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Shape Up! Practice Management Tips for 2010

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STRETCHING YOUR MARKETING DOLLARS: DON'T STOP MARKETING, LOOK AT HOW YOU ARE MARKETING

When law firms are focused on cutting expenses, it’s often tempting to go straight to the marketing budget. In their book How Good Lawyers Survive Bad Times, authors Jim Calloway, Ross Kodner and Sharon Nelson say that taking a “slash and burn” approach to marketing spending is nearly always a mistake. This excerpt gives their tips for exercising your best options.

Your ongoing marketing efforts, whether robust or modest, are an investment in the future of your law practice. It is dangerous to stop ongoing marketing efforts merely for budget reasons because they are difficult to restart, and the results of marketing efforts often lag the initial outreach to the audience by a significant amount of time.

However, it is certainly appropriate—if not an outright must—to review all marketing efforts on an ongoing basis and determine where you could make strategic changes. For example, this might be the time to cut investments in print, radio, TV and other generalized forms of marketing, including Yellow Pages ads. Or, at the very least, it may be the time to make those ads smaller.

With a big percent of those looking for lawyers beginning their search online, 2010 is a great year to figure out how to adjust your strategy to reap more benefits from targeted online marketing and invest in your Web site and search engine optimization.

If circumstances require more curtailment of the marketing budget, remember that there are many personal marketing activities that one can undertake with little to no cost. Get creative. For instance, rather than the traditional direct-mail piece, it may make more sense to prepare and send a packet of useful information to current and former clients and referral sources via a PDF file.

Following are some other quick ideas that you could incorporate into your strategy to help keep your marketing costs down. These, of course, all take time from the lawyer or the staff side, but the time will be well spent.

Write, Speak and Know How to “Meet and Greet”
Writing articles that focus on your target market’s interest is a time-honored activity for boosting business. And, of course, it’s good to keep your name in front of other lawyers, too, so why not write an article for a local lawyer’s publication?

While volunteering to teach a CLE class for your bar association may not immediately strike you as a marketing effort, lawyers often report receiving referrals after these presentations. Showcasing your expertise is always a good plan. In addition, after you have completed the project, you’ll have great content for your Web site. Do not hesitate to show that you have such a high level of expertise that you are asked to teach or write. Always feature this type of material on your Web site.

Speaking to community groups is another good way to maintain the firm’s profile while at the same time generating referrals for new clients. You should start attending those bar luncheons as well, and be sure to introduce yourself to the people at CLE programs you’re attending. If you’ve always been a bit shy, you may need to move out of your comfort zone. Start slow, figure out what you’re going to say and how to proceed, and see if you can develop a genial public personality that isn’t overbearing, but memorable. Go armed with conversation starters (such as impartial comments on current events or pithy quotes from something you’ve read recently)—and, just as important, know when to retreat courteously.

Of course, renewing conversations with people you already know is important as well. Now is an excellent time to call and arrange a lunch with good referral sources, or to get together with your law school classmates who have local practices. Put your heads together and get creative about your respective marketing efforts—you may come up with inexpensive ways to help each other succeed.

Blog, Podcast and Tighten Your Web Message
If you’re not blogging and you have time enough to do it, consider whether you can deliver useful content to your target audience by either starting your own blog or regularly posting comments on others’ blogs. Your comments may even be picked up by reporters (many of whom say they quote bloggers with regularity). Blogs can solidify your reputation as the “go-to” lawyer in an area of practice—and many folks are using Google Alerts or similar online tools specifically to keep abreast of what’s being said on the Web about particular areas of law.

More technical expertise is needed to become a podcaster, but podcasts are an economical way to get your name out there, too. (You can even post them for free on iTunes.) If podcasting is a foreign term, you might start by checking out a panel discussion among podcasters at www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/tch09071.shtml.

Last but not least, to return to the matter of getting sure-fire value from a Web presence, try this: Retool your online message to appeal to the tightened wallets of America. Brand yourself as “a value-based law firm” and splash the message across your site. Explain on the homepage what a law practice like yours can do to save its clients money in tight times. Brainstorm with your colleagues to find the avenue of appeal. While the number one priority for law firm clients is the quality of services provided, these days finding your way into a client’s heart through his or her wallet isn’t a bad idea, either.

About the Authors

Jim Calloway is Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program. Sharon Nelson is President of Sensei Enterprises, a computer forensics and legal technology firm. Ross Kodner is the founder and principal of MicroLaw, a legal technology and law practice management consultancy.

To learn more about the recently released ABA book How Good Lawyers Survive Bad Times and to order, go to www.ababooks.org.

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