As a solo or small firm practitioner, one of your primary responsibilities is to attract new clients to your practice. And because it’s easier and less expensive to do work for a client you have already served, it’s also critical that you maintain ongoing relationships with your existing and past clients so that, when the time comes for them to hire a lawyer again, you are the obvious choice. E-mail marketing allows you to do both.
The Benefits of E-Mail Marketing
In an ideal world, you would have unlimited time to court clients and prospects and an unlimited budget to devote to marketing. In the real world, though, most lawyers are so busy serving clients and running a practice that client development often tumbles to the bottom of the list. E-mail marketing:
- saves time because it allows you to engage many readers (one-to-many marketing) with the same effort that it would take to connect with just one or two (one-to-one marketing);
- is cost-effective because you can create and send bulk e-mails with little or no financial investment;
- allows you to increase client engagement and interact with your network as frequently as you want, even without getting out of the office;
- provides a medium for sending customized content to different audiences at the touch of a button, thereby avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach; and
- offers one of the best ways to maintain top-of-mind awareness. In other words, regular correspondence with your subscribers keeps you on their mental radar screens.
What to Write About
No matter how many e-mails you send, if your intended audience doesn’t read them, you will see little or no return on your investment of valuable time and energy. The sheer volume of e-mail most people receive means that your messages must be seen as useful, not as in-box clutter.
- Deliver value. Make sure that the vast majority of the content you disseminate includes information, tips, and stories that are of specific interest to your readers. Try to steer clear of using canned newsletter content purchased from a newsletter service. According to Dan Jaffe, founder and CEO of Lawlytics.com, one of the biggest mistakes small firm lawyers make is sending out mass-produced articles that aren’t particularly valuable to the reader and don’t help the lawyer stand out. Instead, customize your writing for your clients and ideal prospects—alert them to important information or changes in the law, encourage them to think differently about a common challenge, or share a cautionary or uplifting tale. By serving your subscribers’ needs, you will eventually serve your own.
- Avoid selling. Do you respond favorably to strong-arm sales tactics or promotional chest-beating? Neither does anyone else. When you consistently deliver tangible value to your readers, there is nothing wrong with the occasional announcement about a promotion, a case that’s been won, or a deal that’s been done, but keep it to a minimum. No one cares about your ego or that you want to bring in business. All they care about is how you can help them solve their own problems.
Get some help. You are busy running a practice and serving clients, so adding “e-mail marketing specialist” to your job description may not be practical. The good news is that you don’t have to. The marketplace is full of companies and freelancers that stand ready to assist you with your e-mail campaign, from setting up your newsletter format to writing relevant content to creating and implementing your strategic e-mail marketing plan. Many of these services are inexpensive, and you can usually arrange for as little or as much support as you need. A word of caution, though—there are so many providers out there that choosing among them can be overwhelming, particularly if you are a novice. Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions, and make sure you know what is and is not included.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t see an immediate tangible response in the form of new clients, don’t throw in the towel on the theory that “this e-mail marketing nonsense doesn’t work.” Instead, take the long view. Consistency is key. No matter how fascinating your e-mails are, reading one or two of them is unlikely to prompt most people to suddenly sign a retainer agreement and write you a check. Sending e-mails to someone based on his or her interests and providing valuable information helps the reader get to know, like, and trust you. Those who have learned to see you as a trusted resource over the long term are more likely to retain you when the time comes to hire a lawyer.
E-mail marketing dos and don’ts. These days, anyone can send out an e-mail newsletter. The challenge is to send out an effective e-newsletter: in other words, one that engages the reader, develops an ongoing relationship with clients and prospects, and results in a steady stream of desirable clients.
- Engage in permission-based e-mail marketing. Send your marketing e-mails only to those who have asked or expressly agreed to receive them. Because those who haven’t given you permission are more likely to report your e-mails as spam and less likely to read your missives or engage your services, it’s in your best interest to obtain express permission (typically by having them opt in on your website). The goal is to engage members of your community, not annoy them. Don’t be a virtual trespasser.
- Invite subscriptions on your website and in person. Don’t keep your newsletter a secret. Add an opt-in box to your website inviting visitors to subscribe. Consider offering a free download—such as a useful white paper, checklist, or article you have created—to serve the needs of your audience, and then sending the newsletter as a follow-up to those who requested the download. You can take your invitation off-line, too. A nice way to deepen or maintain a connection with an in-person contact is to say something like this: “It sounds like you have some interest in how environmental laws might impact your business. I have a monthly newsletter on that topic, which I’m happy to send to you, or you can sign up right on my website if you like.”
