In a world where anyone can access the archives of the Smithsonian Institute with a click of the mouse, potential clients will not be satisfied if a consultant's Web site turns up nothing but marketing babble. Clients come to your Web site for one reason: to solve a problem. They expect your site to look professional, be easy to navigate, and offer content that helps them understand how you can help them.
Patterns for buying consulting services have changed, and there's no turning back. We're in the era of guerrilla clients -- buyers who have a wealth of information at their fingertips and use it. A study by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found that 77% of decision makers find service providers, including consultants, using the Web -- even if they have referrals.
Clients gather intelligence from the Web to assess consultants' capabilities. Without a Web site that unequivocally shows your unique capabilities, guerrilla clients will always pass you by.
Too many consultants create replicas of "Yellow Pages" ads on the Web. They fail to capitalize on the power of the Web to attract clients and grow their businesses.
Make Your Site a Hub
Your Web site should be the marketing hub of your practice. Think of your site as equal parts consulting office, demonstration lab, library, and publicity machine. Its content, appearance, and ease of use show your competence as a professional.
Your site paints a powerful portrait of your visual identity by reflecting your style and how you choose to present yourself. It also serves as a showroom from which you can exhibit your wares. Your Web site gives you a platform from which to tell your story, describe your mission, list your clients, and distribute information. It also provides you with visibility both in and out of your industry.
Leading firms create a repository on their Web sites for their intellectual assets -- articles, papers, proposals, studies, surveys, and reports -- which prospective clients can examine. These materials help visitors understand how the consultants think and how they tackle problems.
Ten Characteristics of a Killer Consulting Web Site
1. Show Legitimacy as a Business. You will build credibility with visitors by including simple items on your site like the physical address of your business and photographs of your offices, or by listing membership in professional and industry associations. Include contact information on each page.
2. Update Content Frequently. Some consultants fail to maintain their sites' content, resulting in sites full of stale information. Web visitors assign more credibility to sites that are current, or at least demonstrate that they have been recently reviewed.
3. Encourage Action. On each page of your site, find a way for visitors to interact with you, whether it's to sign up for a newsletter, request a special report, link to another page on your site, or send you an e-mail. Your site should engage visitors, not just let them "click and go."
4. Exchange Value for Time. Web site visitors, particularly those looking for consultants, will gladly exchange their time for value and insight. Provide relevant, valuable, and usable content, and prospective clients may put you on their shortlist. Consider using interactive diagnostic tools that help clients measure the impact of issues they're facing.
5. Rapid Response. If you receive an e-mail inquiry from a visitor, follow up immediately, no matter how busy you are. That e-mail inquiry about your services will not improve with age; don't let it get moldy in your e-mailbox. And drop the canned autoresponder. Automated responses don't get you any closer to the client.
6. Simplicity. Create your site for clients, not for the artist within you. Make the design of the site simple, intuitive to use and easy to read. Provide lots of white space on pages because visitors tend to skim pages, not read every detail. And stick to a simple, eye-pleasing palette. Your layout should be logical. Navigation buttons and features like newsletter sign-up boxes should be in the same place on all pages. Make it easy to download material by providing explicit instructions.
7. Speed Doesn't Kill. Make sure each page and link loads quickly, no matter what type of browser or machine a visitor uses. Don't assume that all visitors are using high-speed connections when they access your site. Visitors will leave your site in a heartbeat if your pages load too slowly.
8. Pass the Acid Test. Before you launch a new or revised site, ask clients and colleagues to thoroughly test every element of the site. Ask them to answer questions such as: Is the site easy to use? Does it provide useful information? Would the site prompt you to contact the consultant?
9. Accountability for Ongoing Site Quality. Some consultants create Web sites just because "we need a site," but then let them languish. Since it's an integral part of your external marketing program, don't let your site die on the vine. Assign accountability for its long-term value to a specific person or group, so you will reap the full benefits of the Web.
10. Go Easy on Data Collection. On some consultants' sites, visitors are asked to give up pages of personal information before they can receive a simple white paper. Keep it to a minimum. Ask only for their e-mail addresses, and then send them the information they requested. If they find value in your material, they'll call you.
Remember that guerrilla clients demand more. They want professional sites that give them solid information about who you are, what you do, how you think, and most importantly, how you can benefit them. Providing anything less will eliminate you from their list of candidates for their consulting projects.
Jay Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin
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