A Comprehensive Guide to Selling Services Online
If you’re selling online, you’ve embraced the future. By 2023, 22% of global sales are expected to be made online, which is an increase of 56% in just five years.
People aren’t just buying physical goods online, either. Today, people purchase all sorts of services online — which is excellent for service sellers like you.
In this guide, I’ll teach you everything you need to know to sell services online successfully — giving you the tools to take your business to the next level through the eight easy steps you can follow to get there.
How to sell your services online
No great journey starts without the first step.
As a service provider, establishing an online presence and maintaining it is critical to your success. Your online presence acts as a digital storefront, making it the first contact customers have with your sales funnel. It needs to act as an introduction to you and your business, telling customers critical things like:
- What services you offer
- How your services work
- What your services cost
- Why customers should choose you
- Who else you have worked with
I know what you’re thinking. But please don’t simply answer these questions and call it a day. It’s not an FAQ page or a checklist. Your customers want results, meaning they want verifiable proof of your skills. Show; never just tell.
You have to put your best foot forward when you plan to sell services online, and the best way to do that is by building an online presence that screams “work with me.” Here’s how to do that.
Step 1. Know your target audience
Your target market is people whose needs align with the services your business offers. With effective marketing, they become your leads and then customers. And your fans, if you’re doing it right!
First, however, you need to understand your target market through social listening. Social listening helps you know the intricacies of your target market in the digital world. How the online market interacts is vastly different from the real world. For example, what are your competitors doing to engage with their customers online? What are the kind of solutions your target market seeks on online channels, and where they go to find it? Social listening will help you answer these questions.
For service-based businesses, you can start listening by doing the following:
- Track keywords relevant to your service and your competitors across various platforms (e.g., social media, forums).
- Dig deep into historical mentions to understand how customer wants have evolved.
- Track the number of mentions you receive and compare it to your top competitor’s mentions. What are they doing better? How can you compete?
Once you know your target market, tailor your marketing and how you present your brand to your customers.
A stellar example of a company that does social listening right is Slack. Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO and co-founder, responded directly to a tweet posted about Slack’s customer service, asking the individual for feedback.
This goes to show how seriously even a company as big as Slack takes their customer understanding and service.
Step 2. Get active where your target audience hangs out
As you get to know your audience, you’ll also get a feel for where they hang out on the web.
Building a presence on these customer hotspots is a great move on your part. Select 1-2 platforms your customers prefer and work on solidifying your base there. It’s a good idea to learn the ins and outs of customer engagement on these platforms, then build brand awareness and target your audience through the platforms.
Let’s say a large chunk of your target market likes discussion forums such as Quora. You can focus on growing educational content and positioning yourself as an expert or leader in your niche by answering community questions.
In turn, more and more potential customers on Quora will hear of your brand and may even decide to do business with you because of their confidence in the knowledge you display.
Check out several marketplaces that appeal to both your customers and you for your business positioning.
For example, if you’re an independent service provider or freelancer and you work on a project basis, you can check out freelance platforms like Upwork and position yourself as an expert in your niche.
If you want to strengthen your online reviews, do some market research and figure out which review sites your target market refers to the most. Trustpilot, for instance, is a popular review site and companies can take advantage of the platform to collect customer feedback and engage with reviewers.
There are also popular hubs for professionals to promote their quality service offerings, like the AppSumo Marketplace, a selling hub for entrepreneurs.
Source: AppSumo Marketplace
Depending on your target market, how you wish to position your brand, and the methods you choose to engage with your customers, your platforms may differ from that of other service providers online. Take a little time to explore and experiment before making a decision.
Step 3. Build a strong website
Building a fantastic website gives you a strong foundation for your online presence. It acts as the brick-and-mortar store of your online business, as it gives customers all the information they need (plus a space to do business with you!).
Crafting a website can be as easy as these five steps to get started:
- Choose a website provider and a domain name
- Choose a template from your website provider
- Fill the template in with information about your business
- Add strong calls to action on your landing page
- Test your website and push “publish”
Depending on your service, you can tweak and customize the steps to your liking.
As a service seller, your website demonstrates your skills in action, which (naturally) means you need to plan how you position yourself.
