Professional Service Firms: Market Thyself!

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

When it comes to growing their practices, professional service firms of attorneys, accountants, financial advisors and consultants spend much time, effort and money building their image. They have worked hard to develop these talents and, since clients usually retain individuals and not firms, this makes sense. The creation of an "aura" around individuals delivering expertise is critical and reinforces credibility.

Traditionally, professional service firms market their image mainly through promotional means. Typical promotional efforts include:

  • Seminars and Forums
  • Public Relations
  • Image Advertising
The problem with these promotional efforts, however, is that many firms assume promotional activity is marketing. In fact, promotional marketing can be a distraction from the real opportunities for, and challenges of, growth.

Very often, the real answer to growth lies in the other parts of the marketing mix. This includes target marketing, product development, pricing and distribution. But many professional service firms de-emphasize these areas because they are much more personal, and this can be hard to face. Here are examples in each of the major areas:

  1. Target Marketing - Service firms are grown through personal relationships with a few key clients, which over time become the firm’s base of business. Targeting markets requires choosing clients by more objective means and perhaps replacing those who have become friends.
  2. Product Development - In a service firm, the partners are the products. To address this area, partners’ performance and activities must be assessed, packaged and managed.
  3. Pricing - Hourly billing fortifies the value of individuals and their degrees. The more degrees (Esq., CPA, CFA, MBA, CMC, etc.) a firm can feature, the more it can bill. But clients buy solutions to their problems, not hours of talent. Isn’t the selling of hours more of a convenience for internal accounting?
  4. Distribution - Should the actual work product always be delivered through human means? Should personal selling and marketing be done to prospects or to the intermediaries who influence them? Are referrals the real way to grow clients? And where does the Internet fit in?
Whether or not the marketing of professional services can be completely objective is always a problem. After all, it is tough when the owner, the president and the product are one and the same. But professional services firms can loose perspective. It happens when:
  • There is a perception that professional services cannot be marketed and sold in a quantifiable and measurable manner.
  • The individual in charge of marketing is neither a partner nor or a degreed professional in the firm’s line of work.
  • Marketing decisions are made mostly for partners with the most tenure and billings.
  • Partner differences impede marketing decisions.
So how can partners of a professional service firm build a market- driven organization? Here are some key steps:
  1. Recognize that a firm’s core competence must include marketing.
  2. Bring in outside objectivity. Competence in one’s profession does not necessarily translate into marketing expertise.
  3. Remove any organizational barriers between marketing and the executive committee. Don’t hold marketing decisions hostage to differences between partners.
  4. Understand that the Internet is changing the very core of how professional services are delivered and marketed. Determine your firm’s Internet Marketing Strategy, not just its web site.
  5. Look at the firm’s base of business in terms of all of the ingredients of the marketing mix, not just promotional activities.
Some providers of professional services are nostalgic for a time when excellence was measured by their own profession. Today, all of us need to focus on marketing our businesses in addition to marketing our professions.

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080 , by email at, or on the web at

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