Marketing a service doesn’t work in the same way as marketing a physical product. You’re (probably) not selling something shiny or glamorous, and it’s definitely harder to show your audience what it is you’re offering them. On top of that, if you’re selling to businesses rather than consumers, their priorities and risk appetite aren’t the same.

Your marketing strategy needs to be a little different to a conventional, product-based brand to reflect these factors. There are four things you can and should keep in mind when deciding on your plans. The most important thing to remember is that you can and should change these up over time. Keep reviewing and recording how they're performing to inform your next move and get the best results for your business. Here’s where to start.

step 1: work out what sets you apart

Every entrepreneur is passionate about their business. It’s their baby, their big idea that they’re nurtured and brought to life. You know why you started your business and what’s amazing about it. And that’s the foundation block for marketing anything – knowing what makes you unique. This should drive your messaging, whatever channels or ads you’re using, and mark you out from your competitors. Being clear internally about what your USP is will make your marketing clearer, more compelling and, crucially, convincing.

If you don’t have the time or people to do this then think carefully about what you do need to improve your marketing. Bringing in an agency or new team member to help deal with the planning and maintenance may help you in the long run. Of course, the associated costs might seem out of reach. But if you crack your marketing strategy then the quality of customers you can target will improve. If cash flow is your main stumbling block here then think about the funding options available to you. With a flex loan up to £100k, you can dip in and out of your pre-agreed limit as needed to pay for exactly this kind of operational cost.

But marketing a service goes beyond this. Make sure you also understand what your full value is. That’s not just how innovative or helpful your service is, or even the price. Value is also about the speed you can deliver at, the extra expertise or advice you have to offer and the kind of customer care you provide. It’s these add ons that can mark out a great company from a sea of others.

On that note, you also want to stay up to date with what your competitors are doing. With more marketing channels than ever before, make sure you have an eye on what they’re putting out. Keep tabs on their social media, Google ads, emails and their website. Analysing their offering and how they communicate it will help you work out how to improve yours.

step 2: get to grips with SEO

If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for ‘search engine optimisation’. Put simply, Google’s algorithm decides what order to show search results in. So the better your SEO, the higher up you’ll be on Google for a particular search term. As the name suggests, a search term is the word or phrase that people type into Google. "Recruitment agencies near me" or "logistics companies London" for example. When you take the time to prioritise this, you’re easier to find for potential customers and will hopefully see more interest in your service.

Your strategy to improve SEO will focus on a few areas. In part it’s about how your website is structured and how each page is tagged. Do your research and focus on the keywords that your target audience is searching for when they’re looking for the kind of service you offer. Make sure you include these in your SEO titles and tags to get in front of eyeballs.

The other thing that boosts SEO is the content on your website. Well-written and carefully crafted content that also uses your target keywords will help bring you closer to the top of Google’s list. Your content strategy should take into account the kinds of things people are likely to search. So create webpages and blog posts that directly answer these questions. They could be in the title or simply within the content on a particular page.

SEO isn’t something that you can improve once and hope for the best. It’s part of your ongoing strategy, especially when it comes to creating online content. The more you nurture it, the stronger your results will be. Compared to spending on digital advertising through Google or Facebook ads, it’s very low-cost to acquire high-quality leads. It just takes time and good research.

Step 3: build a community people want to be a part of

When you’re selling a service, it’s more helpful for you to show people what you can do, rather than just telling them. Feature your past projects and the kind of outcomes you achieve. Give people the data they need to trust your promises. Testimonials, comments on social media and reviews are a really powerful asset in your marketing.

Review sites like Trustpilot and Checkatrade exist to help consumers decide which businesses to spend their money with. Part of your marketing strategy should be asking customers to leave reviews for others to read. Creating email campaigns that prompt this is a quick and simple way to boost your score and add to people’s confidence in your services.

You can also post these reviews to your website and social media channels to create a sense of community. People trust real and honest reviews, so make the most of a job well done by getting great feedback and sharing it. You can take this further by interviewing your customers and writing up that conversation or recording it as a video. That one interview could then be chopped up into different content formats. For example, you could share quotes from the conversation on social media or use them on your homepage.

You could also consider a referral scheme to help build word of mouth. Incentivise your customers to tell their network about their experience. If your service is ongoing, you could offer a discounted fee or cashback. Whatever you can do to get your customers to spread the word is a great strategy to build organic growth.

Step 4: create an end-to-end customer experience

Good customer service is something that will set you apart. If you want to showcase the value you can bring to a client, especially if you ask them to leave reviews, this needs to be a priority. Beyond review sites, positive experiences will build your reputation in different networks without you spending a penny on advertising.

If your service is ongoing, or your customers have more opportunities to come to you, then you need to keep them loyal. If you work with them regularly then you need to make sure your team lets them feel loved. Check in often and keep them up to date with your changes to essentially ‘remarket’ yourself.

What we’re talking about really is customer retention, but you can think of this kind of marketing as ‘aftercare’. Keeping in touch with customers is a simple way to remain relevant in their minds. Depending on your business, this could be through emails, phone calls or even in the post. The most important thing is that you don’t go silent, while also avoiding filling up their inbox every day. Balance is key.

Successfully marketing your services starts now

Clear messaging and experiences worth writing home about are the building blocks of strong marketing when it comes to business services. If you prioritise the care each customer has and incentivise them to share testimonials you’ll be well positioned amongst your competitors. Beyond this, optimising your website and how easy it is for potential customers to find you will seal the deal.