What do you do?
Be clear about the service you provide. Clear beats clever any day. Have you seen websites that say things like, “We use strategic synergies to elevate your business to the next level”? If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry. The person who wrote it probably doesn’t know either. Instead, use specific words like engineering, accounting, management consulting, etc. Sowing confusion won’t inspire anyone.
Is it for me?
Once a website visitor knows what you do, their next question is, “Is it for me?” In professional services, clients lack the expertise to directly evaluate your capabilities. They have to use shortcuts. Making a wrong decision could be costly. One of those shortcuts clients use is asking, “Do people like us hire this firm?” This is a way of mitigating risk. If others like them have done something, it’s probably safe.
From your point of view as a service provider, this gives you the opportunity to appeal to specific client types. Not all clients are equally profitable, so you might as well design your appeal specifically to the type of client you want more of. Identify a specific industry, department or job function. Your website visitor will know you’re speaking to them.
Why should I care?
By far, the biggest failing of professional services websites is the tendency to make the site an elaborate, detailed description of products, services and procedures. People seek you out because they want to solve a problem or achieve an outcome. Service descriptions don’t help them make the connection between their problem and your service. You must first address the problem or desire, then show how this leads to your service as the solution.
Some websites almost get this right, but still fail. While a consultant might promise to “remove communication bottlenecks between customer service and operations,” a potential client might say, “Well, that sounds nice, but so what?” It would be more effective to offer to “improve customer satisfaction by removing bottlenecks between customer service and operations.” The distinction is subtle but important. Removing the bottleneck is what the client needs, but improving customer satisfaction is the outcome the client really wants.
You can summarize the two preceding items by imagining a prospect viewing your website and asking, “Do they solve problems like ours for clients like us?”
Why should I choose you over alternatives?
By the way, a really bad answer is, “because we’re the cheapest.” There will always be someone cheaper. If your profession uses a standard pricing model, such as hourly, fixed price, or subscription, could you offer something different from the standard?
Do your peers look to you to set the direction of your profession? Thought leadership can set you apart from the crowd.
Can you expand the marketplace to include those who wouldn’t otherwise engage your profession? This is not easy in professional services, but it has been done. Legal Zoom successfully expanded the legal market by selling standard legal documents as legal products rather than services. The 2015 book Blue Ocean Strategy explores this option in detail.
Remove buyer friction. Clients often have to jump through hoops to do business with you. These can either be imposed by you, or they can be self-imposed. Do you do anything to make the client’s experience smoother? For more, see Roger Dooley’s book, Friction.
Remove buyer fear. Clients always have in the back of their minds, “What if hiring this firm turns out to be a bad decision?” Do you have any kind of risk reversal (e.g. guarantee)?
In an example that illustrates how a company solved both friction and fear, Lee Salz tells the story of selling software training courses. These courses were mandated to be identical, regardless of who sold them. Salz’s company recognized that their customers went through a great deal of bureaucracy to approve each sale. The solution was to sell a bulk deal once, eliminating the paperwork of individual transactions. Companies also feared that they would lose their investment in employee training if the employee left. The solution to that problem was to guarantee to train a replacement employee for free if the original trainee left within one year. See the story in The Business Journals.
Why should I trust you?
Do you find that prospects sometimes question your ability or willingness to help them? In his book, How to Acquire Clients, Alan Weiss says this is because you have not yet built the trust necessary to sustain a business relationship.
A prospect has just found your website. How can your website help turn that prospect into a client? Before that can happen, you must:
- Show credibility
- Show empathy
- Show that you will put client interests first.
For more, see this guide to online trust-building.
Do you understand me?
Can I understand what you’re talking about?
We all hate it when a doctor or mechanic tries to baffle us with their industry jargon, so don’t do the same to your prospective clients. It doesn’t make you look smart. Using jargon to sound impressive makes you look like a gastrointestinal sphincter.
Can I even read this?
You’re not going to persuade anyone if they can’t read what you write. There is an unfortunate trend toward websites with small print in low contrast; for example, dark gray print on a light gray background. This is almost illegible.
Website visitors also won’t be able to read your articles if they can’t find them. Your website is not your opportunity to reinvent website navigation. Don’t send your visitors on a scavenger hunt. People have become accustomed to website conventions for locating things. Visitors will give up and leave if they can’t find what they’re looking for because you ignored navigation conventions.
How do I get started?
Okay, you’ve got a prospective client excited about your service offering. Now what? How do they know what to do next? You want to get them into your client intake process and determine if they are a good fit. Make it clear what they need to do to get started.
Do you write what I search for?
All this is moot unless people actually find your website. People can find it through Google, but they are probably not looking specifically for you. When people search Google, they are usually looking to solve a problem or answer a question. The way to get found is to write lots of articles about the kinds of problems you solve and the types of people or companies you help.