Podcast

Episode: 312 |
Lee Frederiksen:
Growth Drivers:
Episode
312

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Lee Frederiksen

Growth Drivers

Show Notes

Lee Frederiksen is the Managing Partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm that focuses on serving professional services firms.

In today’s episode, Lee shares key insights from the High Growth Study 2020 conducted by Hinge, which includes results from 1,000 professional services firms around the globe.

An executive summary of this study is available free at:

https://hingemarketing.com/library/article/2020-high-growth-study-executive-summary

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. If you’ve been thinking about setting up your own independent consulting practice, visit umbrex.com. And click on the link that says set up your own firm, we’ve come up with a guide that includes 90 videos in over 30 tools that you can download. So check that out. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Lee Fredrickson, who is the founder of hinge which is a marketing firm that focuses exclusively on working with professional services firms. Lee, welcome to the show. Thank you. It’s pleasure to be here. We’ll slowly I’m really interested to explore today, the high growth study 2020 that your firm has just produced. Why don’t you tee it up? Tell us a little bit about this this survey that you’ve done?

Lee Frederiksen 00:57
Okay? Well, we looked at over 1000 professional services firms of all sizes from the very smallest single person firms all the way up to the mega firms. They represented that sample, the 1000, firms represented over $70 billion in revenue, and 1 million professionals. So it’s a very large and I think pretty representative sample of the consulting market. And more generally, the professional services market as a whole.

Will Bachman 01:29
Fantastic. So give us kind of just the overview of what this study covered. And then we can dive into some of the specifics. So what was what was the kind of main topics that you looked at?

Lee Frederiksen 01:44
The main topics we’re looking at are really those that drive growth, we’re looking at your strategy, your marketing, your business development, those things that help you grow the firm. And one of the things we do that’s quite interesting and revealing is we look at the high growth firms, those that are growing the fastest, at least 20%, compound annual growth rate, and compare them to the slower growing firms and find out what are they doing different? And this helps us kind of zero in kind of, based on the reality of the numbers, what’s working and what’s not working so well.

Will Bachman 02:24
Fantastic. I guess maybe what where I’d love to start is, you know, having having done this extensive survey? What is your finding around what are the most effective techniques, which might be different than the ones that people do the most often? But what was your finding around the techniques that are actually most effective? Yeah, generating growth?

Lee Frederiksen 02:51
Well, I think there’s a theme to them, and that is really following your clients? Where are your clients looking for information, insight, and help? And the answer more and more has become digital. And so the topics that really are at the top of the list in terms of effectiveness and efficiency are really those that help you make best use of that channel. So we see things like search engine optimization, mapping the buyers journey, using digital content, special reports, those kinds of things. Some people refer to this kind of as thought leadership, marketing or content marketing is a way of thinking about it. But if you pause for a moment, you realize that what we’re actually selling to our clients in the professional services is our expertise, our ability to solve problems and get things done. And the question is, how do you make that expertise visible, so the clients can actually see it and understand how you can help them. And that usually gets translated into some form of content?

Will Bachman 04:10
Yeah. So I thought it was interesting to look at the adoption of digital marketing, professional services, you have one nice chart in this document that shows the adoption rate. And let me just read this off, actually, because this is kind of interesting to kind of get this full thing out there. This is the percent adoption. I’m not going to read off the numbers for each one, but read it from high to low. So number one was networking on social media, which was 55% adoption, which actually seemed kind of low to me. I’m surprised this is not higher. So that and then that was the high end. Let me read down to the lowest one. So that was the most highest than we had. Email marketing campaigns, blogging, social promotion, keyword research, search engine optimization. webinars, case stories, digital advertisements, marketing video, downloadable gated content, conducting and publishing primary research, guest blogging, live demos, podcasts, radio or other audio formats. And finally, video blogging was down at 10%. And if you were to that, you know, roughly it was it’s like roughly a linear drop from 55%, for networking on social media, down to 10%, for video blogging, what’s your perspective on that list? So that’s the adoption rate. But you know, if you’re talking to a client is, you know, are some people maybe not, are not adopting techniques that are more effective? Like video blogging, for example? That’s Yeah, the least adopted, but are some of those may be more effective and more people should be doing them?

