2020 is the Year of Serving Digitally, yet how to succeed with a digital business isn’t straightforward. Many consulting professionals and other ‘service’ providers have not made the jump to delivering our expertise online. What’s holding back change?

What’s happened through 2020, globally, has been a game changer in so many ways. It has changed the way people interact with each other. Huge shifts are plain to see on TV and social media networks in how we meet, how we communicate, where we shop, where we socialise, and accordingly, how we do business.

As business owners and professionals, it’s time for all of us to make a (late) New Year’s Resolution:  2020 is the year we take digital transformation seriously!  It’s time for the entrepreneur in us to rise up and let the world know that we’re willing to serve in new, more empowering ways.

Let’s embrace the important work we can still do in virtual spaces: from internet marketing to e-learning, from digital books to FB groups. No more stuffy office meetings when you can have fun Zoom meetups.

Digital services have been around for decades; in 2020, we’re on a resurgence – one that’s here to stay.

Why change is difficult

Most consultants and coaches in practice today are already well networked online. We’re fairly used to the occasional online conference call and certainly email communications abound. Many of us are ahead of the curve and have created a business website, social media profiles and maybe even an opt-in offer for list building. Yet few have made the jump to delivering our expertise online. Maybe it’s because digital approaches seem to need too much change; or maybe there are tech hurdles we don’t feel equipped to handle. Or is it a mindset thing?

Certainly, those who are surviving the dramatic turn of events since early 2020 are doing so because they’re willing to take action. We are on the forefront of a great business swing towards the digital models that are now sweeping the world. And in the digital arena, imperfect action is better than spinning your wheels. Those creating virtual equivalents of existing consulting services, coaching programmes, such as group programmes and online courses – they are thriving!

It’s time to educate ourselves fully into the power of leverage to put our expertise to work in the socially distanced world, to serve in new and different ways, and to reap the rewards of becoming a digital CEO in our professional services business.

If you think you’d be an early adopter in this endeavour, think again. There are numerous books in the business/ finance and self-help genres that purport to digital as the way forward. And there are numerous people who are changing tack with great success – reinventing their approaches, reframing old offers and reigniting demand in the marketplace.


What makes digital different


Back in 2014 – and yes that’s SIX years ago – I read a Forbes article that highlighted the irony in old thinking. How to succeed with a digital business is not all about becoming more technological, it’s about becoming more human.

In fact, Peter Drucker famously said that a business has only two functions: innovation and marketing.  What he meant was that successful businesses create great products and sell them effectively. Everything else is secondary. And I’d add that when you focus on customer experience rather than product features, you’ll see a dramatic change in engagement.

That led me to learning more and more about human behaviour and the psychology of buying (why people buy and why they don’t buy). It’s the emotional triggers that people engage with in your marketing messages and sales pages.

But we still have a lot of work to do to convince the world that online programmes and products can be as good as, if not better than, face-to-face services. Professional practice can be very rooted in tradition. Yet digital engagement often generates a more profitable and fulfilling practice. You get to work with clients in a deeper way, spending more time interacting person to person than travelling from place to place.

Whether you are an experienced or new digital service provider, I’m sure you’ve heard a few scathing remarks of colleagues and well-meaning friends and family saying “Oh you’ll never been taken seriously” or “Everyone knows face-to-face is best” or “ You’ll never make much money selling digital stuff”. (And then your well-meaning friend tells you about the fantastic new ‘biz opp’ that is guaranteed to work, and all you need to do is get three other people on board, or invest in this ‘little-known’ scheme, or some other baloney.)

Because of all of the push-back, many digital entrepreneurs are hesitant to share their plans with anyone. Some people even allow themselves to be talked out of making the move, and start looking for a job instead. It can be really hard to stand up for what you believe in the face of naysayers especially if you’re not too sure of what you need to do. That stops today!

I promise you this:  it’s a lot easier to succeed with a digital services business if you can do so openly, and when you don’t feel like you need to hide it from others.

