Okay, you’ve taken the big leap and started your own practice. You have an ad in the local newspaper, a five-page website, and your business cards sport four colors. All you have to do now is stand aside to avoid injury as your eager clients-to-be come rushing to your door, right? I heard of that very thing happening once. Oh, wait—that was Starbucks. Sorry, my mistake. I’ve never actually heard of that happening in a law firm. Maybe my personal story will help you see that the “build-it-and-they-will-come” thing doesn’t happen in real life.
When my business partner and I launched our support staff training business in 1986, we had a phone installed in my spare bedroom, had business cards printed . . . and waited. In the first month, the phone rang three times—two of those calls were my Mom, checking to make sure the phone was working. It was nine long months before we got our first real client. Our mistake? We assumed that sending out a letter to our potential clients would drive them to our door. That didn’t happen. We didn’t understand the art of “rainmaking”—getting the skies to open up and pour new clients down upon us. We didn’t know that you couldn’t tell people just once what you do and expect them to hire you. You need to tell them over and over again. “Out of sight” is truly “out of mind.” So, let me share some of the rainmaking lessons I’ve picked up over the years, and perhaps we can shave a few months (and a lot of stress) off your learning curve.
Get clear on who you are. Before you can sell yourself to others, you have to know what you’re selling. Who are you? What are your core values? What special skills or expertise do you bring to the table? What makes you different from your competition? Why should I hire you instead of the attorney down the street?
List all the things about your practice that make you unique—what you offer that others can’t/don’t:
- Fluent in Portuguese
- Personal experience with your clients’ issues (e.g., you are the conservator for your elderly grandmother, hold a patent on an electric vegetable peeler, or put yourself through college working in construction)
- Home visits, evening/weekend appointments, or self-help tools for your clients’ use
- Niche practice area (e.g., dog-bite cases, trademarks for eco-friendly businesses, estate planning for parents of special-needs children, or DUIs for commercial drivers)
If you can’t see a difference between yourself and your competition, your potential clients won’t either. You want to be the obvious choice, so get busy and create a difference. Look at how other professional services differentiate themselves. Consider what your potential clients might need that they can’t get elsewhere, incorporate that into your practice, and tell everyone about it.
Get clear on your target market. Before you start doing the rainmaking dance, you need to be clear on your target market (the folks you want to serve). Write out a description of your ideal client in specific detail. This might include such characteristics as age range, gender, geographic location, legal issues, complexity of the matter, value of assets, annual income, educational level, and so on. The better you understand who you want as clients, the more you can focus your rainmaking activities on the strategies that will best reach them—and the more successful your marketing will be.
Build a great business card. Does your card feature the scales of justice? B-o-r-i-n-g! Add some color, your picture, an evocative logo. Choose an easy-to-read font style, change the size of the card, cut a notch in it—go for something different. At a minimum, help people remember what you do by listing your practice areas. Use the back of the card to list practice-related tips (e.g., “What to do if you are stopped for a DUI”). Pass your cards out in multiples to everyone you meet, with a cheery “Here’s my card—one for you and a couple extra in case you have friends who might need my services.” Your business card is the cheapest marketing tool you’ve got, so spread it around.
Create a tantalizing elevator speech. Develop an enticing “elevator speech” (what you could say during a brief elevator ride) to answer the question “What do you do?” Build in a hook that just begs a follow-up question. My estate planning client says, “I help people make money and protect their wealth to secure the future for themselves and their children.” Most people bite and ask, “How do you do that?” He says, “I use my legal training to help my clients create a plan to meet their retirement needs and provide for their heirs.” Describing what you do in a compelling way helps the listener understand the benefit of hiring you.
Make yourself someone you’d want to hire. People buy from those they know, like, and trust. If you don’t believe me, think back to when you bought your car, a house, life insurance, or Girl Scout cookies. Chances are you came to know, like, and trust your salesperson. Find a way to help potential clients do that with you, and you’ll sign more clients. If you are respectful, pleasant, friendly, approachable, honest, and confident with people, what’s not to like?