Lee Frederiksen 05:52
Yeah, it’s a very interesting relationship. Well, it’s your kind of pointing out here. Adoption doesn’t mean you do it. Well, that’s, that’s, you know, and if you don’t do it, well, it isn’t going to work this, then this is pretty much true for whatever kind of marketing technique you want, whether it’s getting referrals, or networking, or digital or webinars or social media. And so the, what we learned is that the high growth firms not only adopted techniques, but they do them better. And you see, you see two things in particular, they devote more effort to it. For each technique they adopt, they’re spending more time and more effort perfecting it. And they also tend to have a higher skill level. So greater skills, greater diligence, with a well selected technique is really what produces results. So it’s not it, you know, think about it as taken out of the digital realm out of the social media, and just, you know, think of networking. You know, if you went to a networking event, you strolled in, you know, stopped over at the cheese, Jeff got a drink and left, you wouldn’t expect many results, right? Yeah. Yeah. Everybody knows that’s, that’ll never be successful. Well, it’s the same thing with digital, you know, if you adopt social media, but you never really use it, you don’t apply it and you don’t really understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, you’re not very likely to be successful.

Will Bachman 07:25
Yeah. Tell me about this chart here, which is around where you actually show the marketing impact ratings. And I’m not going to read this full list, but I’ll read the top three or four. Yeah, in terms of the, what you saw as the highest marketing impact, where digital product or service demonstrations to is presenting an educational webinars at number three was conducting and publishing primary research. And number four was search engine optimization. Tell us a little bit about firm that’s doing those things. Well, why was the marketing impact higher than let’s say that actually the bottom one was, was interviewing on podcast? So don’t get depressed? Well, if you do it, right, it works. So what what makes some tell us what would be the very highest one was digital product or service demonstrations? What does that look like? I’m not even sure what that means for? Well,

Lee Frederiksen 08:31
that’s a Yeah, exactly. That’s a bit confusing for some people. When we were talking just a moment ago about the importance of making your expertise tangible. There are many people in the consulting world who have either proprietary processes, or they have some kind of combination of software and services that work together. And that they may combine into a package. So with the digital demonstration, is really what it sounds like getting online with somebody and walking them through in a goto meeting or resume type environment, walking them through what the process is, or what the software is, how it works, what the outputs are, to make it tangible and real and specific. And we find that that’s one of the most effective things because that is very, it allows the person to understand how you might be able to help them and impact them. So that I think is that’s one that people sometimes aren’t sure about, like, well, how would that apply to me? And think about it from the customer or the clients perspective is and answer the question, What am I going to get? What is it going to look like? What is it going to be like and the extent to which you can answer that question, you remove a lot of the risk from the client’s internal calculation. Okay. Some of the other ones are Are I Think are so powerful? Well, because they fit together, you take something like a research doing independent research. Now think about if you do a research on your target audience, let’s say your target audience is plastic manufacturers, and you do a survey about them. And you find out what certain practices are relevant to the kinds of services you do, what do they do? What are their issues? What’s going on with them? And then you offer that survey, here is a result about what’s happening in the plastics manufacturing, industry, how can they grow faster? How can they do this? How can they accomplish that, that is enticing to the people and the people in the plastics manufacturing, say, wow, that’s relevant, I want to see that. So right away, you’ve got something that’s of interest to your audience, then you combine that with a webinar or with using content some other way, distributing it in multiple ways, then you have an integrated approach, where you’re gaining insight to your audience, and you’re providing feedback and a engaging piece of research to your audience that they want to see. And that sort of completes a circle of understanding, you understand them better, and you’re conveying to them that you understand their issues, and you have potential solutions.

