One way to do that is through standing out as offering something extra.
However, that can be hard when your practice is a commodity – a function that many of your competitors can also perform. The client is likely commissioning your work just because they have to – maybe to comply with a regulation, or the expectations of due diligence.
So how do you cement strong relations with your clients, so that they are willing to give you “preferred” status for commodity-type work – and maybe even pay more?
You can do this through what I call “Bring me in early” content. It’s one of several themes for content I’ve presented in this newsletter – another one being “Review” content in which you provide your opinion on a product your clients might use, in post #10.
To understand how you can benefit from creating “Bring me in early” content, consider a noise engineer I’ll call “Pablo,” with whom I worked with a few years ago. Pablo deals with how noise is created and transmitted – with the usual purpose being finding ways to stop noise from being created, and then if necessary, stopping it from being transmitted.
He works mostly with residential condo tower developers. One of the issues of living in a condo tower is that they can be noisy – the neighbors’ conversations, the noise from their wall-mounted speakers, or the persistent thump of a rowing machine. Or it could be noises from the elevator, from the ventilation system, or traffic.
In Pablo’s part of the world (and mine), the Canadian province of Ontario, the provincial home warranty system had recently added “noise” to the list of complaints for which new condo owners could file a complaint. If the unit is noisy, the owners have recourse through the warranty system.
Pablo works for the property owners, doing inspections of the work in process to be sure that the builders are not taking short cuts that might increase noise transmission, such as not fitting the drywall right down to the floor, leaving a gap for noise to be carried from one unit to its neighbor. Then when construction is completed, Pablo tests how much noise actually transmits between units.
It’s very much a commodity practice in that condo builders need to engage someone like Pablo to comply with the home warranty program – but it’s important to note that any Pablo-like substitute will do. As long as the engineer is qualified and does the right work, that meets the developer’s obligations. So why should they not go for the cheapest “Pablo” they can find?
I found the answer in a conversation with Pablo. He said that one of his frustrations is being seen as a box to be checked – “Yes, we’ve had the noise study completed,” when there is so much more he could offer.
Specifically, he says, many of the buildings he works on have design errors that cause noise issues to be, well, amplified. This can come from not specifying enough space between walls or floors to insert noise-damping materials. Or, it might be setting an installation that generates noise – such as an emergency power generator on the roof – directly above residential units.
Pablo’s point was that if building developers brought him into the process early, at the design stage, he could point out potential noise problems. This meant that changes could be made on the computer screen at no cost, rather than literally in concrete when changes are very expensive.
So, I worked with Pablo on an article on the theme of “how to get good results from a noise engineer” written for the condo development market (see blog post #56 for more on how to prepare “how to work with” content). We were able to get this published in a niche publication read by condo developers and managers.
How to develop “bring us in early” content
This is important because if you’re involved early, you can increase your billings, find opportunities to add value, and further cement your relationship with the client. They’ll see you as a cut above the typical service provider. This helps you stand aside from the “race to the bottom” regarding the fees you can charge.
Here’s how you can develop content to show clients the value of you being brought into projects early in their cycle.
1. Get a clear idea of the kinds of people you want to serve (I dealt with the question of how to build an “avatar” (an image of your ideal client) in Post #5).
2. Start the content-creation process by thinking about the problems being faced by your client that either (1) occur early in the project, or (2) have their roots early in the project (like, too-thin separations between walls or ceiling/floors in a residential high-rise) and show up later.
3. Determine if you can help solve these early-stage problems, maybe through taking a look through the drawings or the initial plans to pick out red flags indicating potential problem areas
4. Prepare an “advice” article or other content that demonstrates from the client’s point of view, the value of bringing in someone like you, early in the process, more on a consultancy basis, compared to a check-the-box business relationship.
Remember to think of it not from your own viewpoint, as in, “Here’s why I want into your project early,” but rather, “Here are the problems you may be setting yourself up for, which I can help you avoid, if you bring me into your projects earlier in the cycle.”
Done right, this type of content shows you to be someone who thinks from the client’s viewpoint and business perspective. This helps you stand aside from that race to the bottom regarding the fees you can charge. They’ll see you as a cut above the typical service provider. As a result, you can increase your billings, find opportunities to add value, and further cement your relationship with your client.