Choose from the six proven strategies. There are six proven strategies for marketing professional services:
- Direct contact (e.g., talking with a neighbor at the mailbox, chatting with your child’s Scout leader, striking up a conversation with a fellow bus rider, etc.)
- Networking and developing referral sources
- Public speaking
- Writing and publicity (e.g., blogs, tweets, articles for publication, etc.)
- Promotional activities (e.g., sponsoring a table at a charity event, providing bottled water for the Race for the Cure, sponsoring a Little League team, holding a workshop on living trusts, etc.)
- Advertising (e.g., print and TV/radio ads, Yellow Pages, billboards, websites, etc.)
You may be surprised to learn that these strategies are listed in order of their effectiveness in marketing professional services. (Wondering why? Think “know-like-trust.” Hard to connect personally through an ad or a website.) Marketing experts claim you must get your name in front of people at least seven times before they start recognizing it, so your best bet is to get onto their radar screens in a variety of ways. Work with only two or three strategies at a time. A mix of strategies will put your name before a greater number of people.
Be clear on your marketing goals. Most people think that the goal of a marketing plan is to attract new clients. Not necessarily. You may choose to create a plan to develop new referral sources, establish credibility for a new practice, or gain visibility in your local community. Figure out what you want from your marketing and plan accordingly.
Commit your marketing plan to paper. Write down your chosen marketing strategies, break them down into specific activities, then break those down into smaller tasks. For example, a public speaking activity might be “speak at a Rotary meeting,” which could break down to “develop an outline for my talk, locate local chapter, contact the president, prepare talk, draft handout materials, prepare take-away packets for attendees,” and so forth. Set a deadline for completing each task. Recruit an accountability partner to whom you will regularly report your progress. Then get busy and do it!
Incorporate social media in your marketing mix. Think about your target market and how they shop for services, gather information, and communicate with each other, and this will help you understand the most effective way to use social media in your marketing. If you handle DUIs for young men between the ages of 18 and 25, Facebook and Twitter may be most effective because that’s how they communicate with friends and gather information. If you handle elder abuse cases, your first contact will probably be with a family member of the victim. Where will they look for you? Make sure you’re there. Claim your Avvo profile and ask clients to post favorable comments. Fill out your profile on LinkedIn and ask others to recommend you. If you aren’t comfortable with this whole social media thing, you need to figure it out. (Hire your kids to teach you!) If you don’t, just know that your competition has.
Build a client-attracting website. If your website isn’t attracting a lot of new clients, change it. The focus of most firms’ websites is on the lawyer or the law firm, and not the client. You have about two seconds to grab the attention of your website visitors, so skip the impressive credentials on the landing page and tap into their pain or problem right up front. Give them a reason to stay. Offer free stuff through an opt-in feature. People like “free.” For example, offer a brochure on “The Top 10 Things You Need to Do Before You File for Divorce.” The visitor enters an e-mail address, and an autoresponder delivers the goods instantly. You’ve just become a resource for your visitor and added another name to your e-newsletter list. Personalize your website by putting your picture on the first page. Adding articles to your website will help boost your Google ranking. Use titles that contain the keywords someone might use to find you. Create a different website for each practice area so you can saturate each with your keywords. Not sure which keywords make sense? Check out www.keywordspy.com for ideas.
Attorney Alesha Struthers’ website provides an example of how to address your potential client’s pain or problem. I especially like her landing page and her bio (an engaging format). Struthers clearly demonstrates an understanding of her clients’ problems and introduces herself as a three-dimensional person—all very appealing to a website visitor.
Networking is not about you. Networking is all about building a mutually beneficial relationship with another person. Merely exchanging business cards at a Chamber of Commerce mixer isn’t going to help anyone. Put the same work into nurturing strategic professional relationships as you would a personal relationship. Learn about the other person’s business and look for ways to help advance that business. Can you make an introduction, secure a speaking engagement, share resources, or refer business? Make networking all about the other person and you’ll be surprised at how your kindness and caring will come back to you in unexpected ways.
