Depending on which professional you are, you need a different approach to marketing. Marketing strategies for professional services differs depending on the type of service you offer. Broadly speaking there are three categories of professionals:

  1. Contractor
  2. Consultant
  3. Coach

Let’s briefly look at each and how they should be promoting themselves:

Contractor

The contractor’s main role is to perform a clearly defined job that the client has determined needs to be done. The client prefers to use a contractor as opposed to an internal resource due to their expertise in performing the job efficiently. The contractor’s main input is their operational expertise which they charge for on a time and materials basis, hence they can’t get away from quoting hours. The end result from using a contractor should be a job well done, within a certain time frame.

Essentially clients view contractors in a neutral light. It is a bit like buying toiletries. Using a contractor is a necessary part of doing business and, although they come at a premium, it is usually possible to negotiate them down by comparing quotes. Also, when the contractor has finished the job, the outcome is typically tangible and immediately useful. It is essentially an easy sell! Most people can make a living from being a contractor when the possessed skills are in demand.

Marketing contractual services requires showing lots of completed projects together with your credentials to indicate that you have the necessary skills to do the job.

A contractor’s involvement with a client lasts for as long as the job takes and in some cases can be indefinite, like with website maintenance. As long as it makes sense for the client not to employ someone internally.

Consultant

The consultant’s main role is to solve a problem that the client has (finally) admitted to having. Where the contractor sorts out an identified problem, the consultant sorts out a pain, namely a problem without an obvious solution. The consultant’s main input is a disciplined process to diagnose the problem and solving it.

Because the consultant deals with pain, their presence in a business is not a welcome sight and they are never totally welcome. Consequently, a good consultant should embrace a level of animosity from the client – it comes with the job. For this reason, the consultants’ role is always temporary. As soon as the problem is solved, the client wants them out!

The main marketing tool for the consultant is to educate target customers on the problem, showcasing expertise through opinion leadership and presenting case studies of how they have successfully solved similar problems for other clients.

The consultant have a different fee structure to the contractor but typically does not charge by the hour, but “by the problem” – meaning they quote to solve the problem and cannot predetermine the number of hours it will take. The client is thus at a disadvantage when negotiating with the consultant because it is more difficult to compare quotes. This, together with the fact that they represent the existence of a problem in the client’s business, makes consulting services a “grudge purchase”. It is a bit like buying medication – no one likes to do it, but everyone needs to when they are not well.

Coach

The coach, also known as the Advisor, provides an opinion at a fee which should be based on a solid track record and often a good dollop of grey hair. Good old-fashioned wisdom.

The coach does not help the client solve a practical issue, nor to address a problem, but rather provide a feeling of pleasure, or indulgence, to the client. The client should feel good, or empowered, after speaking to their coach! With this in mind, procuring coaching services resemble a luxury purchase, something like an expensive chocolate (as opposed to toiletries or medication).

The coach, just like the contractor, also charges by the hour, but because their services are essentially unique they are able to charge a much higher fee per hour. They also have a much harder job at finding clients!

The main marketing tool for the coach is to showcase experience and wisdom. They need to be clear on their area of sage wisdom and show that they have been around the block for years (and aged well). The output of a coach is helping the client gain new insight.

Since professional services are invisible, it is easy to get confused with where you fit into the pecking order. The result is that many professionals market themselves incorrectly and struggle to get business. Contractors act like consultants, who in turn act like advisors. By doing so they undermine their credibility and ability to win business.

For example, many consultants charge by the hour, instead of “by the problem” and end up struggling to make money. They charge for an input (time and materials) instead of an output (a solved problem).

If it squawks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck

What type of professional are you, and are you promoting yourself accordingly?