GPSolo Magazine - Oct/Nov 2003
Marketing: Going Deeper
Solos are like explorers of old who dared to go beyond the known edges of ancient maps, without any safe guide through uncharted waters, to the places inscribed only with the warning "Here Be Monsters." Come with me as we go deeper into the heart of marketing—into the mysterious process of forming relationships that will lead you to acquiring clients.
When big law firms market, they often are helped by their name, fancy offices, or connections. The solo attorney usually does not have these advantages, at least not to the extent of the larger firms. Here are my favorite secrets for helping solos establish relationships that lead to business.
Generic Marketing 101
You read a lot about marketing techniques for lawyers that include 30-second elevator speeches, branding, business card designs, website development, and networking. But rarely do you read about the quality and nature of the relationship between you and a prospect or a potential source of referrals. Yet this is the most critical part of your marketing efforts. Your success or failure in this one area is the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
In my early years of being a solo attorney, I believed that all I had to do was go out for lunch with an accountant and the legal work would immediately follow. Imagine my surprise when, after having lunch with an accountant, nothing happened. I did not understand what I had done wrong. Perhaps I did not explain clearly enough what type of work I was interested in. Maybe I didn't wear a nice enough suit or my business card should have been on thicker stock. Or perhaps we should have gone to a nicer restaurant.
What I did not understand was that the process of generating business first required forming what I call an "affinity relationship."
An affinity relationship is a relationship of trust and relatedness on a personal level. The relationship has transcended that of two strangers—you each feel that you know one another in a way that creates trust. Your initial focus with a potential client or referral source should not be on getting the client or generating business. Your focus should be on creating a relationship of trust with this person.
Forming an affinity relationship should be your most important goal as you develop a relationship with any business contact. It is the secret of any successful marketer in any industry. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
Okay maestro, you say, good idea, but how do you build trust? Take the prospects to their favorite restaurant? Get them good seats to the games of their favorite home team? Get a summer job for the kid?
No, no, and no.
Potential clients may appreciate these favors, but such favors will not get people to hire you as their lawyer. Creating a relationship of trust involves:
- When you meet with a potential client, focus on the client, not on yourself.
- Get to know what the other person is really about and what is important to him or her. This can include everything from where they want to be in five years with their business to personal interests such as family or hobbies.
- If the information is not volunteered, be sure to ask questions.
- Be sincere. Like a good slice of apple pie, sincerity can't be faked. You either have to be really interested in finding out more about someone, or it will be obvious that you really do not care.
To succeed, take charge of your interaction with your business contact. This is not a job interview where you wait passively for the interviewer to come up with the next question. You're leading the dance.
Okay, you understand and have absorbed these lessons. There is a final ingredient to this whole formula that is vital to making it all work.
When a potential client or even a referral source meets with you, the prospect isn't really trying to establish whether you are a good lawyer. If your lawyering skills were in question, you'd be asked for samples of your work and references from existing clients. Sometimes people ask for references, but that doesn't often happen. And rarely do people ask for samples of your work.
So on what basis do people make the all-important decision about hiring you? Drum roll, please. They hire you if they like you. Yep, that's it. I bet you've been wondering about that one for a long time. Sad but true. Whether a business contact likes you or not hinges partly on whether they trust you or not. But there is a certain chemistry that has to be there above and beyond the trust for them to like you.
I wish I knew a sure-fire way of how to get people to like you. If I did, I'd be a millionaire. Keep in mind that if you communicate well, if you are on the same page as the other person in many areas, the chances that you will be hired will increase. If you seem distant, strange, unfamiliar, inaccessible, or give the feeling that you are hard to talk to, they probably will not hire you even if you got great grades in law school and even if you have an encyclopedic knowledge in the area in which you want to represent them.
So, when a prospect does appear to like you, do not try to analyze why they do. Simply recognize this as an important indicator that the likelihood of being hired is good, and follow up accordingly.
Follow-up is important. Send articles of interest to the contact. Introduce them to people who could benefit them. Touch base after a few weeks to see how they are doing. Suggest another meeting after an appropriate period of time.
A Client's Point of View
Choosing an attorney is a big decision. A client has decided to put his or her trust in you to represent them well. When potential clients struggle with whom to hire, they look for comfort and reassurance that they're making the right choice. It's your job to give them that comfort, making it easier for them to choose you to be their attorney.
David Leffler maintains a solo law practice in New York City, where he assists his clients in the formation, growth, and sale of their businesses.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.