Jump-start your marketing. Okay, there’s lots of good stuff you need to know when putting together an effective marketing plan, but let’s look at some things you can do right now to help you get some work.
- Ask a successful senior attorney to mentor you on how to build your practice.
- Sign up with an attorney referral service (check out the state listings on the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service website).
- Sign up with a legal services insurance group (such as ARAG) or a prepaid legal services company.
- Network with the folks who have direct access to your potential clients. For DUI, try networking with therapists, recovery coaches, and bartenders. For family law, try therapists, real estate agents, ministers, bankers, and hairdressers. People starting businesses might be working with the advisors at the small business development center, or bankers, office supply vendors, CPAs, insurance agents, commercial leasing agents, or telephone installers.
- Make sure that everyone you know (family, friends, neighbors, dry cleaner, grocery store clerk, hairdresser/barber, dentist, etc.) understands exactly what you do and who your target market is. Tell them you would welcome their referrals.
- Write down the first five names that come to mind of people you know. Put an asterisk next to the “centers of influence”—the people whom everyone knows and turns to for advice. Now, add five more names. Invite your “centers of influence” to lunch and ask for help in building your practice. Be specific as to what you need (e.g., advice, introductions, referrals, speaking gigs, etc.). Keep adding to your list every day until you retire.
- Network with other attorneys who share your practice area, and suggest yourself for the cases and clients they don’t, or can’t, take.
- Look to other service industries for new marketing ideas. How does your CPA stay in touch with clients throughout the year? What does your hairdresser do to get you to refer your co-workers? What sort of experience does your doctor provide that has you singing her praises to your friends? If these strategies work on you, they’ll work for you.
- Speak in front of any group that will have you. Not keen on public speaking? Join Toastmasters and hone your skills in a safe and supportive environment.
- Use signage to attract passersby. When I went to meet with the partners in a small firm located on a busy thoroughfare, I drove past the building three times before I figured out where they were. No signage. Big brass letters soon went up—and so did their first-time caller count.
- Trade card/brochure holders to display in your lobby with another professional who shares your target market. For instance, a family law attorney might swap with a therapist. A business or estate planning attorney might swap with a CPA or financial planner.
- Make it a point to ask your clients for referrals. (Also, make it a point to educate them on all the practice areas or issues that you handle.)
- Join a group in which you have a special interest (e.g., Rotary, PTA, Knights of Columbus, or the Crotchety Crocheters). Get involved. Run for office, serve on a committee, volunteer to introduce the monthly speakers, or direct people to the coat room at your meetings. Visibility is key.
- Host a “bagel break” and invite everyone on your floor to come by for breakfast one morning. Speak with each individual and give everyone a take-away on your services.
- Reconnect with former clients. Invite them to an office-warming party, send them an announcement, or give them a phone call to fill them in on your exciting new venture.
- Smile a lot! You never know who is watching.
Your best marketing strategy—give your clients an exceptional experience. Of course, the best source of new business is a satisfied client, so make sure everything you do has “satisfaction” as its goal. Remember that time you had outstanding service in a restaurant? You probably told countless others about your experience. Make your clients feel important and you’ll be giving them an experience to tell their friends about. Provide “knock-their-socks-off” service. I’ve seen small firms offer freshly baked cookies, in-home visits for will signings, play areas for kids—even free taxi rides home from jail for DUI clients. Communicate regularly with clients—especially during the times when nothing is happening on their matters. Return those phone calls promptly. Ask yourself every day, “How can I make my client feel special today?”—and then do it. Find a way to exceed your clients’ expectations, and they’ll be shouting your praises from the rooftops.
It’s all up to you. The best marketing strategies are only as good as the people who work them. Commit to spending time each day on marketing. Five hours a week is good when things are busy, and more when things are slow. If you haven’t been consistently working at business development, you’ll find yourself back at square one when your current matters conclude. There are loads of people who need your services—it’s up to you to help them find you. Now, get out your umbrella and start making some rain!