Will Bachman 11:35
So having done all this work, would you say a bit? Well, I’d say, a lot of consultants, myself included, sometimes feel like we’re flailing around. And it’s the classic thing about advertising, which is, you know, I know that 50% is wasted, I just don’t know which 50 which, which, which 50%. You know, a lot of us do all sorts of stabs at marketing, you know, we’re doing a blog or trying to appear on, you know, get quoted in the newspaper, or we’re doing LinkedIn posts, you never really know what’s most effective. What would you say would be your any insights that you gained from this about? Generally? Are there some things that a lot of people are doing that’s probably not that high impact? And that are there some kind of hidden opportunities that more people should be doing X or Y because it tends to be high impact and, but just a neglected and neglected approach?

Lee Frederiksen 12:35
Yeah, I think there’s a couple of general secrets here. And then there’s the right way to do it. So let me start with the secrets. And then I’ll tell you the right way. The secrets are really that for a long time, the market has been moving in a digital direction. As a matter of fact, the more leads you get online, the faster you grow. That’s, that’s a pretty well established relationship that we’ve seen in prior years, and really comes through. And now with a COVID pandemic, I think that is going to do nothing but drive that harder. So if you want to learn which direction Do I look, generally, it’s going to be you’re looking in the digital direction, I would say the, so those just about anything in the digital direction. The second secret is, don’t flail around, you know, don’t try so many different things settle on one or two or three things that you’re doing consistently, and you’re doing very well, over time. And that generally is the thing that leads to the most successes, fewer things done more competently, and more consistently, will drive greater results than, you know, trying a half a dozen different things, any which might have worked, but you didn’t spend enough time at it to really get good at it. So that’s kind of the the two things, I think that I really, really stick with me as important. Now, the right way to do it, though, is if you do a little bit of research first to figure out what channels are your clients on your potential clients? You know, you can do that by looking at their LinkedIn profiles, talking to them figuring out are they primarily webinars? Or are they primarily do they more interested in podcasts and so forth. So if you understand which channels then you can kind of exhale, relax a little bit and concentrate on really developing a program within a channel that you know your client is, is in looking at. The second thing that really involves that’s really important to get it right is making sure what you’re talking about is relevant to them. And it’s not just about how good You are but is about understanding what is their challenge? And how can your expertise, speak to that challenge, help them understand that frame it up. So they really know how to move forward.

Will Bachman 15:17
What in this survey surprised you or changed your thinking about about the most effective marketing approaches?

Lee Frederiksen 15:27
I think the thing that surprised me most is how strong that digital disruption is getting. We have a chart in there that shows if you only look, if the only thing you look at is the proportion of leads that you get online, what you find out is that the people who get most of their leads online, two thirds or more, are growing more than twice as fast, there’s those who get less than a third of their leads online. So, you know, old fashioned referrals, networking, you know, the extent to which you can do that within our current environment. Those still work, they didn’t go away. But what’s happening is buyers are spending more of their time just going online to educate themselves and to develop potential people that they might want to work with, you know, their short list.

Will Bachman 16:25
Yeah, I mean, and that’s, I can see that for really large firms that have the resources to invest in a powerful web presence, you know, a Deloitte to McKinsey, a Bain BCG for more boutique firms or even independent consultants, what are the things that we can do practically, to get a presence online and actually generate consulting leads online? Is it that you have to get super, super nation specific? or How can a boutique firm with 10 people or even an independent consultant actually generate leads online? I’d love to hear that.

Lee Frederiksen 17:07
Is it actually the interesting thing is in many ways, a smaller firm has advantages online. Because it can, it can go after a niche. So I would say the first thing to do is figure out what exactly is the kind of client that you want more business with online? Second thing, you know, once you understand that figure out, okay, where can i intersect with them? Where can I show something that they will read and see. And if you only have one shot and you don’t know anything else, I would say the trade publication that’s most read in your industry is most likely the place. It could also be a blog post, and many industries have multiple trade publications. The third thing I would do is once I figured that out, is I would figure out, what is the issue that I can help my best client solve that I do my very best work on and it’s easiest for me, and I enjoy the most, what is that issue. And then I would write an article about that issue, put it in the trade publication, and then find a place to do either on your own or with someone else do a webinar on that topic that you put in a trade publication. So that gives you two channels, a webinar, which is probably one of the strongest, and it gets publication in the trade. And you’ve done all of that without having to do any SEO, any particular thing that’s using mostly other people’s platforms. Now, I

Will Bachman 18:51
admit, I am surprised to hear you advocating for webinars. Because it seems to me that it’s really tough to generate an audience for them, and you can put one on but how do you actually get people to come? So is it? Yeah, let me just ask that. So I mean, let’s say you come up with a webinar, how do you go about inviting potential clients to to sign up?

