BY DOUG AND POLLY WHITE Special Correspondents
QUESTION: I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to market my small counseling practice. I’ve done a few AdWords and Facebook campaigns with little return on investment. The world of SEO has become far more complex than I can comprehend or have time for. Do you have a recommendation for marketing my business online?
ANSWER: First of all, we would suggest that you don’t conclude that Facebook or SEO (Search Engine Optimization – improving the chances of your website appearing when someone searches on selected keywords) will do you any good. In fact, before you spend any more time or money on marketing, we suggest you take a step back and answer the first three questions every business needs to answer. Those questions are:
1. Why should a prospective customer buy your product or service rather than a competitor’s?
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In your case, why should a prospective client hire you to advise him or her rather than using another counselor or hiring no counselor at all? This may seem like a simple question. Trust us. It is not. But, if you can’t clearly and concisely explain why someone should hire you, don’t expect prospective clients to be able to answer the question either.
Although this can be a difficult question to answer, the good news is that there are only two possible answers: because your offering costs less, or because it is different from the offerings of your competitors. In your particular situation, we doubt that reading a low-cost approach is the best way to go. Sure, your rates should be reasonable, but a marketing message that says “hire me to help you with the most important problems in your life because I’m cheap” doesn’t sound like a winning strategy to us.
We believe that you will need to position your presentation in a way that makes it clear why you are uniquely qualified to help people. This probably means focusing your practice. Perhaps you will focus on marriage counseling or work with emotionally disturbed adolescence. Once you’ve chosen a focus, you’ll need to be able to articulate the ways your presentation is different and better. Why are you more qualified than other counselors in the narrow area you have chosen?
2. Is there a segment of the market that appreciates the things that make your offering different and is it large enough to support your business?
Once you’ve identified what makes your offering different, you’ll need to determine if there’s a market for the things that set your offering apart. We use the silly example that you could market a skunk-flavored Popsicle. It would be different. There is nothing like it in the supermarkets. However, we don’t think there will be a big enough market for the new Popsicle to produce such a thing. Confirm that a segment of the market values the thing that differentiates your offering. Then make sure the segment is large enough to support your business.
3. How will you reach your target market segment with your message?
The final step is to determine the most cost-effective way to tell your target market segment about the thing that makes your offering unique – the thing that this segment values. Maybe social media, SEO or an email campaign is the best way to reach your market, but maybe not. You will only know if you answer the first two questions that every business must answer.
It may be Marketing 101, but we’ve seen many people waste money on Internet-based marketing schemes that weren’t right for them. The internet is sexy. It can also be a colossal waste of money if it’s not the right channel for your business. Answering the three questions above will ensure you get a positive return on your marketing investment.
Doug and Polly White have a major ownership stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly’s focus is on human resources, people management and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.