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Scarlett Letter #142: Be specific on what your firm is NOT.

What is your firm about? What do you do? Tell us about your company. 

We are constantly communicating about what our firm does. It’s woven within firm descriptions, networking pitches, fee proposals, introductory prospective client meetings, online profiles, …you name it.

Yet, how often are we willing to share what our firm is not? Firms within the design and construction industry have a tendency to pursue more projects than they should (sans a rigorous go-no go process); claim a broader array of services than they currently offer (“we’ll find a sub-consultant to take care of that”); and identify a broader market reach than they truly have experience with (exaggerating transferrable experiences and solutions).

In other words, sometimes AEC firms appear to experience an identity crisis—striving to be all things to all people.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly firms with a crystal clear identity: who they are, why they are in business, how they help people, and why their services are truly needed. These are the firms that we should be modeling.

But for the rest of us, let’s be honest about what we do and do not offer. Here’s a few ways that Scarlett Consulting does it, and it’s what I recommend to my clients:

1. List out services that are not offered, highlighting that we’d be glad to make a referral or include an outside expert as a part of our team. This is especially helpful in written form. Example: last week a prospective client contacted us with their detailed, specific needs. It was obvious to me that what we offer was not in full alignment with what they sought. By bringing clarity in the response email, we were able to cut to the chase and come to an agreement about moving forward (or not).

2. Prepare one-page of fast facts, which is especially useful during prospective client meetings. This document simply describes key aspects of a firm, with a one-liner describing why it’s valuable to the client. At the bottom, include the ‘Here’s what we’re not’ category.

3. Practice saying “what we are not” aloud.  To ensure that you are putting a positive twist on the fact that your firm cannot be all things to all people, try elaborating aloud. Then add:

A. Your willingness to make a referral/recommendation for an outside service; or

B. How you’ll included an expert on your team to handle that special service; or

C. Your business rationale for why you don’t offer those services or cater to a specific market/project type; or

D. Your honest admission that you are interesting in growing that area of your business.

Believe me, by knowing—and expressing—your firm’s real identity, you will be doing everyone a favor. You’ll save precious time, and it’s likely that you will make a favorable impression as a trustworthy, honest business professional.

Tags: Anne Scarlett A/E Marketing, design and construction marketing, linkedin, Scarlett Consulting AEC business development

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April 25, 2012

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