Lee Frederiksen 19:17
I would say one of the things I mentioned here is being on someone else’s webinar. And if you are just getting started and you don’t have a list that of anyone that you generated yourself, then I would try to partner with someone else who does have a list to promote to or look for someone else where you can get a they can help you as a paid promoter of the webinar. And many industries have webinars for example, if you’re selling to an industry, where they need continuing professional education, let’s say in the accounting or architecture Engineering, something like that where there’s a need for pertain continuing education, there are usually organizations who offer those units. And you as the advertiser pays for, you know, for the attendees. So that’s a way to do it, or partner with another type of organization who serves a similar type of client. We do a lot of this kind of work with our clients to develop and promote them. So it does take a little while to develop enough of a database you use on your own webinars, but you can shortcut that first that process by tagging on with someone else.

Will Bachman 20:46
Okay. Let’s say that you tag on with someone else. What do you advise your clients to do? So let’s say you’re going to be on someone else’s webinar, what’s the best way to try to get, you know, some some leads from that? What usually I don’t know if the other person who sort of owns that webinar is going to be willing to give you the list of the people who have signed up to register for it. So you just give out your contact info and say, if you’re curious, like, reach out to me, or you give some sort of bonus, like, hey, if you send me an email, I’ll send you this nice gift of like this nice PDF or this report or something, how do you make maximum use of it, if you, you know, to get the attendees to actually contact you?

21:31
Well, the most important thing, and this may be a little bit counterintuitive will is to give a really good, helpful webinar, not self promotional, not gloss over, but give something that really demonstrates your expertise. And we find almost independent of the offer and how much you try to promote your own services, giving a good webinar, people will follow up with that, whether you give them the opportunity or not. So that’s just the basic do that. But beyond that, typically, if you are in a situation where you have a paid partner in there, you will absolutely get access to people who attend the webinar. The other alternative, which you mentioned, is to offer some kind of free or follow up information. It might be, as you said, a special report, a reprint of that article that you had in the trade publication, a worksheet or maybe even a free consultation with you. And any of those types of offers all seem to, you know, all seem to work relatively well.

Will Bachman 22:44
What’s your tips on how to make your webinars interactive? To you know, to really engage the audience? Have you seen people doing a really nice job about that of maybe having a live poll or a survey in the course of it? Or have people ask questions? How do you make it so it doesn’t just feel like you’re watching a YouTube video?

Lee Frederiksen 23:05
Yeah, yeah. The I think polls and surveys and that I think they’re okay. But we seem to find the most kind of interaction is with questions. And we found that a couple things make it better. One is being able to take questions during the during the presentation, sort of as they come up, because the sooner you have the first question in it, the more total questions you’ll get from the webinar. So if you have a question fairly early on, in the first few minutes, you’re likely to encourage more people to ask questions. And if you pause every once in a while to ask the questions that are answered the questions that are coming in, you’ll find that it really helps people’s kind of stay engaged with it. That makes sense.

Will Bachman 23:57
I’ll offer one tip here that I found works pretty well, which is I use mentimeter, m e n t i m e t e r mentimeter, calm for doing polls and surveys. The you know, on zoom, they do have a polling function. But it’s pretty bad. They only have just sort of sync multiple choice where you can click a single question. But if using mentimeter, you can ask open ended questions and then everybody just goes to minty.com puts in an access code on their phone. And I like to open webinars with a open ended question like Hey, what are you hoping to learn today, etc. And then you can actually see everybody else’s responses on the screen. So it gets people like participating right away. And that, you know, that’s been one thing that I found work pretty well. Sounds like a good tip. Yeah. So getting back to the survey, in addition to the digital marketing You do have a section there on more traditional marketing. And you show that the in terms of the marketing impact ratings, the top most effective is providing assessments or consultations. And number two is just nurturing prospects through phone calls. Oh, and then networking at targeted events and speaking at targeted conferences or events. So let’s talk about those those top two, providing assessments or giving some kind of short like, What’s that mean? Some short, short diagnostic, or, you know, something very packaged in short, tell us about like what you’ve seen effective there around giving people a quick assessment of their current state as a way to get engaged with them?

