Business Strategies for Licensed Professionals

When an outside expert can help

The consulting industry in the United States generates more than $150 billion in revenue a year, according to the website The number of independent operators is steadily rising and most consulting firms are solo enterprises.

Among those more than 700,000 consultants in the U.S., Steve Mayer, PhD, PE (professional engineer) — and owner/principal of SF Mayer LLC — is likely one of the few who use poems to help set him apart. Writing poetry is one of his creative outlets. And he says it enlightens his consultant work as a specialist with a niche serving design firms, construction and engineering companies, financial services firms and investment banking.

“When I write poetry, it helps me have an empathetic look at businesses,” Mayer recently told Advisors Magazine. “There are plenty of Excel jockeys; you can get a teenager to run your numbers,” he explained. “But the numbers don’t deal with the emotional IQ and emotional intelligence. And I work hard at blending that emotional intelligence side with the hard analytics side.”

Mayer is also a college professor and leadership educator who relishes sharing his knowledge about winning more work. As a licensed engineer who was general manager for Buffalo, New York’s Peace Bridge for over 10 years, he recalled seeing so many business proposals and presentations that were numbers-heavy.

“Such proposals might boast ‘we have 300 engineers,’ to which I would always say, ‘so what?’,” Mayer added, noting that in crowded, competitive markets there is always a firm somewhere that can top another’s numbers.

headshot logo“So, the question is how do we really capture that emotional, or the soft side of a client’s interest in demonstrating what’s really important,” Mayer said. “From a client perspective, what’s really going on here that your service or product is going to bring to me to enrich my life, my business.”

Presentation coaching is a big area for Mayer. He sees himself as a movie director of mock presentations — often good-sized productions with graphics, simulations and augmented reality scenes — to help clients hone their skills.

“Even with the best proposal in the world, the client needs to see you,” Mayer said. “You want them thinking, ‘I want to work with her, or I want to work with him. And without that, it’s tough to win work.”

And winning work, increasing profitability and building lasting relationships are the hallmarks of Mayer’s consulting practice.

Such tenets are also at the core of his classroom work as an adjunct professor with the MBA program at western New York’s Niagara University. Recently, he was asked to develop a new course that he’ll begin teaching in April. It’s called Marketing for Professional Services.

“It’s for firms that do financial planning, engineering and architecture, maybe even law firms,” Mayer said. “So many of our graduates go into accounting, finance—those types of disciplines—and they’re going to find themselves working in firms, helping to grow the business.”

The Marketing for Professional Services curriculum, inspired by Mayer’s consulting, applies to all licensed business activities — from CFPs to professional engineers, and even doctors, lawyers and CPAs.

As part of the course, Mayer will initially set the groundwork on the importance of professional services to the economy. He will then show how firms are positioning themselves. Most professions are very crowded fields, so the challenge is around how a company stands out.

“I have a fun little exercise,” Mayer remarked. “I take firms through a visioning exercise; and I have to be honest, I used to be negative on vision statements,” he continued. “Until I realized that preparing them is what’s most powerful. That’s because it forces you to distill the essence of what you’re all about.”

mayerbeachAfter determining what a firm is really about, there’s a look at some of the major factors that can lead to success. There are many, but Mayer — echoing his PhD research work — points to main ones like reputation and relationship management, which fuel growth at professional service firms. Also vital are the people a firm has on point; for example, a top financial advisor at a wealth management firm, a project manager at an engineering/construction company, or a top personal-injury attorney.

“So, then we explore how to promote these,” Mayer said, which delves into the sales and proposal process. All along the way, Mayer has fused his professional and academic activities.

A case in point: when proposals are written, Mayer has red teams — groups of students or a client’s team — that review documents with critical eyes. “They must ask: So what? What’s the point you’re trying to make here?” he explained. “So, this approach hones the very best sales offering, the very best proposal that you can provide to the client.”
Through his years of experience, Mayer has encountered some common problems that can hold back businesses. One is people letting their egos get in the way. Another is companies wanting to pursue every sales lead, when they should do a better job of selectively matching their own strengths to qualified business or projects.

Another mistake is not spending enough time to build relationships in the community, with zero emphasis on selling. Non-work-related activities with the Boy Scouts, a local house of worship or food pantry, can go a long way.
“It’s here where the professional service provider can become known as a great person with an ethical reputation and most importantly, somebody to trust,” Mayer summarized.

For more information, visit:

And his latest book, Exploring Life One Poem at a Time, is available on Amazon.



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