Q: What is the best marketing strategy for a business that requires a high level of trust between client and provider before working together?

Dr. Frank Bevacqua, owner Time To Thrive

A: In the professional services business, people are not able to experience the service until after it is consumed. This means that networking and word of mouth are key to success, along with differentiating and positioning your services.

One method of marketing services is to get involved in organizations working with entrepreneurs and small businesses through the chamber of commerce and firms providing funding. Through these organizations, you can make personal contacts and get to know your potential clients to begin developing a relationship.

Once you have made the contact, you need to develop trust with the client. This often means providing some initial level of consultation at no fee so that you can develop the relationship. This requires a balance so that you do not end up just giving free advice, but also close the consulting contracts that your business needs to thrive. People will get to know you better and be comfortable with contracting for your services.

Prospects can get to know you through short educational seminars, which you can provide to those on your contact list. This allows potential clients to get to know you in an informal manner, without making a commitment up front for your services. A series of short seminars with varying topics may help gather a larger list of potential clients. While in-person is best for building trust with potential clients, posting shortened versions on your website may also help people get to know you.

With the large number of business consulting firms, where do you stand out above the other firms through your background and experience? What do you do better and different from the others, and how will they remember the name of your firm, i.e., how will people recognize your brand?

Your current clients are also key to reaching out to their networks and providing referrals. You can encourage this through a referral fee, or a few hours of consulting. This will help you continue to build your base and reputation in the industry.

Kathy Jenson is a member of the adjunct faculty in marketing at the University of St Thomas Opus College of Business.