EVERY ATTORNEY KNOWS he or she must have a marketing plan. This is true if you are at a big firm, a small one or on your own. Even people who work in-house or for the government need a plan. If you are working in-house or for an agency, the marketing differs, but you still must work to make a positive impression on those who will evaluate your performance or utilize your services. Every attorney wants to be the go-to person for his or her practice expertise.
Many excellent marketing tools are available, as are a wide variety of methods to track your activities and progress. But before you invest in the technology or specific tracking software, it makes sense to first determine what kinds of marketing efforts will work best for who you are.
In some law firms, marketing “direction” consists of senior partners talking about what has worked for them in developing their business throughout their careers. While some of these “war stories” may resonate for you, many anecdotal successes are based upon the unique personality of the person involved and were likely accomplished in a marketplace that differs from today’s. While some in-firm storytellers are gifted at helping others translate their successful characteristics to another’s style, many use a one-size-fits-all approach that may not make sense for their audience or the current marketing climate.
STARTING THE PROCESS
Often when I meet with attorneys hoping to expand their practices and ask about what they offer that would be unique to a client, they appear nonplussed. If you cannot communicate to a dispassionate outsider what you best provide to clients, articulating your unique capabilities directly to a potential client will be problematic. Start with a process that enables you to speak with others about the previous kinds of matters you have handled, to provide examples of your best work and to discuss your working style and your ability to bring matters to closure and generate results. At the same time, you must keep in mind that past performance is not a promise of a future outcome. If your practice is not weighted to a particular specialty, you may want to talk in more general terms about the kinds of matters you handle and the ways in which you provide excellent service to clients. While it may seem tedious, practice these kinds of career highlights before presenting them to a potential client. If you stumble while articulating your basic background and skill sets, convincing a client of your value will be difficult. On the flip side, you don’t want to sound canned or rehearsed. Remember that the most important thing you can do during a client introduction is to listen. Listening helps you decide what to say and demonstrates that you are truly interested in the matters that a potential client may bring to you.
While creating justifications for not doing enough marketing is easy, there is wisdom in seeking greater clarity about which situations are most suited to your style and personality. Given your limited time, you should spend it getting organized on the front end and expending your energy in places most likely to yield results. Start with your contacts because they are most easily accessible to you—by tracking past matters, looking through your email contacts or scanning your LinkedIn connections. Start with low-hanging fruit. The greatest source of business comes from existing clients and referrals from past clients. Prioritize those contacts and expend your initial efforts on those likely to produce results. If you are particularly averse to marketing, start with those contacts with whom you are most familiar and have the greatest comfort. Many people have a tendency to believe that marketing is selling, and while it may be at some point, in the early phases it’s often easier to consider it as a means of getting to know your clients or potential clients better—a chance to learn more about their business. If you are currently doing work for a client, it’s an opportunity to ensure that you are providing the best service. Ask, don’t tell. As in any fruitful interview, remember that if you’re talking more than listening, you’re probably not learning enough about the other party.
If you are best one-on-one, arrange for meetings that will allow direct personal contact. If you flourish in groups, you may be comfortable creating department or firm events that allow your clients to mingle with other members of your firm. If you like attending conferences and meetings, use at least some of your marketing budget to attend key industry events where you are likely to meet a variety of potential new clients as well as to reconnect with some you already know.
If you have an intense dislike for social events and functions, don’t shun them but manage them according to what works best for you. A lawyer I know who is particularly uncomfortable in large social settings has given herself permission to depart after she has met three new people. By creating a manageable target, she has found that by the time she has met her goal she is usually enjoying herself and chooses to stay longer. Another attorney who prefers individual connections at industry conferences focuses on the people he most wants to meet and then circles back to them after the conference to set up one-on-one appointments. Probably the most common marketing shortcoming is to fail to follow up with the people you meet at functions. No matter what your personal style, follow up after events with the people who are likely to be your best contacts. Reflect on your meeting content and create another reason to continue communication.
If you enjoy writing, public speaking or teaching, understand that professional groups, bar organizations and member organizations are always looking for speakers and writers. If your legal work is aimed at the public at large, community groups and organizations are regularly seeking speakers. But remember not to have unrealistic expectations about the speed with which you will see an effect from these efforts. Understand that you must commit to writing or speaking with frequency and consistency before expecting that these efforts will yield business results. Give yourself sufficient lead time to prepare talks, find CLE opportunities or prepare articles and newsletters. Introduce content into the pipeline for some time before you expect business results.
While it is great to have a marketing plan, it is even better to have one that works for you.