Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction and Problem Statement
  3. Literature Review
  4. Methodology
  5. Findings
  6. Recommendations and Conclusion

 

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Executive Summary

There are is a multitude of research pertaining to small firms marketing yet there are no (if not limited) information regarding environmental consulting firms particularly in the state of Victoria. A research on effective marketing strategy may assist small environmental consulting firms to widen its client base and accelerate business growth. As a new player in the industry, Prism Environmental has active clients from various civil contractors and engineering-related companies across Victoria but still lacks a consolidated set of marketing tools and strategy, whether formal or informal, that it can exploit to increase its client base and market share.

This research intends to determine and understand the effective marketing strategies that a small consulting firm, such as Prism Environmental, can adopt to increase its client base and grow its business in Victoria within a highly competitive environmental engineering industry. This research aims to address questions such as: What are the prevailing marketing strategies that “environmental” clients prefer or positively respond to? What are the most appropriate marketing strategies or tools that Prism Environmental can use to increase its market presence?

A total of 150 civil contractor companies were contacted in this research but only 12 companies responded, with an 8% response rate. The 150 potential Respondents were randomly chosen from the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) Victoria website, the Yellow Pages Listing and the Prism Environmental’s marketing database. The respondents from 12 civil contractor companies were interviewed. The empirical data from this research is derived from a small portion of the targeted sampling population of civil contractors operating in Victoria. More work is to be done for Prism Environmental to be known by more clients, thus the need for a research such as this one.
A list of literature was reviewed as part of this research. One particular reference from O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009) provided innovative marketing variables in small firms, which fits well with the prevailing research aim. The three major elements of the Innovative Marketing for small firms were used as the Conceptual Framework that were analysed in this study. These themes include: 1) Marketing and Modification Variable 2) Integrated Marketing and 3) Customer and Market Focus.

The initial theme of Marketing and Modification Variables is seen as an important element for small firm marketing. Prism Environmental must continue to transform and evolve in order to satisfy client requirements. Service enhancements involved identification, planning and implementation of service improvements to make it more attractive to clients. The secondary theme investigated in this research is the element of Integrated Marketing. All aspects of the small firm particularly its external communication to clients should have marketing components. Even submission of deliverables involves a certain degree of marketing. Prism must continue to build the word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients. A good reputation among existing clients should be maintained by sending quality deliverables on time. The third and last theme analysed is about Customer and Market Focus. As a small firm, Prism should invest effort and time to predicting and forecast client needs by focusing on individual clients and the market. A solution-oriented approach should always be the main focus. Prism must always submit competitive rates as all clients always expect good value for money. Most responses agree that professional membership i.e. ACLCA, EIANZ etc is not a vital requirement prior to engagement of a consultant firm however it is recommended in this research that Prism consider active membership in the near future.

The common denominator among all themes presented is the use of online marketing. If properly used, web and social media may lead to better client relationships. Also, findings point out that most clients prefers email or phone communication rather than office or a face-to-face meeting, thus a requirement for a physical office is not vital for small firms anymore. Face-to-face meetings may only be needed if complex project issues are encountered.

Prism Environmental is encouraged to prepare a Marketing Plan that will include the findings of this research as a baseline. A strong focus on civil contractor clients should be continued as they are good potential clients.

This research is limited to only one set of industry, thus responses are bounded by industry norms. It is recommended that future research expand on more client types and environmental services other than the one presented in this study.

 

Introduction and Problem Statement

Environmental engineering and consulting firms are established to assist companies and government agencies comply with environmental law and regulations. Based on the recent Hoovers (2016) industry report, demand is driven by the needs of private business and government entities to comply with recent and future environmental regulations. The global figures gathered by Hoovers (2016) indicate that “contaminated land services account for 33%; water and waste management services, 23%; environmental impact assessment and sustainable development, 17%; environmental management, compliance, and due diligence, 15%; and climate change and energy, about 8%, according to an assessment of the aggregated revenues of the world’s top firms by Environment Analyst.” Environmental consulting companies in this industry provide advice and assistance to businesses and other organizations on environmental issues (Hoovers 2016). Even if there is no clear evidence that successful and growing companies adopt more environmental initiatives (Hitchens et al, 2003), most companies are bound to comply with environmental regulations, thus the need for environmental consultants. In 2013 alone, it is estimated that the top 22 global environmental firms such Tetra Tech, CH2MHill and AECOM raked around $27.4 Billion USD or 44% of the total global market (Hardcastle, 2014). Majority of these international firms have a presence in Australia and they compete with smaller locally based firms. In a recent 2016 IBISWorld market research report, the Environmental Science Service market in Australia alone had total revenue of $5 billion AUD with a low annual growth of 0.8% from 2011 to 2016. The industry employs around 35,400 people with around 6,150 environmental companies sharing the pie (IBISWorld, 2016). Major consulting firms with most of the market share have well established marketing departments with well-structured marketing strategies. However, there is very little (or nil) information on the marketing approaches of small to medium environmental consulting firms.

