Smith, Johnson and Weston. Beryl, Frank and Liebowitz. Barristers and solicitors. Attorneys at law. Accountants & CFAs. A multitude of last names and a flourish of acronyms.
These are the ubiquitous professional services companies that can be found in every high rise, every commercial plaza, and every mall kiosk.
The legal firms, accounting firms, financial management, management consulting – are the working cogs in the engine of business industry. And their websites largely suffer from the same affliction – brochure-warism. The kind of website that looks like a website and smells like a website but is actually just an online brochure in disguise. What’s wrong with that? – surely everyone has a right to any level of website they want. Of course, but to me, a brochure ware website is like wearing your cargo shorts to the club: your ass might be covered but you ain’t picking up.
What’s the issue?
Most professional services industries largely rely on a referral base for new business development. You don’t shop for law firms like you might for a television. The very nature of a service over a product is that there are intangibles that can’t be easily compared. Lawyers, accountants and consultants find business the good old fashioned way – by meeting people and shaking hands. Cementing good standing relationships are so key that marketing, traditionally, has been ignored and relegated to branded swag and giveaways in an attempt to do something, but ultimately doing not much at all.
Brochure-warism is a by-product of firms either not having the wherewithal to do more, or not having the internal backing to improve. Websites are then relegated to the status of glorified contact us page.
But what if we told you your website could do more for you?
Billable hours are the modus operandi for many professional services firms. Any work outside of billable hours is expensive and the opportunity cost is huge. If a website can offload a few hours of work a week, what is the value of that not just in billables but time spent doing other things?
The website is often an important point of contact for a potential client, so it should represent all of the things that you’d convey in a face to face meeting. The intangibles involved in personal meetings that can and should be communicated online – what do you feel when you meet someone for the first time?
Communicating trust and credibility
A new business developer’s aim is to cultivate trust. You want to demonstrate your credibility. People do business with people they like, skillsets and work credentials notwithstanding. Therefore one of the most important things a website should do for you in your absence is to communicate that trust and credibility. And doing that isn’t a matter of simply listing your services and putting up a contact us page.
Once credibility and trust are imparted a client wants to know why you. What is the overarching singular differentiator that defines you against your peers in the competitive landscape? What makes you unique over the rest and what are the compelling reasons to believe your claims? Differentiation comes from the right credibility in the right areas.
Five things professional services websites can do to improve:
1. Identify their target audience
The worst website offenders aren’t necessarily a result of being designed poorly, but that they don’t know or understand their audience. Messaging should be tight and on point. Users have short attention spans, so speak to their pain points quickly and concisely. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask yourself what they are looking for. What are their needs – what specific problem are they looking to solve? The more accurate your message is to addressing their issues the better your website will work for you.
2. Give examples. Testimonials / case studies.
If you say you do X really well and that you’re specialists in doing X, then tell me why I should believe you. Do you have any case studies you can provide that demonstrate how successfully a specific problem was resolved? Do you have testimonials from your clients who can offer an objective opinion on your performance? Have you published papers or articles in the subject matter? As a potential client I’m looking to establish a level of comfort before I decide to take the next step.
3. Forget lists of services.
Laundry lists might be good for SEO but I guarantee that they are useless to a client on their own. These are easily glanced over and given little to no amount of consideration. What is more effective is expanding on these list items and providing explanations. Grouping them and organizing them not according to business category, but by audience need. If you can dedicate a page for each service, you’ll see an improvement in your SEO while also providing a better explanation to your users on a real level of what it is you really do.
4. Robotic text.
An important aspect of website design that’s often missed isn’t the visuals or graphics or layout – it’s the text. When you’re an attorney you read and write for a living – that style percolates through everything, even when it shouldn’t. Website text is its own animal, it’s own style and tone. It’s a casual, friendly, conversational approach to content. Why? Because people don’t have time to read — they skim websites. And they don’t want to be reading an essay on your company’s key pillars or mission statement. Suffice it to say, professional services companies just aren’t that interesting. So keep your content short, keep it snappy, and keep it casual.
5. Appropriate calls to action (CTA)
After the story has been told and the user is still reading, it’s time to make an impassioned plea to connect. This is where so many brochureware websites fall short — even when everything else lines up and works cohesively, without a strong CTA the effort is for naught. What many resign themselves to is a generic, “call me” or “contact us now”, which, from a sales point of view, is so unspecific that it might not even be said at all. Good CTAs give users a sense of exactly what they’re getting when they click. There should be an understanding of mutual gain — I give you my email, you give me access to a white paper. I contact you, I get an answer within 3 hours. Make it easily transparent and value driven!
Next steps are:
Turning ho-hum into hoo-ha!
As in all self help recovery programs, the first step is always acknowledging there’s an issue! Whether you make an attempt at polishing your website yourself or engage a firm that does it professionally, turning your website into a functional sales tool and destroying the idea of an online brochure starts with an attitude that says you believe in using your website to the best of its potential.
Brochure-ware websites are great – for when businesses are starting off and budgets are tight. You may not want to invest heavily in marketing if you’re not confident your business will survive. But after the fifth year mark, you should know fairly well how successful your business is, how reasonable your cash flows are, and whether you intend to keep the business running for the foreseeable future. At that point it’s not only time to make the transition out of referrals and networking parties for new business, but also to begin thinking about how to build the marketing assets you already have in to firing-on-all-pistons new business powerhouses. Certainly, with that in mind, an online brochure just doesn’t cut it.