Start with small steps.


How Small Steps Move You Forward


The important first step is to educate yourself on the benefits of more leveraged models of business that are made possible with digital technologies. (Because if you have any nagging doubts, you won’t be able to defend the practice or follow the path to success.)

Read, read, and read some more, until you are confident. Well, you don’t just need to read, you can watch videos, listen to podcasts, attend webinar trainings. The information is out there. And there are common ideas even if the message is delivered in different ways.

Of course, I think you should read Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age: How to Build and Grow a Successful Service Business in an Increasingly Competitive Marketplaceand also encourage your business acquaintances to read it. But there are many other sources of information that can teach you about digital entrepreneurship and digital marketing. Even if most are not focused solely on the consulting profession, many of the principles will be beneficial and guide your thinking.

What’s missing in most information out there, and in my view what most people actually need, is the holistic thinking, call it strategy or systems thinking if you like. I talk often about developing your own “roadmap” for how to succeed with a digital services business, starting with a compass that fits your vision of success – what success means to you.

Because there are many different ways you can ‘go digital’. It’s not just about info products or webinars or even that online course creation is the way to go. Yesterday, a membership was the “best thing” (since sliced bread), now it’s FB challenges – overwhelming isn’t it?!!


Start from Where You Are

Now you’re educated on the opportunities and starting to get how to succeed with a digital services business, or some aspects of it.

Next step is to work out where you are right now in terms of promoting a clear message to the digital world, in terms of operating processes, in terms of a sustainable, scalable business.

Think about digital services across the entire end-to-end customer experience – how you can engage, educate and enrol people who need your help and expertise.

The reason why most consulting professionals and small firms fail to succeed with a digital business isn’t a lack of technology investment or even a lack of commitment. It’s actually down to an unwillingness – or at best an unappreciated blind spot – to adapt core business practices to the digital world.

Alongside this is that in the service industries, organisations tend to look at internal processes and attempt to transform too much at once. Those that succeed have looked more to external needs in the market place and made small incremental changes. (McKinsey has a great summary of success factors in digital transformation based on their research in companies; much of which is equally applicable to small consulting firms and solo practices.)

My own online programme – my signature “Accelerator” programmeYour Digital Roadmap to Business Success. It teaches service providers how to succeed with a digital business in a way that’s much more about flexibility than a follow-this-blueprint plan.

The reality is that the world as we know it is changing rapidly, and we need to be aligned, targeted and positioned correctly at all times. Hear your audiences’ current challenges; listen to your customers experiences as they engage and work with you… this is what we dive deep into in the programme.

  • Is a digital business aligned to what fires you up, how you want to serve?
  • How is what you’ll provide matching what your market needs from you?
  • Is your brand representative of who you are and how you show up?
  • Does your pricing match customer expectations and represent the value of what you deliver?
  • How are you systematising and scaling your client acquisition process to reach more people?

You’ll get all the detail in my book, seriously it’s a resource I’m so very proud to have put together. Ironically, I think the paperback works better than the Kindle edition. 

Since everyone wants Cliffs’ notes, so I’ll leave you with a quick-fire summary on how to succeed with a digital business especially when launching your first product, programme or service.

#1 Focus on one core problem you help solve

#2 Innovate one element of your operations at a time

#3 Match your message with your market’s pressing issues

#4 Nurture your prospects to gain deeper level understanding

#5 Create a compelling offer that delivers a specific result

#6 Harness the power of online networks to spread the word

#7 Give value for money, always.

I genuinely believe that we owe it to others in the consulting profession (and indeed to those looking to succeed in any expert business) to let them in on our secret.

Because I want as many of us as possible to know and trust how to succeed with a digital services business, so they can experience the benefits of digital approaches to marketing, sales and delivery for themselves. Direct them to this blog post, or to Leveraged Consulting in the Digital Age.

More tips, insights and support on my FB page @iSuccessBusinessAcademy.

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