Compared to most engineering fields, the environmental industry is vulnerable to economic performance. In 2009, the Global financial crisis (GFC) affected the industry and saw a -2% dip in employment growth from 7% in 2005 (First Research, 2015). The GFC was caused by the collapse of leading financial institutions and investment banks in Europe and the USA in 2007 and 2008 (McDonnell and Burgess 2013). From 2010 to 2015, the industry is still in recovery mode with 1 to 3% growth in employment. It has been recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2010 that the GFC caused a 10% decline in the household wealth in Australia alone (McDonnell and Burgess 2013). It is ironic however that relative to other developed countries; Australia fared better at the aftermath of the GFC partly due to its economic resilience and stronger financial sector (Galbreath, 2012). Lapowsky (2012) mentioned that since 2007, the global environmental consulting industry has seen revenue growth of about 39% from 2007 to 2012 but only 7.7% from 2012 to 2017, as supported by data from IBISWorld. There are some signs of recovery as the environmental consulting revenues are forecasted to have an annual compounded growth rate of 5% from 2015-2019 (First Research, 2105). It seems that employment has seen a sluggish growth but revenue in the environmental industry remained stable somehow. Despite all of these, there will always be a growing demand for environmental consulting and services. Hoffman (2002) believes that environmental concerns are tightly intertwined with business strategies of companies as environmental protection provides operational efficiencies, risk management, capital acquisition, market demand, strategic direction and even human resources management. Dangelico and Pontrandolfo (2013) added that companies who implement environmental actions showed a positive effect on the organisation’s image and reputation. On the other hand, smaller businesses should be further engaged in environmental management practices via education and communication (Redmond and Walker, 2011). Small environmental consulting firms need to understand that there will always be avenues of growth in the environmental industry and should be innovative in its marketing efforts to inform and educate clients.

Established in 2015, a small Victorian-based consulting called Prism Environmental or referred to as Prism in this research study, specialising in contaminated land services is partly a consequence of a “hostile” business environment attributed to a slower growth in the environmental consulting industry. Covin and Slevin (1989) stated that hostile environments are characterised by unstable industry settings, strong competition, cruel business climate and just lack of opportunities. Due to the employment redundancies during and after the GFC across Australia, the director/founder of Prism decided to establish a firm that will provide self-employment and sufficiency as well as cater to small and medium-sized civil contracting companies initially in Victoria and perhaps the east coast of Australia. Nevertheless, it was vital for Prism to understand its strength and weaknesses in order to develop its business and drive growth in an uncertain and slow performing economy. Prism needs to grow a stable client base by implementing an effective marketing strategy to reach out to its target clients. Prendergast (1993) mentioned in a pre-GFC era article that environmental consultant’s competitive edge lies on technical skills (59%), satisfying client needs (15%), knowledge of local regulations (9%), assistance to permitting and licenses (6%), costs (6%) and other factors (5%). With competition tightening further particularly after the GFC, aggressive marketing is seen as one of the industry norm. International mega-firms that are diversified, with market dominance and international access are up against each other and also smaller niche players who competes through specialisation (Zofnass, 1996). Nevertheless, the environmental industry requires both small and large firms to be well informed about environmental regulations and familiar with new technologies that help limit environmental impact (Lapowsky, 2012).

There are is a multitude of research pertaining to small firms marketing yet there is no (if not limited) information regarding environmental consulting firms particularly in the state of Victoria. A research on effective marketing strategy may assist small environmental firms such as Prism to widen its client base and accelerate business growth. As a new player in the industry, Prism has active clients from various civil contractors and engineering-related companies across Victoria but still lacks a consolidated set of marketing tools and strategy that it can exploit to increase its client base and market share. The director of Prism firmly believes that the growth and success of environmental firms that dominate the market depends on its ability to be ahead of the competition.