- Use an e-mail marketing service. An e-mail marketing service can offer a no-cost or low-cost way to manage your e-mail marketing program more effectively than you can with typical e-mail accounts such as Outlook. Most e-mail marketing services provide easily customizable e-mail templates, ensure that your mailings comply with anti-spam laws, automatically manage your e-mail list (including opt-outs), and provide opt-in forms you can place directly onto your website. They also offer reader-engagement analytics to track which of your e-mails were read and how many links were clicked within your e-mail. MailChimp (mailchimp.com) and Constant Contact (constantcontact.com) may be familiar names, but there are numerous others that may be a good fit for you. If you are currently using practice management software, check first to see whether you already have e-mail management capability.
- Ensure your e-mails can be read on different screens. These days, most people are reading e-mails on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Internet marketing experts commonly advise that you use a mobile-friendly e-mail service so that your content automatically adapts to whatever device your reader is using. Choose an e-mail marketing service that is device sensitive.
- Keep your e-mails short and easy to read. Your number-one goal is genuine engagement with your audience, so writing a short, tight article of 300 to 700 words that captures the reader’s attention is better than writing a long, scholarly essay that prompts the reader to press the delete button. Reader-friendly formatting is also important. Instead of sending an article consisting of one big blob of text, employ headings to break up the monotony, arrange the text in short blocks of 100 to 200 words, and choose fonts that are easy on the eyes.
- Consider adding images and video. Using visuals other than the written word increases the likelihood that your e-mails will be read. If you are handy with a camera, you can create your own visuals, but if not, there are numerous websites that offer stock photos and royalty-free images at no or low cost. I use Big Stock Photo (bigstockphoto.com), but resources abound for quickly locating relevant photos and videos while easily complying with copyright laws.
- Link back to your website. One reason to send marketing e-mails is to encourage readers to visit your website, where they can learn more about you, the firm, and how you can be helpful to them and those they care about. Make it easy for e-mail recipients to peruse your website by including at least one link in your e-mail. An effective method is to extend an invitation based on the content of your e-mail. For example, an article about the three most important estate planning documents for young families could be followed by “Learn more about how our firm helps young families prepare for the future by visiting www.ourlawfirm.com.”
- Decide between single and double opt-in. Using permission-based e-mail marketing means that you must make a choice between “single opt-in” and “double opt-in.” When you use single opt-in for subscribers to your e-mail newsletters, they must enter their e-mail address only once to start receiving information from you. Using double opt-in means that subscribers need to sign up, wait for a confirmation e-mail from you, and then press a button to confirm that they really want to be on your list. Both methods have pros and cons, and there is fierce debate in the Internet marketing community about which is best. For example, single opt-in allows your subscribers the instant gratification of getting your information right away. On the other hand, if you are offering a free report on your website, single opt-in creates a risk of subscribers entering a fake e-mail address to get instant access. They take advantage of the free content and you lose a subscriber. Using double opt-in means that your subscribers have to wait a while to receive your messages and might forget to confirm. The upside? When they do confirm, you have a subscriber who you know truly wants to connect. Over time, double opt-in gives you a quality list of engaged readers who are more likely to become clients.
- Segment your lists. A powerful way to generate engagement and trust from your readers is to send them only content that is relevant to them. Put another way, not all your readers need to receive every e-mail you send. Crafting fewer, yet consistently relevant messages to a select group of readers is a far more effective e-mail strategy than sending frequent, generalized ones. For example, an estate planning lawyer might have separate lists based on age, marital status, or the presence of a special-needs family member. A good e-mail marketing service will allow you to segment your lists quickly and easily.
- Craft brief and compelling subject lines. Just because people are signed up to receive your newsletters doesn’t mean they are reading them. Keep subject lines short and write something that piques interest. The goal is to get the reader to think, “Wow, that sounds interesting and like it was written just for me. I want to read more!” A quick online search will turn up numerous articles on writing captivating article titles and e-mail subject lines.
Ethical Considerations in E-Mail Marketing
Gone are the days when there was a bright line in the sand between communications considered to be attorney advertising (think highway billboards and newspaper advertisements) and those that were not. Electronic communications such as e-mail, blogging, chat rooms, and social media have muddied the waters, making it more difficult to determine whether ethics rules apply and how to comply with them. Is your e-mail an advertisement? A solicitation? Are there specific words or disclaimers you must include?
There is no uniform nationwide ethical rule applicable to e-mail marketing. This means it is up to you to examine carefully and comply with the applicable rules in your jurisdiction. Even then, it may not be so simple. Why? Because if your e-mails are going to recipients outside your jurisdiction, you may need to comply with those jurisdictions’ rules as well. Do your research by reviewing the applicable states’ rules of professional conduct (along with the committee’s comments), and consider placing a call to your attorney ethics hotline for guidance on your particular situation. The time you invest in compliance will be well spent.
Build Your Client Community from Your Desk
While e-mail marketing is no substitute for face-to-face networking, it is a cost-effective and time-efficient way to stay in touch with clients, prospects, and those in your business and personal networks. Even better, it allows you to let them know that you understand and care about their challenges and demonstrate that you are uniquely positioned to help navigate them.