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It can be easy to think that marketing strategies and reports are the domain of large, glossy firms with marketing teams. The thing is, when you’re fighting daily fires and looking after one too many clients, the thought of doing marketing or business development can tip you over the edge. You’re busy doing the day job… why would you want to generate even more clients? The problem is, deep down, you know why. You have to do the marketing in the busy periods so that the quiet periods don’t happen. And there’s a limit to the amount you can rely on word-of-mouth and the reputations of one or two partners. Ultimately it comes down to – at best – pace of growth or – at worst – keeping on top of cashflow. So, how should smaller firms go about their marketing and business development?

There are three, simple steps to marketing success.

Know what you want, where you are and what’s going to stop you from getting there

The very first step we recommend is that you decide what success looks like. What do you want to achieve and by when? How will you know you’ve achieved it? This is your goal-setting process. We like to work on the basis of outcome goals and process goals. We’ll explain…

  • An outcome goal is the vision you have for the future. Perhaps three years’ time. In three years we will be turning over £x. 
  • Process goals are the things you need to achieve to be successful with your outcome goal. Our work in x sector will need to increase by 10% every year for the next three years. In the next 12 months we will need to have taken on three further fee-earners. Over the next quarter we need to have launched a series of seminars targeting x sector. The theory is that if you achieve every process goal you should, by default (and if your planning is right), achieve your outcome goal.

Next, you need to understand what you’re doing at the moment. What are you doing well and not so well? You need to consider everything – not just your marketing activity but your processes and reporting, your accountability and resources, as well as feedback from clients, lost jobs (that’s people that have enquired but that you haven’t converted to clients), staff and other interested parties. You might also want to consider the wider marketplace and competitors as well as opportunities and risks.

Finally, you’ll need to wrap these two elements up together to work out the key things are that are going to stop you from achieving your goals. This will set out your action plan for the future. When we’re doing our marketing & business development audit we like to produce a report that shows the major barriers to success in red, the minor concerns in amber and the things already good in green. This way you get a priority list for action.

A practical action plan

Once you’ve worked out what you want to achieve and what needs doing, you have to schedule everything and establish a practical plan of action. We’re big fans of tables, here at ELE Global. The first table is your ‘at a glance’ and sets out:

  • the different areas of focus (for example, brand, reporting, data, PR, marketing, client care)
  • headline tasks required within each area
  • deadlines for each task or area of focus
  • KPI (key performance indicators) for each task – ie. how will you know you’ve succeeded

The next table is your weekly or monthly action plan (whichever works best for you). This has the weeks/months down one side, then each required task, who is responsible and finally a column for any notes and regular progress updates. This is a working document. It gets used not only as the action plan but the progress report too.

You’re not alone

So, by this point you have your goals, you know what you’re good/bad at and you know what you’re planning to do. That, quite frankly, is the easy part. The hard part is getting it done… and keeping on getting it done. This is where 90% of smaller firms fall down. The documents get left on the shelf and the to-do list drags and drags. That’s where making sure you’re not alone comes in. The third stage we always recommend is some form of third-party mentoring or coaching. Someone outside of the business that can meet you regularly and hold you to account… make sure you’re delivering on what you say you’re going to do. Importantly, they can also challenge you – along the way – to make sure your original plans are still true and sensible. There’s no shame in changing your plans if they’re proven to be flawed.

We recommend a monthly meeting for two hours. A week prior to this you update your action plan and circulate it, along with whatever reporting supports your work. This might be social media, email marketing or website stats, an event report, PR clippings, new enquiry lists or even financial reports. The important thing is not WHAT you’re reporting but that you ARE.

The final note is to say that getting started is the hardest part. When you’re looking at a blank piece of paper it can feel impossible to start on the process we’ve outlined above. This is where the third-party can really help. Spending half a day away from the office, led by them, can be a great way of kicking off that initial goal-setting process, as well as the review of your work to date.


For more information about our services for smaller firms click here. These include our fixed fee marketing & business development audits, marketing strategy and plan and mentoring sessions.