This research intends to determine and understand the effective marketing strategies that a small consulting firm, such as Prism, can adopt to increase its client base and grow its business in Victoria within a highly competitive industry. This research aims to address the questions: What are the prevailing marketing strategies that “environmental” clients prefer or positively respond to? What are the most appropriate marketing strategies or tools that Prism Environmental can use to increase its market presence?

 

Literature Review

Latest market research on the Environmental business in Australia has shown a sluggish growth in the past six years (IBISWorld, 2016). Although signs of economic recovery are recently seen in Australia and particularly in Victoria, the environmental consulting sector still has an uphill battle to regain its pre-GFC market performance. A slow environmental service demand means very tight competition and recent news in the industry have shown smaller consulting firms either closed or merged with larger competitor firms. For large companies, it is mostly through securing large government or major client contracts, while small firms compete by offering specialised services or operating in regional areas (Hoovers 2016).

Ideally, a non-hostile business setting provides a safe situation for business operations due to its marketing opportunities (Covin and Slevin, 1989). However, Starry and McGaughey (1993) mentioned that no firm is immune to marketplace competition but business growth requires a commitment to change with the use of technology and identification of industry trends. Imber (2005) added that sole traders and businesses that constantly review and adjust its approach to the right business model could often increase profits.

Aggressive business development techniques, differentiation of services, superior market intelligence, local knowledge, proximity to clients and properties, detailed market research and knowledge are some factors mentioned by Imber (2005) that will support business growth in small firms. Business success, particularly for small firms are sometimes automatically measured on financial performance however, small firms such as Prism should realise other success parameters. Kumar, Simon and Kimberly (2000) mentioned that aside from profitability, the other top performance indicators include client satisfaction and repeat business in the consulting business.
Marketing / advertising is one of the most important strategic capabilities of a small start-up firm but usually small firms obtain sales without any structured marketing activities. Eventually, it was proven that small firms actually adopt a unique marketing form that continuously evolves and is spontaneous, reactive and haphazard (O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson, 2009). Traditionally, marketing in small firms has been affected by budget and lack of marketing expertise however specific forms of marketing has been adopted by SMEs that deviate from conventional and structured marketing strategies practiced by large firms (Bettiol, Di Maria and Finotto, 2011). Due to relative lack of resources, Bettiol, Di Maria and Finotto (2011) added that the normal marketing forms for small businesses include direct marketing and relationships, events, word-of-mouth and a strong involvement of the business owner.

An effective marketing strategy is directly related to performance indicators such as revenue and business growth (Kumar, Simon and Kimberly, 2000). O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009) also added that the continual development of the experiential knowledge of small business owners or entrepreneurs and networking through trade activities are key factors to effective marketing. As small firms cannot directly compete with large firms, innovative processes and services should be provided and communicated to the clients through effective marketing strategies. In the environmental industry, a small consulting firm should market itself as a reliable firm that is updated with council, state and federal environmental laws and regulations. Small firms can achieve a sustainable and competitive advantage over its larger counterparts by encouraging strong market orientation through innovative practice as a key to business development and growth (O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson, 2009).

Marco, Di Maria and Finotto (2011) mentioned that resource scarcity, lack of specialised structures and competencies are the main factors affecting small firms while O’Donnell (2011) emphasised that small firms relies heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations as its main source of client base, which is quite the reality for small environmental firms like Prism.

Small firms can achieve a sustainable and competitive advantage over its larger counterparts by encouraging strong market orientation through innovative practice as a key to business development and growth (O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson, 2009). Aside from innovation, Parrott, Roomi and Holliman (2010) said that small firms need to be systematic and scientific in maintaining quality records, databases and constant review and update of marketing methods.

O’Donnell (2011) listed nine small firm marketing activities which include Marketing Planning, Managing Limited Resources, Keeping Existing Customers, Acquiring new Customers, Gathering information about customers, Gathering Information about Competitors, Managing the product offering, Managing Pricing and Managing Delivery. These are general approaches, and are not considered as a “marketing strategy” that this research is hoping to find.

On the other hand, O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009) provided innovative marketing variables in small firms, which include: 1) Marketing and modification variables, 2) Customer and Market Focus and 3) Integrated Marketing. These themes were seen as an excellent theoretical framework for this study, thus, is adopted to further explore marketing approaches for small firms such as Prism.
The literature reviewed in this research hopes to provide Prism with practical marketing tools to expand its business. As there seems to be limited information from sole traders and small firms with regards to revenue and profitability and other performance indicators, this research needed to refer to other business reports that can be correlated to the environmental industry.

