As originally featured in Forbes on July 9, 2018

The constant question marketing experts hear from professionals is: “What are the steps I should take to build my practice?” Building a practice within a larger organization, or even as a solo practitioner, is not an easy feat, but it is very much like being an entrepreneur. You have to look at the practice as a business and apply the same disciplined thinking you would if you had mortgaged your own home and started to build a brand new one right next door.

A practice is typically built within a professional service firm (such as an accounting, law or consulting firm) and focuses on a specific area. It could be a sector, such as a law firm with a focus on the pharmaceutical industry or a type of work, such as a consulting firm targeting companies with leadership issues. Today, we are seeing more recent developments, such as law firms that specialize in cyber breaches and consulting firms that build strategy practices focusing on fostering innovation.

The answer to building a practice is as complex as the type of business, product offering, personalities and expertise that comprise the situation. A corporate lawyer will have different concerns than a management consultant, and the maturity of the market and type of industry in which the firm is working will also impact the construction of the right plan.

Still, there are five questions I ask when collaborating with a professional on building their own book of business:

1. Have you carefully defined your practice? What exactly differentiates your work from your competitors? Your offerings should involve the one or two things at which you excel. Hint: Jacks of all trades don’t usually get the business, particularly in mature or crowded markets.

2. How well do you know and understand the market? Who are your competitors and do you know everything you can about their practices, including their marketing strategy, their key relationships and the way in which they position themselves? Much of this information is available in public documents but databases from companies such as Thompson and Bloomberg can also be very helpful.

3. Have you looked at your existing clients to understand what matters most to them and what their pain points are? Are there services that you can provide to them that go beyond those in which you are already engaged? If you can’t answer these questions, start spending more time with your clients and consider conducting informal or formal client interviews.

4. Are you learning from others whom you admire? Take a look at other types of market leaders from other industries. Try to understand what it is that they do well in order to gain a larger piece of the pie. There is a lot to learn from other industries. Be creative and think outside of the box.

5. Do you have the skill set to grow a successful business? Very often professionals are great at the technical aspects of their jobs but lack the skills to develop new business. While larger professional service firms may have sales staff, at the majority of firms, it is still the in-the-trenches professional who ends up needing to sell. A great coach can work with you to create a business plan and help with rehearsing and mentoring the professional.

Once you’ve answered these questions and developed a strong understanding of your position in the marketplace and what you want to achieve, you’ll be ready to address the tactics. Gather your building blocks, create a blueprint and build a foundation before picking out the chandeliers.

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