Lee Frederiksen 25:47
Yeah, what, what people often are they’re struggling with is trying to understand what, how should I approach this problem? What are my alternatives? What are the right kind of approaches, and I think the most straightforward and effective kind of thing you can do with that kind of a consultation, is just simply listen to what the person describes to you about what the situation is that they’re struggling with, and what they’re trying to accomplish. And then sharing with them, what the alternatives are, what the alternative ways, or alternative approaches are to managing that or handling that situation. And usually, you’re going to be doing that about situations you’re very familiar with, otherwise, you wouldn’t be you know, you wouldn’t feel comfortable consulting on it. So I think, and I sort of using this metaphor, for me, it’s a little bit like in the grocery stores, they used to see they would have a person at the end of the aisle giving you a little samples of something little here, try a little piece of this or, or a wine tasting type thing, try a little bit of this and see what you think that’s what you’re doing. You’re giving people a taste of what it’s like to work with you. And if you think about it that way, then I think it greatly reduces the anxiety about you know, how will I handle it? Because what you’re doing is what you do every day, what you do? Well, what you do naturally, in most cases.

Will Bachman 27:25
Let’s talk about nurturing prospects through phone calls. What do you see as best practice there? In terms of, let’s say, it’s someone that you maybe you know, already, but you haven’t worked for them recently? Maybe you did a project for them two years ago, maybe you’ve never done a project, someone that you knew in business, school, whatever. What do you see as some of the best practices of picking up the phone? And like, what do you talk about?

Lee Frederiksen 27:55
That’s a great point. I think if you can have it any way you’d want, you know, you’d think what would be the perfect kind of thing to talk about, you know, a conversation that starts about, you know, I came across this piece of research, or I came across this, or I had this incident, and I thought about you, I thought you might want to learn about it knows something about it. So sharing something that’s useful or helpful with a person that when they, when they hear your calling, they’re anxious to talk to you, because whenever they talk to you, they get something that’s useful or helpful, or interesting or funny. And I think that’s kind of the way of keeping a relationship going, and keeping your expertise in front of people. You know, I know for some people getting on the phone is a barrier, and they find it hard to do. And but having something to talk about a mission usually makes that easier.

Will Bachman 29:03
Okay, and do you recommend that people just pick up the phone and just dial direct or which some people might be reluctant to do or you suggest, oh, you know, email the person try to schedule a time. It’s a little bit more administratively cumbersome, but what do you see working best?

Lee Frederiksen 29:26
I think there’s an element of style and preference here. About what what you would like your client, what impression you want to be giving to your clients, what’s consistent with who you are. So I don’t know that we have any research that shows that scheduling an appointment to talk ahead of time is more or less effective than just picking up the phone and leaving a message if you don’t get them. I kind of prefer picking up the phone and leaving a message because you can explain a little bit about what you want. Talk about, and in most cases, that’s going to be, you know, if it’s something positive and something useful, that moves you a step closer. Whereas, you know, if you’re not comfortable leaving a message, and I think it’s perfectly acceptable to approach it by email or messaging.

Will Bachman 30:18
Yeah, you know, I guess the guidance that I’ve heard in the past, and what David A. Fields recommends, is just going ahead and just picking up the phone and calling. And if they don’t pick up, then you leave a message, as opposed to emailing it just a different burden. And then the person is thinking, Oh, well, you know, I don’t have time this week or next week. Yeah, let’s grab Tom Yeah, three weeks? Well,

Lee Frederiksen 30:42
that. That’s why to be effective. When you’re emailing, you have to be clear in your emailing about what you’re talking what why you want to talk to them and make sure that there’s enough value in there. So the person is gonna say, heck, yeah,

Will Bachman 30:56
you want to talk to you? Yeah, no, one school of thought, suggests that you shouldn’t necessarily try to add value every time you contact someone. Because it’s one, it’s a big burden on us, too. So people might be more reluctant to reach out. Because they think, Oh, well, first, I have to go find some good article, or some good reason to call. And it might be sufficient just to call a person and say, hey, it’s been a while, it’s been six months, just thinking about you want to check in see what’s new in your universe? What’s your perspective on that approach?