 

Methodology

This research aims to validate the Conceptual Framework consisting of three major innovative small firm marketing themes adopted from related literature. These major themes were eventually filtered down to elements or sub-themes which underwent further refinements. Results of the data analysis and literature review were filtered down as marketing strategies that will be recommended to Prism Environmental.

A mixed Quantitative and Qualitative methodology was initially drafted to gain considerable data but was eventually discarded due to a tight schedule. In order to arrive at a more reliable result, a Qualitative Research methodology was designed to collect data from “environmental” clients across Victoria. It was eventually decided to focus on Prism’s top client sector which is composed of civil contractors. The qualitative approach was seen as highly effective in correlating theories to actual insights from the field.

A Semi-structured Interview was the main qualitative research tool adopted to collect data from primary samples. Curran and Blackburn (1994) mentioned that face-to-face interview using the semi-structured approach was considered as one of the most effective data collection technique for small firm managers. However, the downside of this approach was the unavailability of the targeted Respondents during the limited interview schedule. Thus, some of the Respondents have to be interviewed via phone. Video telecon using “Skype” was not available as most of the interviewees were either on field or on travelling mode.

A total of 150 civil contractor companies were contacted in this research but only 12 companies responded, with an 8% response rate. This research identifies all respondents as Respondent #1, Respondent #2, and so on until Respondent #12. Most of the Interviewees or respondents preferred to be anonymous, thus no specific company names were mentioned in this report. It is acknowledged that the last quarter of the year (October – December) are usually the busiest time for most environmental clients.

The 150 potential Respondents were randomly chosen from:

  • Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) Victoria website (https://www.ccfvic.com.au),
  • Yellow Pages Listing (https://www.yellowpages.com.au/find/excavation-earthmoving-contractors/vic) and
  • Prism Environmental’s marketing database.

Overall, a sampling population of around 1,500 civil contractor companies across Victoria were considered as potential environmental clients. The sampling population was based on two key criteria:

  1. Civil contractor company mainly involved in excavations, and
  2. Operations of the company must be within Victoria.

The size of the firm and its revenue were not considered as factors in selecting samples as Prism would prefer to have a wider range of client base from small to large companies.

An email was first sent out to all 150 potential “samples” to gain permission for an interview. Of the 150 potential samples, only 73 contractors responded via email and eventually were contacted via phone. Of the 73 contractors, only 12 managers were available for interview between the 14-working day period from 8th to 25th of November 2016.

The respondents from 12 civil contractor companies were then scheduled for quick face-to-face interviews over the 14-day period. Only seven face-to-face interviews were possible and the other five interviews have to be done via phone as the interviewees have to cancel meetings due to unforeseen workloads.

A set of semi-structured interview questionnaires was used for both face-to-face and over-the-phone interviews. Notes and records were taken during the interview. A copy of the Interview notes was sent to the Respondent via email.

The 13 questions (see Questionnaire at Appendix A) were asked in the same sequence and each respondent was provided with at least 2 minutes to elaborate their answers to each question. The Interview questionnaire was prepared aiming to get insights on the three small firm innovative marketing measures referred to in this research.

A method of thematic examination was applied to the collected data. The marketing activities mentioned in the literature were compared with the emerging themes from the collected data. The initial themes were then reviewed and refined in order to arrive at a final set of themes, which are then presented as the main findings of this study.

Research questions were limited to non-sensitive commercial information and all participants’ responses were treated as confidential. Notes and copies of interview were provided to the Respondents. Respect was given to participants who declined to answer particular questions. The three major code of ethics that were used as a guide in the entire research includes: NHMRC Australian Code for the Conduct of Research, Engineers Australia Code of Ethics and Certified Environmental Practitioner Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

 

Findings

An effective marketing strategy is directly related to performance indicators such as revenue, business growth and meeting the allowed budget (Kumar, Simon and Kimberly, 2000), which is basically in line with the main objective of Prism and the purpose of this research. The empirical findings discussed in this section include comparison of the three elements of the Conceptual model derived from Innovative Marketing in SMEs by O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009) with the reviewed literature and Interview responses. Figure 1 below illustrates these basic innovative marketing concepts.

