Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a piece about how to maximise employee engagement when you are marketing a small service business.
This is still a challenge faced by many service and practice-based business owners. In a typical legal firm or accountancy practice, architects or opticians, employees have a significant amount of client contact. The way they treat clients and the way they talk about the business to clients are arguably more important than the things you say in your formal marketing channels. Any inconsistency between the two will be picked up and shared.
Importantly your employees are also the owners of the stories in the business: the family making a new start thanks to your conveyancing team, the dispensing optician who has made a patient feel amazing in new glasses, the accountant who has helped a new business get off the ground – these are all great stories which can get lost in the day to day work of the practice. Professionals in any discipline can feel as though they are simply doing their job and don’t always share these small wins. But these stories can be an important tool for marketing your business. A good story about a client that looks like them has an emotional appeal to a potential client, which can be as much a part of their buying decision as the factual aspects – the location of your practice and the price of your service.
So what can you do to ensure the business has consistent messages and that the good stories make their way out of the organisation?
Setting a great example is a must. You set the tone and the culture of the business, so as a business owner, you should take the chance to share your values, your passion for the work and your approach to customers. A regular team meeting is an important tool, not just to update your team on practical issues, but also ensuring it is a forum to raise concerns, share stories and celebrate successes. Open communication between all members of the practice is critical if the formal marketing messages and the informal team conversations with clients are to remain consistent.
You are also the leader on personal social media. You have a chance to share your values and ways of working, so try to set aside time to do this in a planned and coherent way.
Incentivise the sharing of positive stories in the business. This could be recognition to team members for positive client feedback (everyone loves a box of chocolates when they get a letter from a happy client).
It could be a more formal feedback process to clients, asking for their experience of your practice. You may want to incentivise clients to tell you how your practice has made a difference to their life. This could be a small financial incentive to the individual client or something more community-minded, such as a charity donation. However you do it, you need to try and capture the positive ways your practice makes a difference to its clients, together with their permission to share those stories in public.
To ensure your employees are advocates of the business, they need to feel supported and valued. Your infrastructure needs to include appropriate development for your team and regular one to ones and appraisals.
Social media is an excellent way for employees to talk about the practice, as long as you have appropriate guidance and support in place. This could be formal training sessions, it could be part of the induction process, or it may be a simple social media policy which sets out expectations. Different team members may need different support in this area, and your processes need to reflect this.
You may also need professional support to take your positive stories and turn them into marketing collateral which will appeal to your potential new clients.
In a practice business more than any other business model, your staff are part of your marketing activity, so any steps to support them and develop a positive working culture can only have a positive effect on your external marketing efforts.