— July 19, 2018
Is your firm suffering from a shortage of top talent? Are new leads turning to your competitors first? Have you found yourself increasingly competing on price?
While the symptoms of stalled growth can run aplenty for professional services firms large and small, maintaining an upward growth trend is a constant challenge.
To make matters worse, stalled growth can emerge slowly, gradually taking shape as new and repeat business slows down and referrals stop coming in. By the time the problem has been identified, regaining momentum can seem next to impossible. In this post, I’ll discuss seven strategies that can help restart growth and sustain success over time. I’ll also share some key insights from the latest research that sheds light on how high-growth professional services firms are using firm-wide, high-visibility expertise to keep their businesses moving forward.
1.) Create a Culture of Learning and Change
Knowledge is power and, in this case, so is expertise. Professional services firms meet client needs by delivering expertise, so firms that focus on developing their subject matter experts and areas of specialty are one step ahead of the pack. Fostering an environment that values teaching — and cultivating a team of subject matter experts, writers and speakers to impart their knowledge, are key to implementing a thought leadership program and increasing visibility in the marketplace.
2.) Use Research-Based Marketplace Insights
In our research of high-growth professional services firms, we discovered that firms that conduct frequent research on their target client groups grew the fastest and were the most profitable — growing up to 11X faster and 2X more profitable. Ask clients why they chose your firm. Who are your true competitors? What are your clients’ greatest challenges? How strong is your brand in your various markets? How do clients really feel about your firm? Answering questions like these can give your firm an edge.
3.) Develop a niche-focused strategy
While increasing a firm’s visible expertise is a powerful growth strategy, so is increasing their niche expertise. In fact, niche differentiation is the most common and successful competitive strategy used by professional services firms. Our research tells us that firms that have developed a niche-focused differentiation strategy grew faster than their counterparts. Furthermore, when a firm has become known as a leading expert in a specialized area of knowledge or industry, it has a significant and sustainable competitive advantage.
Figure 1. Degree of firm specialization by growth category
4.) Make your Expertise Visible and Easy to Find
Interestingly enough, visible expertise was the number one factor increasing the probability of referrals for professional services firms, ranking above professional relationships, social networks, reciprocity and networking events. Additionally, our research tells us that buyers of professional services will spend up to $ 1,400 an hour for a visible expert — and in many cases, their firms are able to charge higher fees by association. That should be a huge incentive to increase the profile of your firm’s experts.
Figure 2. How do they learn about your expertise?
5.) Take a Balanced Approach to Business Development
While content-based marketing is a primary driver of high growth, it is not the entire answer. In fact, firms that use a mix of online and traditional techniques experience greater performance than those that rely mostly on one or the other. If you have relied on traditional marketing in the past, try to determine which techniques have worked best and keep those in the mix. But be ruthless and cut out the fat. You will need room to invest heavily in content marketing so you can expand your reach and build an expertise-based reputation.
6.) Make Marketing a Team Sport
We’ve already established that knowledge is power, and no one ever said marketing was a one-person job. Leverage the expertise and capabilities of those in business development, leadership and technical positions to write strategic content pieces, help share them and speak to various issues and topics. The more involved and engaged your team, the more powerful your content-based strategy will be. And the faster it will take off.
7.) Become a Magnet for Top Talent
Sometimes getting past a stage of stalled growth is as easy as adding new faces, talent and expertise into the employee mix. Reprioritize your recruiting efforts to focus on what candidates really care about. Are there generational differences? If so, make sure you speak to both audiences and fine-tune messaging for your target segments. Are they looking for avenues to advance their careers? Clearly describe the opportunities and pathways that lie ahead. And consider investing in your employer brand — build a messaging platform exclusively for recruits designed to get them excited about your firm, its values and its promise.