Conceptual Model of Innovative Marketing for Small Firms

Fiugure 1: Conceptual Model of Innovative Marketing for Small Firms

Marketing and Modification Variables

O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009) mentioned that the elements of marketing and modification variables include product or service enhancement, alteration of the marketing mix, alteration of the distribution channel, proaction and change. In other words, small firms should undergo transformation in order to be competitive. Service enhancements involved identification, planning and implementation of service improvements to make it more attractive to clients. A small firm should be proactive and change with the market. In order to be flexible, Parrott, Roomi and Holliman (2010) said that small firms need to be systematic and scientific in maintaining quality records, databases and constant review and update of marketing methods.

Starry and McGaughey (1993) mentioned that no firm is immune to marketplace competition but business growth requires a commitment to change with the use of technology and identification of industry trends. While respondent 7 said, “When we need consultants or providers, we just google it,” another pointed out:

“We use internet search like Google to search for our providers. We don’t use environmental consultants on a regular basis, so we just do searches if we need one.” Respondent # 3

With high competition in the Google search engine, Prism will have a minimal chance of being noticed. This means that a different approach to attract clients should be implemented.

O’Donnell (2011) emphasised that small firms rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations as its main source of client base, which is quite the reality for small environmental firms like Prism. The interview responses confirm the importance of word-of-mouth referrals.

Most of our environmental projects are done by consultants referred to us by subcontractors. We usually trust word-of-mouth referrals. ” Respondent # 1

Marco, Di Maria and Finotto (2011) mentioned that resource scarcity, lack of specialised structures and competencies are the main factors affecting small firms. As a newcomer in the industry, Prism is limited with financial and human resource, which bigger competitors have. Due to relatively lack of resources, Bettiol, Di Maria and Finotto (2011) added that the normal marketing forms for small businesses include direct marketing and relationships, events, word-of-mouth and a strong involvement of the business owner.

We have always used our environmental consultants through word-of-mouth referrals. We are not open to any other consultants at the moment. I have a good relationship with the current consultant.” Respondent # 5

O’Donnell (2011) mentioned that a small firm usually responds to different clients with different service. Prism Environmental has only one channel in its service delivery but some priority clients will receive more attention than others i.e. submission within deadline in the expense of non-priority clients.

Prism Environmental understands that it cannot offer a one-stop shop for clients, as compared to other large firms with a range of diversified professional services, however, it offers a more specialised service to its client and even as a subcontractor to other main consulting firms. As one Prism client pointed out:

“We use consultants with capabilities on Contaminated Land issues. Prism has worked with us in the past and has provided reports that satisfied with our requirements so I will stick with them. I am also getting special rates so I have no reason to leave.” Respondent # 5

All interview responses indicate that a Contaminated Land investigation is the most sought-after service from an Environmental Consultant. But it has to be noted that the sampling population is limited to civil contractors around Victoria with focus on excavations and soil management. This finding may not be applicable to other types of clients.

Integrated Marketing

Integrated marketing simply means that marketing activities are included or integrated in all aspects of the business as explained by O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson (2009). For smaller firms, this approach can be applied in each aspect of service. For example, all communication to clients should have marketing components. Even reports submitted on time can win client confidence and thus serve as a marketing effort. As one client said:

“I prefer a consultant that submits reports on time or within the agreed deadline. This is important to my business, so I don’t incur additional costs due to delays.” Respondent # 9

Broekemier, Chau and Seshadri (2015) stated that social media among small businesses is a low cost and effective alternative to keep client relationships while Jones, Borgman and Ulusoy (2015) added that web and social media creates better brand awareness, better client relationships and increase sales.

“A consultant with a good website has the advantage of being chosen during the quoting period. It shows us that it is more established and professional, and allow us to review their past projects” Respondent # 8

Professional networking, such as LinkedIn, is another way to introduce a small firm’s capability to other consultants. One respondent said that:

“I know Prism now, because Ronie (the Director) is in my LinkedIn network. I think LinkedIn is one of the best networking social media available to us now. Almost everyone I know has it!” Respondent # 5

Imber (2005) added that sole traders and businesses that constantly review and adjust its approach to the right business model could often increase profits. For the meantime, Prism is home-based and meets clients in their own offices or in cafes or other public meeting places. An accessible office may be preferred by most clients but surprisingly, 91% of the respondents agree that a formal office is not actually required.

“Office is not important. We only communicate via phone calls or emails. Hard copies of reports are not required anymore, as compared 10 or 15 years ago.” Respondent # 1

A home-based consulting is part of the integrated approach adopted by Prism. It helps in saving resources by cutting overhead costs and freeing up capital to spend on equipment or training required to be a step ahead of other competitors. Like other small firms, it started from working at home, use of information technology (e-mail, laptops, mobile phone), possess technical ability to process reports and personal administration. These have all contributed to project costs competitiveness and eventual profitability but a shop front or office may be an essential factor in winning more business, while administrative support can also optimise chargeable time (Imber, 2005).

