Let's Just Be Frank About This Word of Mouth Thing

On the far side of this illustration is your firm as it currently exists. On the near side is a stronger future, where you have better options, more control, and an upgraded client base.

But that rickety swinging bridge is the "word of mouth" (WOM) strategy you are counting on, and it's not one of your stronger decisions, if I may. This is a pretty universal problem (which is why you have to keep convincing your clients to spend money on marketing), but doesn't it seem particularly strange for you to be making the same mistake?

Let's drop the pretense for a minute and just level with ourselves. It's okay—nobody is actually listening, so your confessions are safe. Here's what might be behind your thinking.

  • You're still in the golden honeymoon period, which begins when you start your firm, and ends 3.5-6.0 years later after the initial buzz and early believers who know you move on to other people they know or don't need you anymore because of their own career changes. That early success feels great, but after things settle in a bit you'll need to earn your work and not inherit it.
  • You believe in the value of marketing but have struggled to articulate a sufficiently narrow positioning on which you can credibly build a marketing plan. This one resonates a lot, and it's a common refrain when I get to work with a firm on this: "We aren't sure how to build a marketing plan on this positioning."
  • You've already landed on a great positioning and you would love to do some disciplined marketing, but you think that the work you do for clients is more important than the work you would do for yourself. I hear a lot of people say this, but I'm not sure how many of them really believe it. Seems more like an excuse. This usually emerges from a very near-term view. "I need the money now, and this marketing effort won't deliver any money until later, and in fact it costs me money now. Next."
  • You're consistently busy, think a marketing plan would make sense if you weren't, and have decided that the last thing you need is more work. But instead, I like to think marketing is about the kind of work and not the amount of work you land. If you are pretty busy but your financial performance doesn't meet your expectations, it's nearly 100% the case that you aren't charging enough for that activity. The solution isn't more activity—the solution is different activity, and that isn't as likely to happen without some marketing efforts. You always reinvent your firm one client at a time, not with some decision the Exec Team makes in the conference room.
  • You smile smugly at all those loser firms who aren't good enough for their work to speak for itself. "If I were running a firm like that one, I'd have a marketing plan, too. But fortunately for us, our work tends to speak for itself and attracts the kinds of clients we want." Bullshit. It might look like that, but it's more a result of your confidence and not the quality of your work.
  • You think that marketing your services means picking up the phone and irritating people or spamming them with a "news"letter. That hasn't been true, ever, and it's a straw man argument.

It's probably one of those, or a combination of them. But here's a thought: forget the whole new business angle. Do it because it helps you get crystal clear on who you are, what you do, and how you're different. It forces you to wrestle with the same things you're making your clients wrestle with, and it's good for the soul.

Nail your positioning (otherwise known as a differentiated business strategy), articulate it until it's good enough, and then proudly tell people. It's that simple.

Need help? Our New Business Audit is a $12k program that focuses on positioning, service offering design, and lead gen. Happy to help.

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