While many product retailers and wholesalers offer ancilliary services (e.g., repairs, training, installation), it is the professionals such as lawyers, accountants and consultants who we wish to address. Many professional firms consider the Web to be little more than an online brochure.
Sadly, these firms are missing an opportunity to not only attract new business, but solidify existing relationships by providing 24/7 services such as Frequently-Asked-Questions, a client discussion forum, online bill paying, requests for services, etc. Imagine extending your services around the clock without having to hire additional office staff.
Where the retailer/wholesaler relies on products to populate their Web site, to attract customers, the service provide must rely more on information. As a professional, you are providing potential and existing customers with by-products of your expertise: useful information or functionality.
Every professional firm has different goals and resources at hand. As you analyze your offerings, you need to find those items which can help set you apart from the online competition. Use your expertise to construct Web “tools” that are not only helpful and informative, but serve to demonstrate your competencies.
Begin by writing down (or using the “Notes” tool here) your brainstormed ideas. Visit competitor sites. Best of all, put yourself in your clients’ shoes: if you were looking for a professional with your abilities, what would you like to see or use that would ultimately convince you, as a potential client, that your firm is the best choice? As an existing client what could your firm provide to deepen the firm-client relationship?
Not intended as a full list of ideas, the following are possibilities for your consideration:
- Forum. Host an on-line discussion of subjects related to your profession.
- On-line Bill Pay. If you send out invoices to your customers, give them the ability to pay by credit card.
- Downloadable Reports. Offer free reports or guides (much like our “10 Keys to E-commerce Success”) as a lead generator.
- “Clients Only” Section. Password protected area where you can allow clients to upload documents to you, and you can share documents with them.
- Blog. Blogs are everywhere. Smart, intelligent blogs, much less so.
To goal is to differentiate your firm from your competitors. Since you’re most likely not competing on price, you are competing on service, quality and professionalism. Today’s clients are using technology more, and will usually appreciate those professionals who can use technology to make the client relationship more productive. Don’t use technology for technology’s sake: use it where it will provide benefit to your clients.
One last note: whatever features you offer on your site must be maintained by you or your staff. No one will find value in a blog who’s last entry was 13 months ago, or a forum in which questions go unanswered.