In a service business, it is expertise that lands and keeps customers. This strength – whether it’s from an owner or the staff – sets a quality service company apart from the competition. Given this reality, successful service company owners often position themselves as experts in their fields and create opportunities to showcase this all-important know-how.

Just ask Patricia Schiffman, owner of Little Green Apples, in Atlanta, GA-based database consultant. Schiffman specializes in designing and programming databases using Filemaker. She has found success reaching out to prospects through seminars and other means of information-sharing. 

The result has been solid growth for Schiffman’s business, built on a foundation of positioning herself as an expert who understands ways in which databases can be used by emerging businesses to power their growth. Here are some of the specific strategies she uses: 

Target your audience

The first step to building referrals around your expertise is getting yourself in front of the right people. The challenge: how do you find these people? From being active in the Apple developer community, she knew that Apple was looking for people to share their expertise in their emerging retail outlets. Schiffman set herself apart from other developers by jumpingat the opportunity, knowing this would give her a chance to meet and talk to people face-to-face about what she knows best.  The result: by getting in at the start of the Apple Store phenomenon, she is able to position herself as an expert and use these outlets to as a marketing venue for her services.

Be willing to help

While Schiffman uses seminars and presentations, she finds that less formal settings can be just as valuable. An extrovert, she is effusive in her desire to share her passion for databases and computers, and particularly enjoys sitting down with someone “at the keyboard” to show how things are done. Moreover, no question is too simple for her – she is as eager to share introductory information about databases as she is more advanced programming tips. This contagious energy makes her instructions and insights memorable, leaving an impact on potential customers. 

Demonstrate your knowledge

Not every session leads to referrals. In fact, Schiffman notes, “At 90 percent of the presentations I do, I will not get any business.” But each of those presentations sets up the brand of Little Green Apples and opens up opportunities for future referrals. In fact, Schiffman believes that she benefits most from the positive word-of-mouth she gets by helping people understand databases better. “It’s pretty simple,” she says. “You’ve got somebody that needs a question answered. I help them out and try to point them in the right direction. I then have people call me who have been referred by those people. It’s like a good network.”

Make connections

Schiffman’s network stretches beyond just potential customers. When she gives a presentation at an Apple Store, she knows that the employees of the store can become her most active referrers. “Every time I do a presentation, I’m also talking to the sales people who are all around,” she notes. By building relationships with the store managers and floor sellers, they introduce her right away when there is a solid database prospect because they know they can trust her to provide solid, timely expertise.

Alert your audience

Speaking and teaching lets you reach out to prospects who essentially pre-qualify themselves – their interest in what you’re teaching tells you that they are in need of the services you are able to provide. The database of contacts you create from these kinds of interactions becomes a valuable marketing tool for future events. Schiffman, for example, may use this method to nurture prospects. “I send out announcements to my email list before an event,” she says. This provides another opportunity to speak with a prospect and move them along if they’ve been hesitant to commit to using her services.

So Schiffman’s knowledge of databases pays off in more ways than one.