While building your site, keep the following elements in mind:
- Homepage. This page is often the first place customers land when they visit your website. It needs to include an introduction to your business, a list of your services, social proof (like testimonials and reviews), and a call to action to purchase your services.
- About. Your about page gives detailed information on how your business operates, including your mission, values, company history, senior staff, and information for investors.
- Contact Us. Your contact us page should give customers multiple ways to contact you, including a phone number, email address, and a contact form.
- Services. Your services page provides detailed information on the services you offer, including use cases, a pricing breakdown, and examples of previous projects you’ve worked on.
Building a website may seem straightforward but designing a website with that unique factor requires a healthy dose of creativity. To give you that “spark,” check out this awesome website design Ashley Easter uses.
Image via Ashley Easter
Why is it so great?
The red aesthetic is in line with her brand and creates an immediate visual connection with the audience. If you scroll down to the first step, Ashley promotes a very attractive CTA for her website visitors through freebies such as ebooks and online courses. And, who doesn’t love free stuff, right?
The easy navigation and straightforward layout enhance the potential customer’s experience, drawing them into Ashley’s service offering.
If you’re selling online, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the “magic” of social media. Your customers are on there, and if you don’t start to capitalize on the opportunity it offers, you’re missing out!
Social media marketing is highly effective at building relationships. These platforms are used by businesses, influencers, and casual users alike, opening up a vast market of opportunity for your business to tap into.
As a service-based business, there are many ways social media can help you engage with customers, as you can:
- Build a community.
- Answer customer questions.
- Build a collection of reviews from verified users.
- Run your customer service through free chat apps.
- Show off your business’s achievements.
- Add that personal touch so customers can get to know you better.
- Run pay-per-click campaigns.
There is no wrong way to use social media, as long as you inspire interest, get clicks, and make your customers happy. To show you what I mean, check out how Tania Samoshkina showcases her graphic design businesses on Instagram. It’s eye-catching, for sure!
Image via ‘taniatania_art’ on Instagram
Step 5. Earn reviews and showcase your work
Social proof is a phenomenon where people are influenced to purchase a service when they see it benefiting others. It’s an effective form of marketing for service sellers, as potential customers are more likely to trust reviews from other customers over paid advertising.
Here’s a great example from Content Kapow (you’re welcome, Priscilla!):
As a service seller, you can use these strategies to get reviews:
- Get the ball rolling by offering a special sale for your services in the form of an attractive discount or bundle offer.
- Use the ask-offer-thank process with customers who opt for these deals.
- Ask your customers to leave you a review 2-3 days after they start using your service.
- Thank customers who leave you a review with a special thank-you email.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re not pressuring customers into leaving a review. Your ask is an ask and should never be framed as a demand or condition in order for them to use the discount/special sale.
You can also showcase your best work and, if relevant to your service offering, your portfolio directly on your website. Take it to the next level by adding a testimonials page. These act differently from reviews, as you have more control over what exactly you want to showcase about your service and feedback received.
Remember that the best testimonials include:
- Statements aligned with your service’s specific features and best selling points.
- Proof of how the customer used your service.
- A use-case statement from the client.
Zendesk does a great job of showcasing customer testimonials by incorporating all the above points. Take a look at their dedicated testimonials page and the level of depth each one goes into.
For instance, Siemens’ customer testimonial consists of use-case quotes directly from the client, details of the Zendesk products used an in-depth display of the results that it brought out.
Here, the testimonial takes a case-study angle, and its comprehensive nature elevates the prospective customer trust in Zendesk’s services.
Step 6. Create a sales process using email outreach
Email marketing is like the old-age tradition of marketing that never dies. Going as far back as 1978, email marketing remains an effective platform to reach potential customers and generate sales. With a high ROI of $42 for every $1 spent, it’s hard not to see the appeal.
But how can you leverage email marketing to your benefit, especially as a service seller? Easy — optimize your sales funnel through an email outreach campaign.
Using the knowledge of your audience that you gained from the first step in this guide, you can build an ideal customer profile/persona. Having this handy will help you frame the context and goals for your outreach program.
As you’re just starting out and selling services online, your initial goals will mainly be to generate brand awareness and educate potential customers. Your email messaging language should reflect that.
Check out this awesome example of CB Insight, a B2B service that nailed the tone and delivery of their email.
