. We know things will change again. Make it a priority for someone on the team to think about the future and check the relevant trends – technological, political, professional and psychological. Aim to get into a leadership position rather than being kicked into reaction by your competitors website updates.
Plan your next catch-up even sooner. The pace of progress has already increased. Your website effectiveness is likely to suffer as your competitors do their catching up.
Above all, visit your own website. Check for mistakes: wrong facts, missing explanations, duplications, contradictions, jargon, and so on. Spelling errors deserve a special mention here (I've seen 'reposnsible' and 'laywer' – yes, even on large professional firms' websites): it's been said to deter 80% of clients. Then check your website against your leaflets and office signage for differences. And next, check your reception staff know what it says so they can answer queries knowledgeably.
Get a better perspective
With new benchmarks for both technical and psychological factors in website effectiveness, new perspectives are needed.
We get so used to our own backyard that we take too much for granted – over-familiarity breeds a peculiar blindness. That makes proof-reading your own writing (a difficult enough task anyway) even harder. Again, an answer is to make use of outsiders who start from a place of intelligent ignorance – a fresh mind.
Most professionals are consumers of professional services other than the one they work in. That experience gives you a chance to put yourself in your client's shoes. I suggest you ask everyone in your team to remember their interaction with professionals' websites (and adverts, leaflets and receptionists). Focus each on a different profession. Pool knowledge of problems and preferences. Then you can start designing your ideal website!
Clients generally get good value from professionals. Now professionals can put more value into potential clients' research of their website. And that will help clients to find the professionals most suited to them. In this way the best pairings will come together – which is valuable to everybody.
An easy step forward
Clients agree they generally get good value from professionals. Now you can put more value into your website for potential clients' early research. And that will help those clients most suited to you to find you. In this way the best pairings will come together – valuable to everybody!
To achieve a secure position, you need to commit to projecting the best message. you need to attract the clients you want in the future – in 2 to 6 months time. So you need to be found online, understood, warmed-to and contacted by potential clients. Each stage has to work well – any gaps and people will go elsewhere.
There is a degree of circularity between Google ranking and website popularity – the more popular it is, the higher it ranks; and the higher its ranking, the more visible and likely to be visited it is. Ranking can be influenced from both ends: making a website more likely to be visited, explored and clicked-through-from will boost ranking, while tweaking the more technical aspects can raise the ranking and thereby invite more visitors.
It is all too easy to stop seeing what you live with daily. It is very easy to hope that industry trends are slow enough to let you 'wait and see'. But your website can go stale because it gets taken for granted while there is no crisis.
If anyone in your team suspects your website now attracts fewer clients, and you want it to work harder for you, make a start with our No-Cost No-Commitment Assessment.
FREE FAST FIVE-POINT ASSESSMENT – if you're not sure how to start this and you'd like a helping hand, please get in touch now.