Lee Frederiksen 31:35
I think that works if you have enough of an established relationship with the person. So you’re pretty sure that talking to you is a high enough priority to get over the all the other things that they have to do in that day. You know, if it’s a you know, you got a very warm, close relationship, I think that’s just fine. But someone you don’t know particularly well, you know, I get multiple calls every day people leaving messages about why they want to talk to me, and they want to schedule something with no indication of why or what’s in it for me, or, you know, why would we want to talk? And, of course, that’s not going to work very well.

Will Bachman 32:19
Yeah. How do you recommend that professional services firms that have limited time and limited budget for for, for marketing, put together a complete marketing plan, and like how to allocate the resources across all the kinds of things that they could be doing? You know, they could be creating content, they could be doing one on one calls, they could be trying to go speak at conferences, it could be doing a video blog? How do you figure out what are the right tactics for your firm, and allocate your time? And, and, and budget across those different things?

Lee Frederiksen 32:58
Well, that’s something actually we know quite a bit about, because we do a lot of that for firms. And I think what I would recommend for someone is kind of a three step process. You know, step number one is do some research. So you understand two things that are absolutely essential, you have to understand where your client looks, your or your potential clients where they look for information and insight. So that tells you where you want to go with it with your limited resources. The second thing I would do is I would cross that with either a copy of this, this study that we and we offer the executive summary for free to people look at and see what are the most effective techniques? And which ones do I as an individual, which ones do I feel comfortable with? So if you have here’s the most effective techniques, and here’s where my people, you know, here’s where the people I’m trying to reach our app that’s going to tell you which techniques do I want to use. So that’s one important thing. Second important thing is figuring out what do I want to talk about? And what kind of content and their you look at? What are the you ask yourself or preferably, you ask the potential clients, so you understand what are the key issues that they’re struggling with, where you might be relevant. And that might not be on the surface, just what you think it is, you may be relevant in a way that you might not understand initially, you might be what you do might be helpful to someone. Once you understand that, how you can be helpful what their issues are and where could be that provides a basis of what your marketing plan should be. Then the only other piece you need is really to understand Do you know things like how frequently Are you going to be doing this? And that’s sort of a matter of, you know, the more you do it, the better the results you’ll get. So you can choose how much effort you want to devote to it.

Will Bachman 35:15
Did you spend a minute telling us a bit about hinge and how you work with clients?

Lee Frederiksen 35:20
Yeah, the hinge is, we call it branding and marketing. But what we really do is, we made a couple decisions. A number of years ago, when I got involved with hinge, I was initially a client of hinges, and I sold my consulting for my head, and really got involved with hinge. And we came up with a plan that made sense number one is we were going to base everything we did on research, what worked, we didn’t care whether it was something we liked to do or didn’t like to do. Or, you know, it wasn’t what we wanted to do. It was what works. Number two is we said, we’re going to do it ourselves before we do it with our client. And the and that has proven to be tremendously helpful because it allows us to speak with confidence and certainty about how things work, and they don’t work or what, what they work or what we can help you with. And then finally, we were going to focus on a very narrow niche. And that is a professional services marketplace, and only that marketplace, and we weren’t going to be tempted by, you know, a big brand that comes along and wants you to do something else. And those three things have really allowed us to develop a practice that really focuses on helping professional services firms grow and grow quickly.

Will Bachman 36:54
That’s great. Where can people go online to find out more about your firm?

Lee Frederiksen 37:00
And the URL is hinge marketing.com. hinge like the thing that opens doors and marketing, just like it sounds

Will Bachman 37:09
great. And we’ll include that link in the show notes. Lee, it was great speaking with you again. Thanks so much for being on the show. It was my pleasure. Well, thanks for having me.

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