Marketing a service business is different from marketing a product-based business.
The main difference between marketing for a service business and marketing goods is tangibility.
When you market a good, you have a tangible product that people can touch and see.
And, that has a determined value based on its materials and what the product does.
In service businesses, you’re working with intangibles.
So marketing for a service business can’t focus on the things traditional product marketing would, like the quality of materials or functionality and uses.
This presents a buying risk for consumers, because they don’t actually know what they’re going to get until they get it.
Typically, service-based businesses have a longer, more difficult marketing task.
But, you can successfully market your service-based business using all the digital marketing strategies, from paid ads to social media posting.
Let us show you how!
Today, we’re excited to share with you some effective methods for marketing a service business.
This is because we’ve seen firsthand how powerful a digital marketing strategy can be for service businesses…
…but also, because it can be tough if you’re not sure what you’re doing.
And why learn through trial and error when you can learn from people who have tried everything, and know what works well and what doesn’t?
Keep in mind that these are just our experiences from working with clients, and our strategies and ideas aren’t exhaustive by any means.
If you have an idea for marketing a service business that we don’t mention here, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
Here’s what we’ll cover today:
- We’ll start by defining service businesses and discussing the two subcategories.
- Then, we’ll look at the things you should do before you start promoting your service to set yourself up for success.
- Next, we’ll share 3 marketing methods that work really well for small businesses, including examples and explanations.
Let’s get started!
What Is A Service Business?
When we talk about a service business, we’re referring to a pure service business. What do we mean by that?
Well, according to Harvard Business Review:
A pure service business is one in which the service is the primary entity that is sold.
Some examples of pure service businesses include:
- computer service bureaus,
- law firms,
- plumbing repair companies,
- motion picture theaters, and
- management consulting firms.
There are two subcategories of service business:
- A business that relies on equipment (think vending machines, automated car washes, movie theaters, and airlines).
- A business that relies on people (think consulting, attorneys, plumbing, repair, and accounting).
Did you know that the top 10 fastest-growing industries in the U.S. are all service businesses?
Things To Remember Before Marketing A Service Business
Before you jump right into making ads and figuring out which platforms you’re going to use, you have some work to do.
Marketing a service business is not the same as marketing a product.
So, if you try to use the traditional methods of marketing that you may be familiar with, you will most likely not see the results you’re looking for.
With that being said, here are the things you should do before you start promoting your service business.
- Define your service clearly
- Outline your value proposition
- Specialize or find a niche
- Focus on existing client relationships first
- Outline how you can defend your business from competitors
- Identify and clearly outline how you chose the price for your service
You’d be surprised to know how many service-based businesses struggle to define the service they provide.
Maybe you’re a business that provides professional website design and development.
Sure, you’ve said you’re designing the website… but what does that really mean?
Does that include two weeks of discovery? Does it hinge on you getting lots of feedback and having regular meetings?
Outline all of that on your website and in your contract so clients know exactly what to expect.
It’s a good idea to actually physically list this all out on your website and show what’s included visually.
We do this on our website, and it works well to set client expectations so we know that we’re on the same page.
What makes your service different from all the others like it? What value do you add?
How does your service, or the results from your service, make your client’s life better than it was when they came to you?
What do you add to their life or business?
You have to do something more than state the deliverables.
Yes, those are important. But what’s more important is what the deliverables do for your client, rather than what the deliverables are.
Does that make sense?
It’s a good idea to use an example from a real client so you can illustrate your actual results.
This assures clients that you can do what you say, and it helps show how awesome you are.
The fastest-growing service businesses are highly specialized or fill a specific niche.
Here’s an article published in September 2020 outlining the fastest-growing service businesses.
If you’ll notice, each is already niched, and has multiple niche possibilities available within each category.
Service buyers are more wary of making a purchase than product buyers.
This is because services often have fewer protections, so they want to make sure that you’re the right fit.
That’s why specializing or finding a niche is really important.
First, it proves that you know what you’re doing because you’ve done it for other people.
Second, it helps you hone your messaging so you’re speaking directly to small business owners who, say, want to publish a book…
…rather than any aspiring writer of any genre or format.
We know it’s tempting to focus your energy on acquiring new clients or customers and trying to scale your business.
But, we’ve found nurturing existing client relationships to be even more beneficial.
The first, and most important, thing you need to do for your existing clients is to provide excellent service and value.
Ideally, you want to keep a client for as long as possible (depending on the nature of your business, of course).
And that’s just not going to happen if you aren’t providing value.
How Can You Prioritize Existing Clients?
Use this list to woo new clients from the beginning.
- Make sure your clients know about all of your services or capabilities.
This is where content marketing and educating your audience come into play.
- Continue honing your onboarding, services, delivery, and follow-ups.
That doesn’t mean they have to be perfect though.
