No longer can an attorney be “all things to all people.” The day of the general legal practitioner has long passed. The laws and legal system have become extremely complex; new legislation is constantly being passed effecting specific segments of the law. As a result, when we leave law school, we tend to become involved in specific practice areas: criminal law, insurance law, tax law, or family and matrimonial law, just to name a few.
Although becoming a practice-area specialist can result in acquiring legal matters, it is becoming harder and harder to obtain clients just because you have specialized. According to the ABA website, there are more than 25,000 members of the Labor and Employment Law Section. Competition for clients can be ferocious.
However, there is a more effective way to get more clients calling your office: niche marketing.
What Is Niche Marketing?
Niche marketing is known by many names: target marketing, industry marketing, micro-marketing. It all comes down to the idea of becoming a big fish in a small pond.
The opposite of niche marketing is mass marketing. Mass marketing is about trying to sell and market your services to “the masses.” If you are a Fortune 500 company or even an Am Law 100 law firm with unlimited financial resources, then marketing to the masses may be perfect for you.
However, even these types of businesses are learning that mass marketing doesn’t work as well as it used to. They are now targeting small segments of the population and marketing directly to these groups, albeit they are targeting a large number of small segments at the same time. For example, car companies often use target or niche marketing for the various models of cars they sell. Pickup trucks are marketed to “manly men” on cable stations and in magazines and websites that have a predominantly male demographic; sedans and minivans are marketed to moms on family-centric websites and cable channels that are women oriented; hybrid cars are marketed to eco-friendly markets. Even law firms are choosing specific industries such as pharmaceutical companies.
Niche markets can be very broad or very narrowly defined. They can be defined by demographic information such as age, location, gender, lifestyle, ethnic background, or socioeconomic factors, or they can be defined by industry, SEC code, or hobby. What makes it a niche market is a concentrated, well-defined segment of the population with the same behaviors, wants, or needs.
Why Choose to Niche Market?
In the legal field, using targeted or niche marketing can create a successful law practice. When you narrow your focus to a specific group or industry, you can actually widen your visibility within that group.
It is cost-effective. Niche marketing allows you to focus your resources, your time, and your money on a specific group or industry. It is less expensive both in terms of time and money than mass marketing. Most small firm attorneys or solo practitioners do not have the financial resources to spend millions of dollars on advertising or marketing or the time to do “random acts of networking.”
It brands you as an expert. When you focus your rainmaking activities on a smaller segment of the population based on an industry or niche, you can position yourself as someone who is knowledgeable about that group. You become known as the industry expert.
It levels the playing field. With the use of social media and the Internet, you can become known as an industry expert whether you’re a partner in an Am Law 100 firm or a solo practitioner. Many prospective clients don’t care about the size of your law firm so long as you are well versed in the issues and problems they have in their lives and businesses.
How Do You Pick a Niche?
Who is your ideal client? As a rainmaking trainer and coach, I always propose to my clients that they ask this question when beginning to focus on a niche or industry.
I suggest that they pick one to three different groups or industries in which they are truly interested. As an aside, I am a believer that if you enjoy the people you work with and the practice you have chosen, you will become a successful attorney. Work will not seem like work when you enjoy what you do and whom you are serving.
Ask yourself the following questions: What makes you smile? What are you passionate about? Who are the people with whom you enjoy working? What group would benefit from your legal services? These are some of the criteria in which you should base your choice of niche or industry.
Is your industry or niche big enough? Once you have determined your interests, you need to find out if that niche or industry is a viable one in which to spend your time marketing. The Internet has a surplus of information at the ready for you to discover the members of this niche or group.
Are you involved in a specific practice of law? Let’s use a matrimonial/family lawyer as an example. Yes, this is a type of niche—it’s a practice area niche. Per statistics, at least 50 percent of the married public will need your services. This is a huge number of people. Even if you narrow it down to a specific geographic location, this can be an enormous number of potential clients.
From this pool of prospects, you can narrow this niche down to a specific criterion of individuals, socioeconomic group, or even industries that may need your services. There was one point in his legal career when my father unintentionally became locally known as the divorce lawyer to the airline industry. He had handled a divorce case for an airline executive, and because of word-of-mouth he was referred to several airline workers who then became clients.
If you are a corporate attorney, you can choose with what type of businesses you want to work. You can choose a specific industry (e.g., Internet-related businesses) or you can choose a size (e.g., start-ups or businesses with more than 50 employees).
When I decided to start Marketing Field, LLC, I knew I wanted to work solely with attorneys and law firms; I knew I wanted to work with small firms and solo practitioners. This was the niche with whom I was interested in working. I began by doing research to find out the size of the industry. I discovered that there are more than 1.2 million attorneys practicing in the United States. I narrowed my search to the number of small and midsize firms (under 100 attorneys) and solo practitioners in my home state because as a start-up, I wanted to concentrate on what was local. I further narrowed it down to local counties. I discovered that there were more than enough small law firms and solo practitioners within a 30-mile radius from my office for me to have a successful business. Ten years later, I am now lucky enough to work with individual attorneys and firms of all sizes across the United States.
