Expert: How to strategically plan your reputation.

It's powerful.  You've built your professional career on it.  But somehow practicing in that area of expertise isn't enough.  Other firms with less experience in your project type continue to be invited to compete in spite of your knowledge and clear expertise.  Their success can be disturbing to you.  What are your competitors doing? What are you doing? Or, perhaps what are you NOT doing, that may serve to position you and your firm as experts in the clients mind?

Certainly peer acknowledgment is wonderful - comrades and co-workers who recognize and respect your knowledge.  But comrades and co-workers aren't signing your contracts or writing checks to the firm.  Earlier this year I penned an article titled "The Cloak of Invisibility: Hiding in plain sight."  about individual professionals in a firm and what they can do to propel their career.  But this is a larger issue, certainly more of a principals issue but a firm issue as well.  The list is not that long and most professionals do a few, some do all:

Enhance your Marketing elements and use.  Based on a solid foundation of knowing your expertise and target clients, provide insight to your knowledge by:

  1. Send images and stories via email and even snail mail that speak to how a project solved a clients or user problem.  All projects have stories - tell yours.
  2. Start using your website as a communication device by directing social media stories, publications and articles to your website.  Cross traffic works.
  3. Elevate your presence and key principals expertise through articles on solutions, and case study comparisons that discuss trends or new developments and how your firm distinguishes their projects with solid research and knowledge.
  4. Publish your own work and make available to former, current and prospective clients.
  5. Speak at client, association and organization events on the topic you knowwell.  Speaking is easier when you speak from a position of strength.

Strengthen your Business Development.  Ultimately clients buy from people.  Face to face is your ace-in-the-hole and here's how to play the card:

  1. Shorten time between visits with former clients.  They liked you enough to hire you before, so maintain the relationship and avoid competing for work you already won once.
  2. Take time to deepen your relationship with current clients, do more for the same client and study their plans for growth and expansion in other cities or states.  Let them know that you know their plans and can help.  This is relationship marketing versus transactional marketing at it's finest.
  3. Cross sell your other firm services to existing clients by connecting the dots in a holistic solution.
  4. Hang out where your prospective clients gather.  Join and participate in their associations, organizations and even their charities.  It's good for the community and good for everyone.  Sponsor and speak at their luncheons. 
  5. Play your "hole card" by becoming visible.  You are the ace-in-the-hole.  There's no one like you.

Where many firms fail is that they wait until they need work to start this process. Needless to say, it's best applied when things are busy and the firm is humming. The other typical failure is what's called the big push. Firms start the process, push hard to get the ball rolling, but too quickly let their foot off the gas and lose momentum.  These programs are not instant.  Don't expect contracts to immediately fly into the window, however steady consistent application of these ideas, over a 10-12 month time frame can completely improve, alter or re-direct public opinion about you and your firm.  Build a habit.  I favor programs that can be simply run and are easy to maintain because they are foundational and likely to be kept going than more complex and involved programs.

If this is just too much to think about and the energy to begin the simplest program is simply not there, consider hiring a consultant to organize, write, and execute the effort.  If you want to hear more, give me a call.  I'd enjoy discussing  a strategy idea over coffee.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at