Small environmental consulting firms need to understand that there will always be avenues of growth in the environmental industry and should be innovative in its marketing efforts to inform and educate clients. Even if there is no clear evidence that successful and growing companies adopt more environmental initiatives (Hitchens et al, 2003), most companies are bound to comply with environmental regulations, thus the need for environmental consultants. Prism must issue technical reports that are custom-designed for client needs. All deliverables should then be drafted in a way to inform clients of other services that Prism can offer.

Customer and Market Focus

Predicting and forecasting client needs by focusing on individual clients and the market is a key innovative marketing variable (O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson, 2009). By being a member of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ), the Director of Prism gained good market intelligence reports and is updated with latest technologies in the field. Prism, however, is currently not a member of the Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association (ACLCA), an Australian professional organization with member firms offering services exactly the same as Prism. It is however acknowledged in the field that some clients only engage environmental firms with membership in professional organizations such as the ACLCA, as one response pointed out:

“For bigger or complex jobs, we prefer a consultant to be a member of ACLCA. This will give us a bit of assurance about the professionalism and technical expertise of the consultants who will work in our projects.” Respondent # 10

Being a member of the ACLCA is important to only 33% of Respondents. Most responses agree that an ACLCA or any other professional membership is not a vital requirement prior to engagement of a consultant firm, as what another response highlighted:

“I don’t even know the professional membership of our current and previous consultants. For us, as long as we get the report that satisfies EPA, we’re ok with it.” Respondent # 12

Broekemier, Chau and Seshadri (2015) and Jones, Borgman and Ulusoy (2015) added that web and social media creates better brand awareness, better client relationships and increase sales. 58% of the respondents prefer that consulting firms should have a good professional website. As one client pointed out:

“A good website helps us evaluate the past performances and projects of consultants. I would prefer that the environmental firm has a good and updated website.” Respondent # 11

Managers of service firms should use the marketing principles of understanding and responding to customer needs, reliability, image, competence and accessibility (Gordon, Calantone and di Benedetto, 1993). Branding is important but most respondents agree that all of them seek better rates or lower costs in the environmental projects.

“Most of our projects are quoted lumpsum, with no or very limited budget for environmental issues. We always submit a very competitive bid to win the project. Therefore, we expect that when we hire an environmental consultant, they will be able to work within our limited budget.” Respondent # 6

Aggressive business development techniques, differentiation of services, superior market intelligence, local knowledge, proximity to clients and properties, detailed market research and knowledge are some factors mentioned by Imber (2005) that will support business growth in small firms and should be considered by Prism in its planning.

Basic marketing principles apply to all firms however small firm marketing involves little or no marketing planning with very limited resources (O’Donnell, 2011). Prism began by serving the needs of a few clients and then expanding its client base gradually. No formal planning has been done by Prism so far, as it is more reactive rather than proactive.

Parrott, Roomi and Holliman (2010) said that small firms need to be systematic and scientific in maintaining quality records, databases and constant review and update of marketing methods. Prism keeps itself updated on the ACLCA and EIANZ website to monitor competition movements.

Competitive information is also sourced from existing clients. Prism was able to collect market information through client relationships. As mentioned, the word-of-mouth marketing is the main form of marketing drive for small firms such as Prism. Smaller niche players like Prism compete through specialisation (Zofnass, 1996). Prism must keep its technical updates on Contaminated Land issues so it can provide new services to clients.
For large companies, it is mostly through securing large government or major client contracts, while small firms can compete by offering specialised services or operating in regional areas (Hoovers 2016). Prism should take advantage of the fact that 83% of the Respondents do not have a specific preference on the size of the firm, while all Respondents agree that reputation and pricing are the two major factors they watch out for prior to engagement.

“Size of the firm does not matter. Output is and the image of the company. We had one consulting firm who had trouble with the EPA so we needed to find a new one.” Respondent # 9

Prism Environmental normally offers a lump sum pricing to keep it competitive offering flexible prices to various clients. O’Donnell (2011) mentions that most firms employ a cost plus pricing.