Source: Content Marketing Institute
Business intelligence companies don’t sound particularly exciting, but by adding humor and understanding this perception, CB Insights absolutely slays their email outreach attempt!
Content marketing is an essential pillar of every service business’s marketing strategy.
A content marketing campaign is an advertising method that markets your brand through educational, inspirational, or informative content. This content could include articles, infographics, diagrams, podcasts, and/or videos.
While you may want to be on every platform there is and showcasing a variety of well-designed content, it’s important to assess what kind of content you want to focus on creating to move prospects down the sales funnel. Do some research to determine the content forms your audience wants to see, such as:
- Articles and blog posts
- Interactive videos
- Case studies
- Email newsletters
- and more!
As you create your content, make sure it’s top-notch in terms of quality and the final product delivered is error-free. For example, if you’re putting together a blog, use writing tools and SEO-keyword optimizers to make sure your content will be top-form and resonate with your audience. Check out this guide for more information on the kind of tools you can leverage!
How can you do this? Ask yourself the following questions:
- What kind of content does my target market want to see?
- What form of content will highlight my service in the best way?
- What form of content am I comfortable creating?
- How can I showcase my brand identity through this content?
- Does this content form allow me to share my expertise with customers and outrank my competitors?
Pro tip: Create a content calendar once you’ve crafted a solid strategy. This will keep you on top of your campaigns every time you hit “publish.”
To give you an idea of the results you could see with content marketing, check out how Wistia, a company that provides professional video hosting services, uses engaging blogging tactics to draw in potential customers.
If you scroll through the blog, you’ll see that Wistia has broken up the content into categories such as Marketing, Product Updates, and even Wistia Culture, aiding reader navigation. They use a mix of videos, articles, case studies, and guides.
For example, they created their own video series called Brandwagon to highlight their expertise in video creation and editing, while coupling it together with insights from the CEO and some classic humor.
This unique, personalized twist to content marketing would definitely be appreciated by their target audience!
Step 8. Grow a positive reputation online
As a service-based business, reputation management is everything. Services are more intimate than products, meaning making the best of your online reputation can skyrocket the positive image that your customers will form of you.
To build a great reputation online, you can:
- Focus on positive customer engagement. If a customer posted a review or kind words about your service on Twitter, hit that retweet button! Engage and multiply positive press about your service whenever you can.
- Partner with influencers in your niche. Influencers are like social media celebrities who have a big following and reach you can benefit from. Look into partnerships with influencers by seeing if their target audience matches or overlaps with yours, and see if a partnership is within your budget. It’s a great way to get your brand name out there and generate buzz on social channels.
- Handle negative feedback like a champ. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! It all depends on how you handle it. Approach negative feedback with humility. If you’ve made a mistake, apologize and own up to it publicly. You’re only human, and so are your customers. You’d be surprised how well your transparency can be received.
- Actively look for positive press opportunities. Be it a paid partnership with a YouTuber or being featured on an online panel related to your industry or even a podcast special — finding innovative ways to partner with other service providers or marketers can elevate your brand online.
Of course, reputation management is not a walk in the park. It is a learning process and along the journey, you may make some mistakes. But even these negative situations can be turned around if you know how to handle such blunders, showcasing your brand’s professionalism.
For example, there’s the infamous tweet by the former CFO of Twitter itself, Anthony Noto, who accidentally sent a public tweet that was meant for a private message (this tweet has since been deleted).
Yikes, right? But look at the positive side. If the then-CFO of Twitter himself could make a social media blunder, don’t be so hard on yourself if that situation arises for you too.
However, you can prevent a public relations nightmare and make the best of your media coverage by developing a branding and conduct guide for each content distribution channel you use.
This means that before you push “publish” on a post, you make sure it aligns with your brand’s vision, your customers’ expectations, and is approved by a separate pair of eyes who can spot something you missed.
With this strategy, you’ll be killing it on social media!
How to sell services online successfully
No secret will see you selling services with zero setbacks, but there are many tried-and-true strategies to attract long-term customers.
To take your business to the next level online, you simply need to build an online presence that attracts eyes, engages with your customers, and manages that golden reputation you’ve built yourself.
You’re great at what you do. Now, take my advice and show customers what you’re worth.