A little while ago, I took a look at some of the ways a small business can balance polish and personalization - following the examples of established brands in some aspects, while staying true to their personality in others.
I’ve brought together some suggestions for entrepreneurs focused on providing services, rather than products. Services can be tricky – most classic marketing and branding concepts need tweaking in order to provide real value to small service businesses.
Here are six ways that a service firm can balance polish and personalization.
Packaging: Packaging applies to services as well as products. In this case, the product is…YOU! The packaging of a service has a lot to do with branding and personality. Aligning your firm’s brand and your personal brand is important in attracting clients. A good example is the difference between a slick, glossy corporate website and one that ditches the cool attitude and warms up the audience with personal touches. Including a personal bio, writing a blog that covers not just business topics but also provides a peek into your personal interests, and working with a design firm that won’t apply a cookie-cutter approach are some ways that you can inject a personalized feel into your firm’s site. At the end of the day, you may have a lot of competition, but how you’ve branded yourself and your firm will be what sets you apart.
Extended Benefit: A big challenge for a service firm is establishing the perceived value of their offering. Proving that a client should be willing to pay a certain price for your expertise can be difficult. A great way to increase perceived value, generate referrals and ensure repeat customers is to extend the benefit your service provides. My hairdresser is a great example of this. When I leave her indie, 3-chair salon I look (and feel) like a rockstar. But what keeps me coming back is that even months after seeing her, I’m still getting compliments. Her understanding of what works for me and how my hair will behave as the look grows out means that I benefit from extended value. What are some of the ways you can do this? Perhaps a stylist hired to create a summer wardrobe can mix in a few pieces that will transition into early fall…as the season changes, the client exclaims “I’m still getting use out of these clothes – that stylist was a great investment!” – and books again for a fall consultation.
Touch Points: A wonderful way to approach your service is to view each contact with a client as an opportunity to strengthen your brand and create a relationship. Emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and the ultimate delivery of the service – each of these interactions has the potential to be a positive memory for your client. As these moments add up, the strength of your relationship and the perceived value of your service will grow – leading to enthusiastic referrals and repeat business. Think of an example from your life as a client. When you call a company and get put on hold? When a meeting is cancelled at the last minute? When you finally meet and your financial advisor/yoga teacher is dishevelled/disinterested? How likely is it that you passed their number on to someone else? Odds are, you didn’t – they had wasted each of their opportunities to turn you into a loyal client.
Consistency: If you purchase a new lipstick, you expect that every time you put it on, it will be the same colour. And that the dress you love won’t go from being a maxi to a mini overnight. Same goes for the service you’re offering. Clients will expect that each time they hire you, they receive a service that maintains consistent key characteristics and high quality level. For example, as a graphic designer, the content of each project will be different – but that you provide 3 initial concepts, deliver within 2 weeks and all final documents are in pdf format doesn’t change – there’s consistency and repeatability in your offering. It can be helpful to think of these unchanging characteristics as your promises to the customer. State your promises clearly, and then deliver on them – each and every time.
Finances: The importance of handling finances in a professional manner was covered in the first instalment – but it bears repeating. Inventory? Cost of Goods Sold? Depreciation? Putting figures to those items for your firm may not be possible, but the overall concepts of tracking your income and expenditures, and understanding the value of your offering are. How do you price an hour of consulting? How do you ensure that you’re going to recognize a profit? Keeping a firm grasp on your costs will require accounting for your energy, not just cash expenditure. It will be important to consider: the time on the job, time spent courting clients, marketing, maintaining relationships, overhead, costs of marketing materials…and don’t forget profit margin! It may not be the most enjoyable task, but be sure to set aside time to figure out exactly what it costs you to provide your service, and then set your rates accordingly.
Reinvention: Here’s the funny thing about knowledge-based services (like consulting, styling and teaching): The more you work and the better you are at your job, the less need there is for your service. Not fair! Unfortunately, the thing that makes a consultant or stylist valuable – their ability to guide and teach their clients – is also what leads a client to no longer need those services. To build longevity into your business, focus energy on reinvention and innovation. Expand past your core product and offer new services – they could be add-ons, companions, follow-ups – the important idea is that they offer new value to clients. Take a look at your current service. What are three ways that you could tweak, augment or re-position that service to speak to a new need in your market? How can you extend the relationship with your clients?
Are you an entrepreneur in a service industry? Did you find the tips above helpful? What are some of the ways you’ve incorporated polish and personalization into your business?