“We hire consultants on project basis. Its all about the cost for us.” Respondent # 2

Broekemier, Chau and Seshadri (2015) stated that social media among small businesses is a low cost and effective alternative to keep client relationships. Jones, Borgman and Ulusoy (2015) added that web and social media creates better brand awareness, better client relationships and increase sales. In order to keep client focus, web and social media should be maintained by small firms, as already mentioned in the Integrated Marketing section.

Summary of Findings

Marketing is one of the most important strategic capabilities of a small start-up firm. But usually small firms obtain sales without any structured marketing activities therefore Prism Environmental should adopt a unique marketing form that continuously evolves and proactive (O’Dwyer, Gilmore and Carson, 2009) and less spontaneous, reactive and haphazard. The three components of the Conceptual model (Marketing and modification Variables, integrated Marketing and Customer-Market Focus) were tested with empirical data from the interview responses and supported with the reviewed references. It seems that all three innovative variables are applicable to a small firm marketing strategy.

 

Recommendations and Conclusion

The empirical data from this research is derived from samples derived from civil contractors operating in Victoria. It is considered that a qualitative approach was the better option in this study as the sampling pool is small and research period is limited. Twelve Respondents from various civil contractor companies responded to the Semi-Structured interview. Eleven of the 12 respondents mentioned that they require an environmental consulting firm or consultant at least more than once a year. Cost-wise, a local civil contractor may spend between $3,000 per job to as high as $40,000 annually on environmental consultants, which is manageable for a small firm such as Prism. Only 2 of the 12 Respondents or 16% interviewed have used Prism Environmental’s expertise in the past. Based on the abovementioned findings, it is obvious that more work is to be done for Prism Environmental to be known by new clients, thus the need for a research such as this one.

The three major elements of the Innovative Marketing for small firms were used as the main themes that were analysed in this study. These themes include: 1) Marketing and Modification Variable, 2) Integrated Marketing, and 3) Customer and Market Focus.

The initial theme of Marketing and Modification Variables is seen as the ability of small firm to transform itself to be more competitive. Prism Environmental must continue to transform and evolve in order to satisfy client requirements. Service enhancements involved identification, planning and implementation of service improvements to make it more attractive to clients. A small firm should be proactive and change with the market. In order to be flexible, Parrott, Roomi and Holliman (2010) said that small firms need to be systematic and scientific in maintaining quality records, databases and constant review and update of marketing methods. Respondents agree that they resort to Google search or other internet search engine if they are looking for certain environmental firms with certain expertise. This study recommends that small firms tap this web marketing tool as it provides a large exposure to target clients.

Data also showed that civil contractors trust word-of-mouth recommendations for sub-consultants, which also works well for small environmental firms. Other marketing forms for small businesses include direct marketing and relationships, events and a strong involvement of the business owner.

Small firms should offer a more specialised service to its client to be more competitive. For Prism Environmental, it is important that it builds on its strength, which is about Contaminated Land Investigations. All interview responses indicate that the Contaminated Land sector is the most sought after service from an Environmental Consultant. But it has to be noted that the sampling population is limited to civil contractors around Victoria with focus on excavations and soil management.

The secondary theme investigated in this research is the element of Integrated Marketing which means that all facets of the small firm must be marketing oriented. All external communication to clients should be an effort to win more clients or projects. Even reports submitted on time can win client confidence and thus serve as a marketing effort. Again, website and social media plays a vital role in integrated marketing as it creates better brand awareness leading to better client relationships. Professional networking, such as LinkedIn, is another online tool that needs to be exploited by small firms to introduce its capability to other companies.
Prism is currently home-based and meets clients in their own offices, cafes or other public meeting places if there is a need for face-to-face meetings. In the Civil contracting industry, majority or 91% of the respondents agree that a formal office is not actually required, which will work to Prism’s advantage. A home-based consulting is part of the integrated approach adopted by Prism. It helps in saving resources by cutting overhead costs and freeing up capital to spend on equipment or training required to be a step ahead of other competitors. Like other small firms, Prism started from working at home, use of information technology (e-mail, laptops, mobile phone), possess technical ability to process reports and personal administration.

Small environmental consulting firms need to understand that there will always be avenues of growth in the environmental industry and should be innovative in its marketing efforts to inform and educate clients. Prism must issue technical reports that are custom-designed for client needs. All deliverables should then be drafted in a way to inform clients of other services that Prism can offer.

