Standing Out Online as a Professional Services Provider

We are in a time of independent and solo practitioners. Once an anomaly, many businesses today are composed of one person with expertise or services to offer. How do independent and solo practices stand out online?

To start, embrace the reality that your first impression will not be made in-person. For most businesses, the initial image today is created online. That is often on a Google search results page, at a website or on social media.

Understand Your Value

To stand out, you need to know why you stand out. What differentiates you from the rest of the small businesses that seem the same on the surface. Real estate agents and financial advisors know this fight for attention well. The secret to standing out is deciding what makes you different and making that front and center in your marketing.

Now you need to communicate that unique value you bring online, in words, images, videos, etc. Your online messaging should highlight what makes you different in a clear way that establishes your brand. People associate with brands and people they know, trust and respect.

For the solo practitioner, the person is as important as the brand. You need to establish your credibility and thought leadership in your area of expertise. You equal your brand, and both need to be clear, consistent and have value for your target market.

Where to Stand Out

There are three categories of places to focus online.

  • Owned: Places that you pay for and completely control. Your website is your top owned online location.
  • Rented: Places where you can post content but are not completely under your control. Think social media. What you can post, how it looks, etc., is controlled by the platform.
  • Earned: Your content and content about you at other sites that you don’t directly place or pay for. This includes a link to your website from another website, reviews on Yelp and Google, etc.

All of these places create your online presence and impact. The strongest presence includes all three of these elements.

Tune Your Brand Voice

As a marketer, you nurture the voice of your brand. Brands with a consistent voice that resonates with the target audience will achieve the most success.

Sadly, the majority of brands don’t have a clear and consistent voice. Messages conflict. Themes are mixed. You lose the audience because they can’t figure you out.

Here are some things to consider as you tune your brand voice to find the right pitch, tone, and volume to be heard.

Define Your Master Message

We’ve all heard the phrase “sing from the same song sheet.” Does your brand have one? A clear, precise statement defining your identity is the foundation for a sustainable voice that will focus all communications. Your master message should create emotional connections, which are more effective than rational arguments.

Know What Makes You Unique

Saying what you offer is unique is really cliché. Demonstrating what makes you unique in your marketing is gold!

Do You

Authenticity is critical. No one can connect with cold, corporate speak. Having a personality and a conscience is paramount. People want organizations to have values. Share your highs and lows. Be personable. Support meaningful conversations.

Build a Business with Relationships

Guest Post by Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Program Director of Management at American Public University

Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a business that I frequented years ago. One day I felt the urge to visit only to find out things had changed. The two business partners elected to go their separate ways. The one remaining was at the crossroad of deciding whether to keep the physical location or trying something different.

As we discussed short- and long-term strategic planning, the owner responsible for the physical location explained how she wanted to come up with some thoughts on how to operationalize the strategic plans.

One of her biggest concerns was marketing. In her mind, she was in a catch 22 situation. There weren’t enough funds to conduct a marketing campaign, but a campaign was needed to grow the business.

My suggestion – re-build by developing personal relationships. While this type of action would require a lot of time, it is more personable and can be rewarding on so many levels. Although I believed it could work based on the information she was sharing with me, I wanted to find a model that applied the concept and could allow her to see the correlation of what I felt in my gut.

The Brand as the Relationship

One of the resources I discovered introduced the concept of “transitioning from thinking about having a relationship with a brand to thinking of the brand as the relationship”.  If one were to define a brand’s relationship, a business could increase the level of engagement with potential customers, create opportunities for differentiation, and establish a new market of loyal clientele.

How could this concept be applied to this company’s “rebranding” efforts?

First, I took into consideration the owner’s mental state.  I posed questions that required a response which addressed where she saw the business in the long-term (vision) versus where she saw the business in its current state (reality). After spending many hours comparing the list, we were able to agree on what was necessary to move forward with the next step. A step that she would feel comfortable embracing.

What we found out through this exploration was that her comfort zone was meeting the needs of customers by developing a customized program. Although I believed this practice would be time consuming, it was what made the owner happy. She would be able to increase personal performance via guided instruction. The 1-on-1 relationship increases the level of engagement with one’s client base.

Impact of Differentiation

How does this example move towards creating opportunities for differentiation? End results. The customer experience can create future ambassadors for the service. They can share their experience with others and showcase how using the service was a value added to their lifestyle. Her client base began to share their experiences with friends, family, and co-workers.

In one situation, one of the clients went to her employer to find out how the service could be incorporated into a business activity to relieve stress and anxiety in the workplace. At this point, the business has gone from “providing an individualized experience” to “providing a corporation the opportunity to experience a service focused on improving the mental well being of its workforce”.

The owner has gone from the personal experience with direct pay to individuals participating in a collective experience for a group of employees desiring to a change to improve mental wellness in the workplace.

Ambassadors for Life

We have gone from individualized experiences at a studio to individuals being able to experience the service in their workplace, at the studio and/or online. Thus, creating an environment where the company can meet an individual’s need by giving different modes of participation. In addition, by creating an opportunity to offer three modes of delivery, we have created additional markets that encourages loyal customers via satisfied experiences as testimonials.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.