What this exercise shows is that with a little searching, you can find out how large your niche may be on even a local basis. When I was doing this research, the Internet resources didn’t exist as effectively as they do currently. Now this information is even easier to find; there are, according to Google, more than 1 trillion pages on the Internet to search for this information.
Who is your competition? Part of your discovery is finding out with whom you will be competing in this market. If there are hundreds of attorneys competing for the same clients, are you willing to do what is necessary to set yourself apart from these lawyers? This is not to discourage you from becoming involved in a specific niche, but you need to be cognizant of the competition. Research who else is practicing in this niche in your desired location. If the pool of attorneys for this specific niche is large, you may want to reconsider or even narrow your focus further—you can find a niche within an industry or group. Of course, it would be easier if you find a niche in which there is little or no competition, but understand that there may also be a reason for this; that particular group may not be a viable target.
How Do You Market to This Niche?
Niche marketing is not just a matter of saying “I choose to be a part of this group.” Even though you’ve chosen a niche or industry in which you would like to work, the industry hasn’t chosen you. Yet.
The first truism of rainmaking is that “people do business with people they know, like, and trust.”
In order to be successful in any rainmaking endeavor, you have to create a rapport and trust with the people you would like as clients. This means that you have to begin devoting yourself to knowing everything you can about the industry or group you would like to cultivate as clients.
First, take the time to find out everything you can about the industry or niche that you have chosen. Find out where they exchange information, what magazines they read, to what associations they belong, what television shows they watch, what books they are reading, and what websites they are visiting. What is your industry or niche talking about to each other? In marketing, it is called “listening” to your target.
The most important thing you need to know about your target market or the industry with whom you have chosen to work is the exact issues and problems they have that only you as an attorney can solve.
Once you have figured out what your industry or niche is all about, where they congregate both on- and off-line, and what are their problems and issues with which you can help, then it is time to use marketing and rainmaking to promote yourself. There are many tactics and techniques that you can use.
Face-to-face. Whatever industry or niche you have chosen, there usually is an association or group of people who gather together to meet. Networking in person is still one of the best ways to get to know your potential clients and referral sources and, in turn, let them get to know you.
Even if the industry or niche you have chosen is a bit unusual, you can go to an Internet search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo! and search to see where this group meets on a regular basis. There is also a website called Meetup that allows you to find groups of people with the same interests or even start a group to meet on a local basis. (I always joke that if you want to find a group of “Grandmothers who knit and like to invest,” there is a Meetup group for them.)
Blogs. Although blogs have become ubiquitous, there are still many lawyers out there who do not understand how to blog or even the power blogging can have on their practice, particularly for industry or niche marketing. Blogging allows you to write specifically for the group of people you have chosen to target. If your content is fresh and relevant to the issues affecting your niche or industry, your target clients will make it a point to read what you have to say. This will allow you to position yourself as an industry expert. Use your blog to answer the questions they may have in a conversational and informal manner. However, your blog has to be written in a style that is interesting and accessible to your audience.
Articles. Almost every industry or target market you choose has a website, newsletter, online magazine, or print magazine for which you can submit articles. In fact, they are always looking for fresh information for their journals and magazines. The difference between blogging and article writing is that articles tend to be more formal and comprehensive in scope. When you write an article for your industry, it should be very professional (this is not to say it cannot be interesting).
Social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are only a few of the examples of social media out there, albeit the biggest. On each of these platforms, there is a search function where you can find members of your industry, target, or niche. You can use this search function to find the key leaders in your niche or industry, become connected with them, and begin to develop a relationship. Social media may allow you to meet industry leaders you may never have been able to meet otherwise.
Public speaking/seminars. Industry associations that require continuing education for their group are always looking for new speakers to talk about the changes and issues affecting them. Offer to give a seminar to these organizations. You can instantly gain a high level of credibility within your niche or industry.
Website. Your own law firm website should reflect the niche in which you have decided to become involved. Use the language that they would use. Speak to your target clients directly. Stop trying to be “just a lawyer or law firm.” And remembers, search engines index your site based on the keywords you use to describe your services. By using the same language as your target clients and offering them information that they will find useful, your website will be easier to find by people in that niche or industry.
Small Focus, Big Rewards
Like any other rainmaking effort, niche marketing will not bring you all the clients you can handle overnight. You must establish yourself as someone whom people in that organization, group, industry, or niche can count on as the expert to help them with their problems and guide them to achieve their goals. This takes time and consistent effort on your part.
Most lawyers will tell you that they would like to be a big fish in a big pond. Yet with more than a million practicing attorneys in the United States, this is an impractical goal to reach. Why not try to become a big fish in specific, smaller ponds? The rewards you reap will be a bigger book of business.