General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionBest of ABA Sections

SPRING 1998 - VOLUME 2, NUMBER 1  

Practice Management

How to Keep in Touch with Prospective Clients

By Sandy Ramlet

Good for you. You regularly attend networking events, your mingling skills are in top form and you have a small collection of business cards from potential clients. How do you stay in touch with these individuals? Everyone knows communication is vital to building relationships, but how can you communicate meaningfully with someone you’ve met only once?

The best prospects in the world will not likely become clients or referral sources unless you take the initiative to create the basis for an ongoing relationship. Regular, meaningful communication is the foundation upon which to build relationships. To be effective, such contact should be personal, relevant, timely, and sincere. It’s phony to drop a note to the owner of a company out of the clear blue sky that says, "Dear Samantha, I’ve been thinking of you," or to send a generic birthday card to someone you have met only once. That’s a little like the "personalized" cold calls we receive from long-distance companies trying to get us to switch carriers. On the other hand, a handwritten note from a friend or acquaintance means something and makes you feel good.

Lawyers don’t have time to become full-time personal correspondence secretaries. But all of us have a "short list" of prospective clients with whom we want to keep in touch. By communicating frequently with prospects (four to ten times a year), you will assure yourself a place at the top of their minds. That "top of mind" principle dictates that you will likely be the person called on to help when the need for legal services arises. Here are some practical ideas for communicating with your short list.

 

Thank-You Notes. Regardless of the medium, "thank you" still is an underused form of communication. The ’90s version can be as plain as a two-line e-mail memo or as formal as a note penned on expensive stationery. For example, send an e-mail or informal note after your initial lunch or breakfast meeting: "Thanks so much for taking time to meet with me. I enjoyed our conversation."

 

Clippings. Any time you see prospects (or their organization) mentioned favorably in the newspaper, clip it and mail it to them. Attach a personal, handwritten note—preferably on a card or personal stationery that has your name and phone number printed on it. For example, you might jot a note stating, "Congratulations on your election to the board of the local American Heart Association."

 

Bylined Articles. Do you write and publish in your area of expertise? Use published articles as a springboard for communication with your target list. By sending a reprint along with a personal note, you make meaningful contact, further your image as an expert in the field, and gain the added credibility of having had your article published by an outside organization.

 

"Thinking of You." How often do we think of new acquaintances, particularly during the day or two after our initial meeting? Put action to these thoughts. When you think of your new contact, jot it down or record a brief note to yourself. Then articulate the thought using pen and paper, e-mail, or a simple telephone call. The topic for this type of communication could be almost anything: "I recently met someone you know. . . ." "I heard your business mentioned on the radio (or TV). . . ." "I noticed your favorite sports team advanced in the playoffs. . . ." "I saw that your favorite music group won an award (or is coming to town to give a concert). . . ." "I noticed that the national economic indicators went up for the building industry—are you seeing that effect locally?"

You will be amazed how often a simple message will lead to more substantive conversations and, eventually, legal work!

 

Follow Through on a Promise. How many times do we meet someone at a cocktail party, engage in a brief conversation and say, "I’ll call you for lunch"—but we don’t call? Or how often do we promise to send an article to someone, and then forget?

One of the most impressive communication strategies is to follow through on casual promises. If forgetting is a problem, institute systems that help you remember to do what you promise to do.

 

Newsletter as "Alert." What could be more relevant to a prospective client than receiving a timely, well-written update on changes in the law affecting the client’s business or industry? The lengthy, printed quarterly narratives that were popular in the ’80s now are giving way to quick "alert" types of newsletters. Fax technology, e-mail, and the ability to post new material to your Web site make timely dissemination of newsletters inexpensive and relatively easy.

 

Helpful Information That Isn’t Necessarily Business-Related. Some of the most appreciated information is not business-related at all. By listening closely when you talk with people, you will learn about their needs and interests. Being attuned to their world, you may be able to provide them with helpful information in weeks and months to come. Examples of this might include the name of a good supplier of specialized merchandise, a referral for child care, or notice of an upcoming auction of computer equipment.

 

Ask for Advice. Believe it or not, nothing will endear you to a new acquaintance more than asking for his or her help. Seek advice in areas outside your expertise.

 

"The Rest of the Story." Most people appreciate good, timely advice. But few of us remember to call, e-mail, or write and tell someone, "I took your advice and this is what happened." Follow through and share the satisfaction of the good results you achieved.

 

Announcements. Keep individuals on your target list informed of changes in your practice. For example, send a simple announcement when you add new legal talent to your firm or when you increase the breadth of services you offer. Don’t forget to write the announcement from the perspective of how the change may make your firm a better resource for the prospect.

 

Invitations. Include prospective clients in your life. Invite them to lunch or to special events–your firm’s open house or holiday party, for example. Keep your target list of contacts informed about your speaking engagements and invite them, when appropriate. Extend an invitation to a recreational event (concert, theater, dinner, sports event) or a fund-raiser for your favorite charity.

 

Conclusion. Once you have identified a new contact with whom you’d like to work, keep in touch. Communicate from your heart and match the medium to the message. Pick up the telephone, if that feels right. Or send a letter. Often a simple handwritten note is the ideal way to keep in touch. For less formal communications that don’t involve enclosures, use e-mail. On more formal occasions, send a typed letter or printed invitation.

Be strategic, be spontaneous, be creative. . . . Be a communicator.

Sandy Ramlet is the owner of Legal Ink in Denver, which provides marketing communication consulting and writing services for lawyers and law firms.

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 38 in Law Practice Management, September 1997 issue (23:6).

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