The third and last theme analysed is about Customer and Market Focus approach. As a small firm, Prism should invest effort and time in predicting and forecasting client needs by focusing on individual clients and the current market. Membership with Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) should be continued to gain good market intelligence reports and to get updates with latest technologies in the field. Prism, however, is currently not a member of the Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association (ACLCA). About 33% of Respondents or one out of three Civil Contractors may likely engage a consultant with ACLCA membership. Most responses agree that an ACLCA or any other professional membership is not a vital requirement prior to engagement of a consultant firm however it is recommended in this research that Prism consider ACLCA membership in the near future.

If properly used, web and social media leads to better client relationships. 58% of the respondents prefer that consulting firms should have a good professional website. Branding is important but most respondents consider competitive pricing as more of a concern in environmental projects.

Prism began by serving the needs of a few clients and then expanding its client base gradually and should continue its momentum in building client base thru referrals and Online marketing. A systematic method in maintaining quality records, databases and constant review and update of marketing methods should be done. Aside from professional organization such as ACLCA or EIANZ, Prism should collect market information through client relationships. Prism must keep its technical updates on Contaminated Land issues so it can provide new services to clients.

Small firms can compete by offering specialised services or operating in regional areas. Prism should take advantage of the fact that 83% of the Respondents do not have a specific preference on the size of the firm, while all Respondents agree that reputation and pricing are the two major factors they watch out for prior to engagement.

One common finding from the three themes is about the use of Online Marketing approach consisting of website, online communication and social media platform. It is undeniable that all respondents agree that online marketing has significant effects to their decision in engaging an environmental consultant. For instance, a formal office is not a strict requirement with most environmental clients, based on 91% of the Respondents.

All respondents agree that communications between clients and the environmental consultant is preferred to be done through phone and other electronic means such as emails. In addition, 58% of the Respondents prefer consultants with a good website so they can see their project experiences and expertise. This helps potential clients decide who are the most qualified and experienced consultant that is a fit to their project needs.
Finally, traditional marketing drives such as leaflets, flyers, face-to-face presentations or business development meetings seem to be not applicable to most civil contractors anymore. 66% of Respondents do not prefer upfront or traditional marketing drives such as office presentations of new services but they do respond more to positive client-consultant relationships. Prism Environmental is encouraged to prepare a Marketing Plan that will include the findings of this research as a baseline. This plan will include the main findings of this study which are presented in bullet points below.

The prevailing marketing strategies that “environmental” clients prefer or positively respond to include:

  • Environmental consultants that is responsive to client needs. This means solution oriented consultants provides value for money. They put high value to reputation and pricing.
  • Clients seem not to mind the size of the firm. This is good news to small environmental consulting firms.
  • Communications between clients and the small firm is preferred to be done through phone and other electronic means such as emails. Face to face meetings are only required to discuss urgent issues and establish relationships.
  • Clients do not prefer upfront marketing drives such as presentations of new services, flyers and other traditional promotional materials.
  • Clients prefer consultants with a good website so they can see their project experiences and expertise. Social media such as LinkedIn is a good tool to have as well but most Respondents did not specifically highlight the need for other social media platform.
  • Membership to professional organisations such as ACLCA and EIANZ is a positive move to create a good network between clients and small firms.

The most appropriate marketing strategies or tools that Prism Environmental can use to increase its market presence include:

  • Continue to build the word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients. Maintain a good reputation among existing clients. Focus on civil contractor clients as they are a good target pool of potential clients.
  • Maintain a good website and even professional social media presence to inform clients of current projects and expertise.
  • For existing clients, always maintain a good line of communication via phone calls and emails. Face-to-face meetings may only be needed if complex project issues are encountered. A solution-oriented approach should always be the main focus.
  • Maintain competitive rates as all clients always expect good value for money.
  • Being a member of the ACLCA and EIANZ is good but not essential at the present time. Prism owner-manager is already a Certified Environmental Practitioner and a member of EIANZ, which is already seen as an advantage. As Prism increases its market presence and take in larger portfolios, then an ACLCA membership may take more priority.
  • Create a Marketing strategy detailing the most innovative marketing variables discussed.

This research is limited to only one set of industry, thus responses are bounded by industry norms. It is recommended that future research expand on more client types and environmental services other than Contaminated Land investigations. This research acknowledges that differences among the civil contractor responses are due to varying requirements set by the Council, Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) or Planning department. Another obvious limitation is the short period in data collection, which should be improved in other future related research. It is hoped that future research can use and expand on the innovative marketing framework presented in this study and explore other factors that may benefit small firms in the future.

Click here to view the full PDF version of the research paper, which includes a list of references and appendices.