Many engineering firms depend heavily on standard, repeat services. These practice areas pay the rent and payroll, they train juniors, and they are a springboard to selling the high-end, challenging services that the firm sees as growth areas.
The problem with the bread-and-butter practice areas is that in many cases they are “commodities” — many of your competitors can do the same work, and as a result there may be a race to the bottom regarding fees.
How do you defend your rent-and-payroll-paying service lines, without dropping your rates to below profitability? Through showing that your firm adds value to these commodities so that your current clients will stay with you — and maybe even pay more.
You can show your value to clients by generating what I call “relationship” content. This means producing information that describes how a client can get good results from a service provider such as your firm. You can publish this information on your firm’s own website, in business magazines, in white papers, and as guest posts on influential blogs — whatever reaches your market.
Designing content that works
To generate good relationship content, think of the circumstances and factors that allow you to do the best possible work for your client.
You might discuss what role a client plays in a successful project, and what part of the work is best done by your firm. Think of the information that a client should have on hand before you start work, and what is the best way for a client and consultant to communicate.
If time is a major factor in your work, discuss this. For example, some projects require a year or more of site-specific environmental or meteorological data, while regulatory authorities may have set a time requirement for community consultation.
There may be seasonal factors, such as work that is best done in winter, or in summer.
Then, think of the problems that can develop, and what advice you would give for avoiding those problems, and how to resolve them if they occur.
Think of ways that a client can save money — maybe, by doing some of the work themselves. If you think that this is going too far, think of your objective — to stand out as a service provider that can be trusted. Wouldn’t you be more willing to trust a service provider who voluntarily provided information on how to save money? It’s the same for your clients and prospective clients.
Developing relationship content can have a secondary benefit for your firm. Just thinking about the issues helps your firm to develop ways to improve service and avoid problems. It will help give you satisfied clients who come back and refer others to you.
Demonstrate willingness to get good outcomes for your clients
To see why relationship content is effective, consider a firm that carries out energy audits that meet the requirements of ISO 50001. It’s pretty much a commodity service — any of a wide range of professionals can conduct such an audit.
If your firm can convince prospects that it will go to great lengths to make sure that each audit is done well, and that their work will be accepted by regulatory bodies, financial sources and other users of the information, it stands out as a service provider.
Carl Friesen, MBA, CMC, is principal of Global Reach Communications, based in Mississauga, Ontario.