There is a reason I saved advertising for last – because (IMHO) it is just not that effective for consulting practices — particularly when starting out.
Yet advertising is the first thing many newbies want to try. After all, Proctor & Gamble uses it to sell soap, and General Motors uses it to sell cars. We’re bombarded by ads every day, so it must be the way to go, right?
Two problems with this thinking. First, you’re selling a service, not a product. Second, you’re a small business with limited resources, not a huge conglomerate with deep pockets. Incidentally, we’ve seen large company refugees struggle with this transition.
So forget about radio/TV, newspapers, and national magazines. While you’re at it, forget about on-line consumer-oriented stuff like AdWords or PayPerClick. Think like a doctor, not like a car dealer.
Nevertheless, some advertising should be in your marketing mix. The secret is to rule out “mass market” advertising, and focus on “niche market” advertising. You’re not trying to build brand awareness for a new toothpaste — rather, you’re trying to attract the right clients to your services.
With that in mind, let’s look at some adverting methods suitable for consulting. They combine focus with direct response. Consider both printed and on-line versions of these methods.
–Space ads - Place small ads in specialty publication read by your potential clients (not necessarily by your peers.) For example, if you are an engineer looking to provide expert witness services, advertise in legal magazines, not engineering magazines.
Unless they are potential clients, avoid academic publications that are read primarily by researchers. We once made this mistake, and all we attracted were inquiries from recently minted PhDs looking for employment.
Example - We run “business card” ads in two specialty publications that serve our niche. Not every issue — usually the annual buyer’s guide and the trade show edition. If we have an article appearing in the magazine, we run a space ad in that issue too.
–Directories - Pick directories that will be checked by potential clients. Some directories are run by magazine publishers, and others by trade/professional/business organizations. Consider both types.
It is usually best to avoid generic directories such as the yellow pages, unless your market is local. When we once ran a yellow page ad, we got inquiries from copier salesmen — but no business leads.
Example - We are listed in several directories, both print and on-line. Some are free, some have a nominal charge. When offered, we pay a premium for highlighted listing.
–Direct mail - Use targeted lists, including your own. Make it response driven. Include an offer for a white paper, newsletter, etc. Avoid fluff letters that sound like press releases. If you don’t have a call to action, don’t mail it.
Consider a mix of e-mail and snail mail. The former works better for high volume and repetition (such as mailing newsletters). The latter works better for low volume messages, and may have a bigger impact. Sometimes a “real” piece of mail stands out. If using e-mail, make sure you are not spamming.
Example - We’ve used targeted direct snail-mail for 20 years for our classes. Some years we’ve sent out over 100,000 mail pieces. The is not cheap. Years ago the response rate was 1-2%, but has since dropped lower, so make sure it is worth it. While e-mail may be cheaper, our response rates have been even lower yet.
Finally, consider advertising “air support” for your other marketing efforts — NOT your primary method for lead generation. Don’t put all your lead-generating eggs in the advertising basket!
P.S. This concludes the series on “20 Ways to Generate Leads.” The next series will be “Seven Steps in Selling,” with a focus on selling consulting services.
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