You’ll have to think of new, better, or faster ways to do things, and may decide some of the steps you included weren’t necessary.
Be flexible and make adjustments as you get feedback from clients.
This will show existing clients that you’re listening to them and are willing to make improvements.
If it appears you aren’t listening or making an effort, they will find someone else.
- Share useful information with them in your emails or social posts.
This doesn’t have to be original information from you.
You can curate articles, blog posts, videos, and any other content you come across that would add value to your client’s lives.
Don’t share links from direct competitors, of course, but do keep what you share closely related to your services or client needs.
As service providers, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and focus on the work.
You know you’re getting things done, so you don’t think about it.
But, because of that good ol’ intangibility, it’s sometimes difficult for the client to see that. We’ve learned that over-communication is the way to go.
You may feel like you’re sending too many emails, but unless your client tells you that you can ease up on it…
…sending regular status updates, checking in to see how things are going, and meeting to do a temperature check is recommended.
It can mean the difference between a satisfied client, and a client that leaves to find someone else.
- Send thank you notes, birthday gifts, and celebrate milestones with them.
Did your client just land a huge partnership? Are they making incredible progress?
Did they have an exceptionally hard week?
Taking a few minutes to send a note of encouragement will help them establish a deeper connection with your business.
There are hundreds of businesses and individuals who offer the service you’re providing.
And since services are intangible, there’s not always a clear way to show the difference, like you could with a product.
And sometimes, that’s confusing as a consumer.
“How do I really know which of these coaches is going to be better when it’s all just kind of words?”
You need to think about how you can defend your business from competitors.
You can do this by focusing on anything proprietary (like a specially designed system or tech) and how you can scale your business.
Also, pay attention to your brand reputation. And that’s because, in a service business, that matters a lot.
You don’t need to post this on your website or share it on social media.
But, you do need to have this figured out so that you understand how you came to the price.
And, you can use that reasoning to outline your value proposition to your customers and justify the price.
Factors to consider when pricing your services:
- How much does it cost you to provide that service? Calculate your time, and the time of any employees who help.
- What are your competitors charging for a similar service?
- What is the perceived value to your customers?
- What have past clients been willing to pay? Have they had any complaints or comments about your service or price?
Service pricing is very subjective, which is the classic struggle for service businesses.
If you notice that while you’re marketing your business, the process goes well, except for when it’s time to buy, consider experimenting with your pricing model.
Now that you’ve done your homework and…
- outlined the value you provide,
- defined your service,
- identified any ways to specialize and defend your business from competitors, and
- have learned how to justify the pricing to yourself and your potential clients,
…it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to market your service.
Let’s look at marketing methods that work well, and then briefly discuss channels you can use for distribution.
Marketing A Service Businesses: Methods That Work Well
As we mentioned earlier in this post, marketing a service business is not quite the same as for your product business.
As an example, a product business would use social media for:
- showcasing product shots and shipping boxes,
- showing your creation processes, and
- sharing user pictures with your product.
1. Content Marketing
If you’re not familiar with the term, content marketing refers to creating content like:
- blog posts,
- photos, and
- social media posts.
The idea behind content marketing is not to sell or explicitly promote your business.
The goal is to make useful, entertaining, or informative content to generate interest in a brand, product, or service.
Audiences want content that adds value to their lives, is relevant to them, and comes consistently.
What does good content marketing do for your business?
Good content marketing builds relationships with your audience.
It humanizes your brand and says, “I care about more than this sale. I care about you and value you as more than a customer.”
It will help you to:
- establish your expertise in your niche,
- drive traffic to your website,
- earn the trust of your customers by adding value,
- educate your customers, and
- build a relationship with your customers.
But does content marketing really work? Yes!
This may be a newer term, but the concept of content marketing has been around for a while.
One of the earliest examples hit the scene in 1912, in the form of a publication called The Furrow from John Deere (yes, the tractor company).
They released a “catalog” (it was essentially a magazine) that didn’t sell on every page.
Instead, they shared articles and agricultural tips with John Deere ads sprinkled throughout.
And it worked so well for them that other businesses started following suit.
These days, content marketing is a necessity.
Every brand, from giant corporations like Amazon down to small local businesses, does some form of content marketing.
Even if it’s just a simple post on Facebook every couple of days.
Here are the most common types of content marketing that work for small businesses:
- Blog posts
- YouTube videos
- Social media posts
- White papers
- Landing pages
You don’t have to create all the content and publish it everywhere.
In fact, unless you have dedicated resources for content creation, it’s beneficial to start small.
Start with 1 or 2 channels and focus on putting out good quality content consistently.
Don’t go committing to daily posts out the gate if you’re not sure you can do it.
It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver, and quantity will vary depending on the type of content you’re making.
It takes most marketers 15 minutes to write a good social media post, but around 7 hours to write, research, and film a video.
