It was a great pleasure to develop and present a module on “Developing a business psychology practice – Communicating a consulting profile and reputation” for international students of the MSc Business Psychology course at the University of Westminster recently. This post summarises the key points discussed.
Planning your practice
A plan is the starting point for those beginning their careers and establishing their first consulting business. It is also important for experienced consultants to have a plan if they wish to avoid strategic drift.
We talked about three types of plan: the business plan, the marketing plan and the communications plan.
The starting point is a business plan where you address financial and resource issues answering questions such as: what are you hoping to achieve, how much money will you make, how much will it cost, what are you selling, who are your customers, what’s the market and competition like, how will you get your service to customers and how will they pay. There is some guidance on goal setting.
I offered a simple structure to think through the issues which was:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to be?
- How will I get there?
We also touched on the value of thinking through and planning what we will do – before we attempt to do it. I said that I often found that the journey (analysis, thinking and planning) was often more valuable than the destination (the finished plan).
There was some discussion about the legal, financial and risk elements of running a business including business structure and name, domain names, taxation and banking. The value of expert legal and accounting advice was considered.
The marketing plan – as well as setting goals – looks in more detail at what markets you will serve (segmentation) and your value proposition. The 4 Ps guide you through the process of considering the place (market), product, price, people, process and physical evidence.
There is guidance on preparing a marketing plan.
The final element is considering the marketing communications plan (sometimes called the promotional plan) – the blend of sales promotion, advertising, digital marketing, public relations and personal selling you will need to undertake to raise your profile.
We talked about different communication strategies:
- whether to approach clients directly (for example, if you are connecting to individuals or businesses yourself) or indirectly (for example, if you are relying on third parties to recommend your products and services through word of mouth – see referrer management posts
- whether you will be mainly using digital channels and social media or whether you will concentrate on face-to-face interactions through presentations and networking
- The messaging approaches depending on whether you are highly experienced with a lot of track record (e.g. an established reputation or brand) or just starting out to create a personal brand
- Concentrating on existing clients or developing new ones
Raising your profile
Clarity of messaging about your reputation or brand or proposition was a critical starting point. We looked at several methods of developing your message – SHREK and the power of three as well as points of similarity and points of difference.
Then we considered the wide range of different promotional channels and methods available – depending on the target audience and the resources available.
There was general agreement that articles (and blogs) were a good starting point – whether aiming at national, regional, technical, professional, business or consumer media. We discussed the need for a content management plan – or a simple list of topics to provide a theme and support your brand and market positioning – so that all material was focused and reinforced your key messages.
There was a discussion about the core elements of a web site – and how to drive traffic to the site using SEO and PPC techniques. And also about capturing details from online interactions into a CRM database so that the relationship could be developed with newsletters, invitations and events.
Whilst the younger members of the audience were fully conversant with social media – and the importance of a strong LinkedIn presence – the more mature members were less familiar with how to integrate social media successfully into their business development. This book was written to introduce social media to lawyers but is equally applicable to others selling knowledge-based professional services.
Raising profile – ideally with an integrated campaign – was both to get your message to the market and to initiate interaction and dialogue.
Often, profile raising activities generate opportunities to make a presentation to a group of people within your target market. Alternatively, some consultants choose networking as their primary method of connecting with both potential referrers and clients.
We considered the best ways to structure and deliver a persuasive presentation and I recommended a number of posts and books to assist with presentation skills:
Then we moved onto the natural by-product of attending events to make presentations and connections which is networking – armed with a strong and clear message. And some business cards.
I recommended posts and some useful books on the art and science of networking:
Pitching your services
Here we did a fast and furious introduction to basic selling skills.
We explored the attributes of a good salesperson (knowing your target market, strong self-awareness and people skills, the appropriate process and systems as well as discipline and motivation), We considered the importance of things such as empathy, rapport and trust when selling professional services. On a more technical note we examined a simple sales process and different kinds of buyer and buying situations and decision making processes.
We discussed the role of questions in uncovering wants, needs and priorities so that we could shape suitable solutions. We also considered insight selling where you need to provide real value during the selling process in order to stand out from the competition. We also considered the difference between features and benefits and touched on storytelling and persuasion skills. I recommended both “starter” and more advanced books for selling skills.
Further details of psychology courses at The University of Westminster
Rainmakers and trailblazers is a step-by-step guide to business development for lawyers – but equally applicable to any provider of high level knowledge and professional services.
Better Business Relationships covers difference and diversity, adaptation, communication, relationship formation, internal relationships and external relationships. The final section looks in more detail at the promotional and selling strategies discussed at the workshop.