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   Nov/Dec 2001


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PracticeDevelopment: MARKETING

When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Keep Dancing

SALLY J. SCHMIDT

"Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor."

— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Having a bit of a downturn? Instead of sitting like a wallflower, you should visit a client’s business place, create a new e-mail database or investigate your competitors’ positioning. Here are 10 low-cost, even some no-cost, business development ideas.

If you’re like many lawyers, particularly those involved in corporate transactions, you may not be as busy as you’d like to be. When the budget gets tight, a natural reaction for many lawyers and firms is to reduce their investment in marketing. A slowdown, however, is precisely the time to step up marketing and business development efforts.

History has shown that market leaders tend to secure or strengthen their positions during tough economic times. The weak competitors drop out, and the shortsighted fade from view.

If you want to build your practice for the future, you have to stay on the dance floor.

How Do You Keep In Step?

Following are 10 activities to consider if you have time on your hands. You’ll see that most of these activities take more time than money. Frankly, activities in which you invest time (like building relationships) usually produce a better, more immediate bottom-line impact than those in which you simply invest cash (such as sponsorships).

1. Contact Some Clients

Everyone knows that the best place to find new business is with existing clients. Look at your list of top 10 clients. Are there some you haven’t visited lately? Tour their offices, plants or construction sites. Assess their future needs by asking questions about their plans or potential issues.

Call a selection of clients to ask for an evaluation of your past performance. Find out how you can improve your services, and whether clients have needs that you are not meeting.

Follow up with former or inactive clients. Advise them on whether they should be doing something to better their positions (such as updating their wills). Perhaps more importantly, call just to say hello and find out how they’re doing.

2. Increase Your Visibility

If you’ve been a sporadic attendee at professional, trade or industry meetings, ratchet up your presence. Get on a committee or seek a leadership position. Submit ideas for a presentation at a future meeting. Take a booth at the next conference.

3. Update Your Contact List

Often lawyers don’t follow up with contacts because they lack the tools and information to do so. A good, up-to-date contact list or database will make your future marketing efforts a breeze.

A slow time is a good time to review your holiday card and announcements list. Add attendees at recent seminars or new members of associations to which you belong. Code contacts or fill in database fields, recording information such as source of business, client industry and the like. Create new e-mail directories for future alerts or bulletins.

4. Follow Up with Referral Sources

Are there people who’ve referred business to you in the past whom you haven’t seen lately? Contact them and take them to lunch. Ask about their business and clientele. Discuss opportunities for joint marketing, like co-authoring an article or co-presenting at a seminar.

5. Develop Your Product

In legal services, the "product" consists of the lawyer’s skills and expertise. Now would be a good time to take a CLE course to build your expertise or retool into a new area. Start working toward a new certification (perhaps in mediation) or degree (maybe you’ve been thinking about that LLM).

In addition, you can develop your marketing flair by attending classes on sales skills or presentation training.

6. Write Something

Properly placed and leveraged, substantive writing can be an excellent marketing tool. Use your time to get some helpful information into your target market’s hands.

Write an article for an industry or professional publication. Contact a publisher about opportunities to write chapters or books. Produce a client alert or communiqué on some noteworthy item. Develop a checklist or guide for clients in your area of law (such as a description of the various trusts and how they’re used).

7. Conduct Research

Effective marketing efforts start with research—on your prospects, referral sources and competition.

Visit the Web sites of targeted prospects and referral sources to learn about their products and services, decision makers and locations. Investigate which law firms they work with now.

Also, visit your competitors’ Web sites to see how they’re positioning themselves. Find out what they’re doing to market. Analyze their client lists and recent transactions or matters handled.

Investigate an industry. Locate its key organization or association. Acquire a membership list. See if the group has meetings or publications you can use for marketing purposes.

8. Update Your Materials

Take a fresh look at the way you market yourself or your practice, and make improvements. Review your marketing brochures or collateral materials. Update your resume and add recent speeches, articles and matters handled. Evaluate your Web presence.

9. Make Your Practice More Service-Oriented

With a little extra time, you can make a commitment to improve the way you handle clients. For example, evaluate your procedures and policies. Could you make your intake process more client-friendly? Should you implement a 24-hour policy on returning client phone calls? Talk to your secretaries and other staff to get their ideas.

Implement a follow-up program for closed files. Set specifics, such as calendaring a check-in with clients after three months to see how things are going.

Create a systematic client survey program to allow clients to assess the firm’s services and offer suggestions for improvement. (See "The Science of Useful Research," on page 45 of this issue.)

10. Develop a Well-Laid Plan

It takes time to create a thoughtful, comprehensive marketing strategy. Whether you’re preparing ideas for yourself, your practice group, your office or your firm, it is useful to outline a one- or two-year plan to systematically implement the kinds of activities described in the preceding steps.

Don’t Swing Backward

These are just a few of the investments you can make in your practice if you have some time and initiative. One word of caution, however: If you don’t sustain your efforts once you get busy again, you may find yourself back in the same predicament during the next economic cycle.

ACTION

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith. Warner Books, 1997.

Marketing the Law Firm: Business Development Techniques by Sally J. Schmidt. Law Journal Press, updated semi-annually.

Comments? Contact Sally Schmidt at Schmidt Marketing, Inc., 1601 East Highway 13, Ste. 106, Burnsville, MN 55337, (952) 895-9915; sallyschmidt@schmidt-marketing.com.


Sally J. Schmidt (sallyschmidt@schmidt-marketing.com), President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., has counseled more than 250 law firm clients over the past 14 years. She was the first president of the Legal Marketing Association.