Five Trends for the New Year

On the heels of 2011 — here are our predictions for five business development trends among professional service firms in the New Year:

  1. Specialization will continue. With the development of new technologies, the abundance of information available to consumers and the marketplace becoming more and more crowded, successful firms will continue down the path of niche development and specialization. What will be the key to these firms’ success? Developing and communicating a clear definition of specialization within the organization and aligning all other operational facets — training, client assignments, marketing, lead generation and results tracking — with that.
  2. Firms will continue to incorporate social media and other electronic tools into their business development activities, but the most successful firms will achieve a balance between electronic communications and face-to-face/phone activity.
  3. Strategic growth planning will become a higher priority for firms who are serious about growth. The not-so-distant past’s recession has caused many firms to re-evaluate their growth activities, emphasizing those areas that have proven successful and de-emphasizing those that have not. The most aggressive firms will continue to look at diversification opportunities for the long term.
  4. Firms will continue to focus on client service. If the past year has taught us nothing else, it’s taught us that our client relationships are not to be squandered in lieu of chasing the “next big thing”. Management teams that build a clear process and vision for how the firm serves its clients, including accountability and measurement, will enable their firms to demonstrate a clear competitive advantage over those that do not.
  5. More and more firms will explore ways to get everyone in the firm involved in business development — both as succession strategy for partners and as a way to ramp up revenue. With training and specific tweaks to the way staff, managers and partners do their jobs, these firms will experience exponential growth results.

All our best to you in the New Year!

If you build it, will they come?

We at Whetstone love movies. And, living in Iowa we’re particularly fond of Field of Dreams. You remember Kevin Costner’s 1989 homage to baseball, family and the power of believing? Our CEO, Larry, even grew up in Dyersville — home of said Field. So, if anyone is likely to embrace the notion that — if you build it, they will come — it’s us.

Fortunately, that was the case for Kevin or it wouldn’t have been much of a movie. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media — not so much.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of messaging, and making your communication personal. It’s a good first step in your social media efforts. But all that word-smithing can be for naught if no one reads what you’ve written. That’s why we thought it would be helpful to post the top five ways to drive traffic to your social media outlets:

  1. Include all outlets in your email signature. You can embed links to your LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed, blog or any other social media outlet you use.
  2. Reference and link your outlets in your email newsletter. You can write an article for your email newsletter and include supplementary information on your LinkedIn page, Facebook page or blog.
  3. Format the homepage of your website to include links to all relevant firm social media channels. Individuals whose bios are posted on the site should also include links to their individual LinkedIn profiles in their bios.
  4. Ask your business partners or referral sources to feature links your blogs or LinkedIn posts in their email newsletters. If you do this make sure you have included some value-add information in your recent posts and explain to the referral source how that information benefits their clients.
  5. Issue media releases to online publications – local business journals, industry associations, chamber of commerce, etc.—and include links to your blog or LinkedIn profile in the release. Again, make sure that you’ve posted some additional value-add information that relates to the media release so that anyone who clicks receives additional benefit.

You don’t have to implement all these ideas at once. And it’s ok if you only use one social media tool if you’re just getting started. (We suggest you start by developing a profile on LinkedIn.) Experiment with one of the ideas above. You’ll know it’s working if you begin to see people subscribing to your blog, visitors leaving comments on your posts, an increase in invitations to connect on LinkedIn or if you receive feedback by word-of-mouth.

The bottom line is, it’s not enough to just build it.

Personal communication

Our management team recently established some guidelines for developing our LinkedIn profiles, but we each wrote our own (helping each other, of course).

Social media tools can be great for nurturing relationships with prospects and referral sources. One of the keys to success is letting your personality shine through. By definition social media is more conducive to casual, personal communication than, say, your company brochure.

Have you thought about how many different words are rooted in the word person? Personal, personality, personable, persona, personify, personalize!

It’s an important concept in our culture. Not quite the same as individual. Not quite the same as human. There’s an innate quality to the word person that makes it more relatable. Each of us wants to be seen as a person. We all want our interactions to be personalized.

Technology offers wonderful ways for us to connect with each other. But if your messages are watered down and sterilized, what’s the point? There is so much “communication fast-food” online. It’s convenient. It’s predictable. It’s a formula. But in the end does it resonate? Do you call and tell people how amazing it was? Do you recommend it to your friends?

Personalized communication also doesn’t mean talking about yourself. There is an art to talking about someone else’s needs (like your target market’s) in language that sounds like you. Challenge your messages. Do they use more “you” and “your” than “we” and “our”? If not, rewrite. Read it out loud. Does it sound like something you would say? If not, rewrite.

Of course, it has to stay professional. We’re big believers in keeping a distance between personal social media and professional social media personas. Your firm’s social media policy should address this.

The power of these tools can be fully realized when your firm’s personality reflects in your social media. So allow a little creativity to make the greatest impact on your firm’s business development efforts.

Messages are not in a bottle.

One of the challenges with social media, like all your marketing activities, is to stay true to your firm’s brand and message. Because of the ease, immediacy and viral effects of social media it’s all too easy to undo years of brand building with the click of a mouse.

Defining your firm’s message really begins with defining your target market. We emphasize the importance of this with clients every day. It’s easy to miss the boat by forgetting to go beyond talking about your target market to speaking to your target market. Use language and topics which are compelling to them. Write short sentences.

Zeroing in on needs, ditching the technical speak and putting your ideas into words your prospects quickly understand are key success factors in social media.

Also, be mindful of your brand’s equity in the market. Make sure your messages support your competitive differentiation. If timely delivery is one of the key service attributes that differentiates your firm, don’t let a staff person tweet about how busy they are, and how they may never catch up. (Seriously!)

Anyone — and we mean ANYONE — who has the ability to post anything under your firm’s name should have training on the dos and don’ts. And, associate consequences with the latter.

Implement a — second-set-of-eyes — policy to make sure that at least one other person (preferably a marketing professional or other trusted writer) reviews what is posted for grammatical errors or typos. It’s amazing how quickly and decisively those things can erode your firm’s credibility.

Make sure all your professionals understand how your firm wants to be represented in the online world and set up policies and procedures for using social media sites.

Diving in.

It’s time.

If you’ve been putting off developing your firm’s social media strategy it’s time for you to get your head out of that stack of dead trees on your desk and embrace what many of your prospects and referral sources already have.

Social media is here to stay.

It’s undisputed that LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging and the like are permanent fixtures in our business landscape. What is still unclear is the extent to which these tools can become an engine that drives growth, and how quickly we’ll begin to see results. There is cool stuff going on all over. If you don’t believe us check out NadenLean or Freed Maxick on Twitter or PKF Texas’ blog From Greg’s Head’ or Harding Shymanski’s group on LinkedIn.

Firms large and small are navigating the waters of social media. We at Whetstone are diving in as well. And in the next few weeks we’ll be sharing the things we’re learning with you, right here at So check back often.

See you soon.

The Whetstone Group