In short, don’t put unreasonable expectations on yourself.
2. Influencer Marketing
As we’re sure you’re aware, influencer marketing is huge right now, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Across the board, consumers trust influencer marketing more than traditional advertising.
You may be thinking, “But I only see influencers promoting products. How would that even work for a service business?” We’re so glad you asked.
Influencers are great at what they do, and it works, because they:
- Are great at selling experiences to their audiences. Think of all the places you want to travel to now because of an exciting post by an influencer.
- Are expert storytellers. They can craft a narrative and bring us along for the ride better than anyone.
- Nurture authentic relationships with their audience, making them a trusted resource.
Fortunately, those three traits are exactly what you need to promote your service business.
You’ll want to pull from a different pool of influencers than most products would use.
Finding the right influencer is critical to a successful campaign. We recommend the following influencers for service businesses:
Your industry has names that people trust.
They can be instrumental in introducing your service, highlighting the value you provide, and bringing your services closer to your target market.
These could be micro or macro-influencers. Although keep in mind that micro-influencers are usually more affordable and effective.
- Local(ish) nano influencers
A nano influencer is someone with a following of 1,000 to 10,000 people. If your business relies on location, this is a good option.
Don’t let the follower count fool you: these influencers typically have a very dedicated audience and a great relationship with them.
- Clients with a strong following
It can help spread the word, and it’s great because it comes directly from someone who is working with you now.
- Employees with a strong following
If your employees are happy, they’re probably already advocating for you on social media.
Encourage your employees to create content and engage with your content to help grow your reach.
We saved this for last because for some services, you just won’t be able to find a celebrity that makes sense.
But if you can connect a celebrity to your service (and if you can afford them), they can be just as effective at promoting services as they are for products.
3. Referral Programs
Word of mouth still works.
That’s essentially what influencer marketing is, but you’re going to need to make sure that:
a. You have a service that deserves a referral, and
b. That your reward for referral is enticing enough.
Before you build a referral program you need to look at how (or if) you’re getting referrals now.
Who is telling folks about your business?
If you don’t know, start collecting that data when you onboard a new client.
Add it to your paperwork or ask them, and keep a spreadsheet or document that keeps track of referral sources.
After a couple of months, you’ll want to go through and total up all your referrals to figure out which sources are bringing in the most…
…and which ones have the potential to bring in more if you put some effort into them.
Then you’ll need to figure out what the reward is for a referral.
We’ve seen dentists give free whitening when you refer a friend.
Financial planners often offer gift certificates to expensive restaurants or game tickets in a desirable spot.
Agencies or consultants may give you a deal on recurring services.
Whatever it is, it should resonate with your crowd.
Don’t give craft beers out if most of your clientele doesn’t drink. That’s an obvious example, but still.
Don’t limit yourself to thinking about how clients can refer other clients, though. You can also seek referrals from:
- Non-profit organizations or groups in your community who serve your desired clients.
You can donate a percentage of your profits to the organization to further their work (and they’ll happily refer folks to you).
- Another local business that provides a service relevant to yours, but not in direct competition.
For instance, if you don’t handle family court cases, but someone in town does, you refer those clients to them, and they refer clients to you.
- Send referral cards and a gift to your best clients once or twice a year.
These should be nice gifts – whatever you can reasonably afford.
Thank your client for being there, show them love, and ask them to help you out by referring someone to you.
If you can run a couple of different referral programs at once, that’s even better, because you’ll need those multiple streams of new clients coming in.
Now, where will you launch your marketing campaigns now that you’ve got an idea of what you’re going to do?
Let’s talk marketing channels really quickly.
Channels You Can Try When Marketing A Service Business
As we mentioned before, you don’t want to just get accounts on every single platform possible…
…and then half-heartedly post on them for a couple of months until you forget about them completely.
You would never, we know, but some do.
Do a little digging to see what channels businesses like yours are using to promote their services.
It’s a good idea to pick one or two broad categories and select one channel within each to start with. Here’s how we divide marketing channels:
a. Social Media
b. Search Engines
- Publishing articles on other sites
Most channels will help boost other channels.
For example, if you choose to do small business blogging…
…you’re building your search engine presence organically (that means without paying) each time you add a new blog post with new keywords to your website.
If you own a service business and have been struggling to market it…
…we hope this list of methods for marketing a service business helped you come up with some ideas and understand the fundamentals.
It can be challenging, but it’s possible to have great marketing and get new clients even if you don’t sell a physical product.
The main thing is focusing on how your service fills a need for your client. Focus on how it will make their lives different – better.
Now, if you need more help with creating a marketing strategy tailored to your specific service business, then LYFE can definitely help you.
Our digital marketing agency offers various marketing services that you can use to grow your business.
Check out our internet marketing services pricing page today!