I’ve always done it this way. I’ve had the same website since 1997. That’s all I have to do, right?

That’s the attitude you see from professional services firms who either resist digital marketing — or who just don’t think it matters very much.

But in case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed.

If somebody needs a lawyer, doctor, accountant, or other service provider, what do they do first?

Why, they Google it, of course!

They get Facebook recommendations. Peruse customer reviews, videos, and articles to help them make a smart decision.

Even if they’ve already heard of you, they’re still going to check you out online before making contact — just to see if you’re “legit.”

A full 81% of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase, and 90% of all purchase decisions are influenced by online experiences.

The only way to Thrive — and not Just Survive — as a service firm in this environment is to make the right impression online. Here are five keys to making friends with digital marketing.

#1: Create a Digital-First Culture

Across professional service industries, there are things that every business has to pay attention to — such as customer service, controlling costs, and maintenance.

It’s time to add digital marketing strategy to your list of “have-to’s.” It must be a priority, not an afterthought.

  • Adopt a digital-first mindset. Sure, some customers will still want to communicate with service professionals by phone or in person. But most will reach out through digital methods — such as email, texting, or online forms.
  • Digital-first starts at the top. One of the habits of Great Leaders is a focus on the future. If leadership doesn’t embrace digital, how do you expect to gain buy-in?
  • Determine the role of digital marketing. How will it add value to your service? Help you achieve lead generation and other goals?
  • Recognize the digital marketing aspect to other activities. For example, digital is your #1 way to let folks know about a new service. It’ll also help you find the right person to add to your team — and help them find you!

But, Neal! I don’t have time to fiddle with my website all day! I’ve got to do my job!

And you’re exactly right — you’re just one person, and there are many more jobs to do than one person can handle. And that brings me to my second key to digital marketing success:

#2: Get the Right People on Board

You may be the best lawyer in town. You bend over backwards to help your clients get the justice they deserve.

But if your car breaks down, you don’t fix it yourself, do you? Of course not. You take it to the best mechanic you can afford.

So if you have little to no digital marketing experience, why not take the same approach?

Remember that no one — not even the boss — has all the answers. It’s okay if you’re not a tech nerd, the same way it’s okay if you don’t know how to do an oil change. The important thing is finding the right people who do know.

#3: Add Value with Your Digital Marketing Plan

Whether you’re representing clients in court, doing their taxes, or fixing their teeth — you want them to feel good about doing business with you. In other words, you want to provide value.

Starting today, treat your digital marketing strategy as an extension of the service you already provide. Just like you create value for your clients, make sure you’re offering a valuable experience when they encounter you online.

Build your digital marketing plan with prospects and clients in mind. Your content should answer their questions, solve their problems, entertain them, or whatever is important to them. Position yourself as their resident expert on your subject matter.

People should be just as impressed with your website, newsletter, blog, and social media updates as they are with your service.

#4: Be in It for the Long Haul

A lot of professional services are infrequent purchases for clients. Think about it — you don’t hire that mechanic just for the heck of it because you like them — you only hire them when you need your car fixed.

That’s why professional services marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Use digital marketing to build your reputation over time, so that when folks do need your service, you’ll be the one they reach out to — instead of the competition.

#5: Get Started and Stick with It

If you’re ready to get down to the nuts and bolts of your digital marketing plan, here are some key activities to get you started.

  • Determine your objectives. What does your organization need to accomplish? How will digital marketing help you meet those objectives? What is the synergy between digital and other activities — like sales and service?
  • Define your audience. Who needs your service? What are their questions and concerns? What do they already know about you? All of your content should be geared towards meeting their needs.
  • Implement your strategy. Think of your website as the hub of your web presence, and other digital marketing tools as the spokes. That includes search engines, social media, email marketing, online advertising, and more. Here are some other things to consider:
  • Does your website design look good on mobile phones and tablets? More people are accessing the Internet this way than on desktop computers. If you want to win new customers, you’d better impress with mobile marketing.
  • Are you optimized for search engines and online directories? How easy is it for people to get in touch with you? Find a map to your physical location?
  • Can people find you on social media? Do you have a professional-looking profile page with useful updates that show off your expertise?
  • Satisfied customers are your best endorsers. Are you encouraging them to post reviews online? Google, Facebook, and many other websites allow customer reviews — which helps you attract more prospects.
  • Is your content entertaining, and/or engaging to prospects? It is accurate, up-to-date, and easy to understand? You can use text, images, audio, video, or a combination of these elements to convey your message.
  • When folks request an appointment or subscribe to your newsletter, do they actually hear from you promptly?
  • Track and use your results on a regular basis. Unlike traditional marketing campaigns of the past, you don’t just set it and forget it until next year. Digital marketing gives you the flexibility to learn as you go, adapt your strategy, and adjust your tactics accordingly — on a regular basis.

The moral of the story is this: if you want to provide value and win new prospects in your professional service industry, you’ve got to “go digital.”

If you’ll use the Five Keys in this article, you’ll be on your way to Thriving — and not Just Surviving — with digital marketing.