I have always known that lawyers in small firms understand marketing a lot better than their peers and colleagues in bigger firms. Big firms generally come with a small army of marketing professionals who will handle everything from the firm’s website, to PR and communications, to managing the database, developing marketing plans, and hosting events. Small law firms need to figure out how to develop clients, or they won’t be successful. Big firms generally offer more of a security blanket to lawyers, many of whom don’t have clients yet, but the firm has confidence they will over time.
As a small firm or sole practitioner, you have a plethora of marketing options available to you. Just look at your e-mail today. It’s likely you have at least five or six e-mails touting opportunities you “don’t want to miss,” inviting you to advertise with them or offering qualified leads that will result in clients. You get messages from so many marketing providers you can’t handle them all, but still, in the back of your mind, you wonder, “What if I’m missing out on the one thing that could drive clients into my practice?”
Advertising Doesn’t Work
At the risk of offending hundreds of online directories and others seeking lawyers’ advertising dollars, I will say it: Advertising—paying for your message or your profile to appear higher on a website’s search results—will generally not result in new business. How can I make this bold claim? Because having worked with lawyers and law firms large and small for nearly 30 years, I can honestly tell you it’s extremely rare and even improbable for a client to find you or your firm because you spent thousands of dollars on web-based directory or Yellow Pages listings.
Advertising is a paid way to increase your name recognition in the marketplace, and you must spend tens of thousands of dollars to advertise your way to new clients. The PI lawyers on TV and billboards must be able to cost-justify their expenditure. But most lawyers don’t have that kind of cash laying around to win at the advertising game. The best reason not to spend thousands on advertising? It’s likely not how your clients originally found you. Think about your clients over the past few years. I’ll bet you were referred to them by someone they trusted. I’ll wager that they didn’t turn to the Yellow Pages, close their eyes, and pick your firm.
I have helped scores of lawyers over the years reallocate their marketing dollars into actual strategies that work, are more personal, and don’t require you to spend thousands of dollars.
Bright idea: Start tracking how clients find you. Ask them, “How did you find me/my firm?” Develop a list of possibilities so your receptionist can continue this practice. Include categories of:
- Google search (what did they search for)?
- Referral (from whom—by name so you can thank them)?
- Yellow Pages (don’t hold out too much hope)
- Lawyer referral site (Avvo, Super Lawyers, Lawyers.com, FindLaw.com)
- Bar association (be engaged—it could happen!)
No Easy Button
One of the reasons lawyers are so inclined to spend big money on advertising is because they think it’s easy. Advertise and wait for the phone to ring. Right? When you reflect on the success of your practice over the years, it’s likely the result of you consistently pursuing activities over time that worked. Activities such as building relationships with your clients and referral sources, writing articles your clients will read, making presentations your target audiences are interested in, providing timely and relevant updates in the law and other high-value communications. The best marketing strategies take time. You don’t throw money at them and hope they work. Rather, you step back, assess your practice, reflect on what has led to your success to date, and double down on the efforts that led to the practice you have today.
Bright idea: Review your client list over the past three years. For each client, identify who referred you. Start an active list of your best referral sources with a goal of reaching out to them in 2018. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Ask them a lot of questions. Nurture the relationship, and it’s likely more referrals will come your way.
So Many Options—So Little Time
Once you realize that you can pretty much ignore the solicitations you receive via e-mail, you can spend time focusing on what really matters—the strategies that have worked for you in the past and will continue to do so in the future. For your consideration, here are the top strategies I recommend for small firms and sole practitioners—because they work!
Invest in Your Website
Just because you developed a “new” website a few years ago doesn’t mean it will generate business for you. With the changes and enhancements being made to website technology—we use the WordPress platform—you should look at refreshing your website every couple years. Your goal? To have a website that doesn’t look like every other lawyer’s website. Anyone who is considering hiring you or referring business to you will go to your website, and they will judge you. If your website looks like it was built in the 1970s (I know, websites didn’t exist then), it will give them pause to call you. If your website says “© 2010” in the footer, many will move on.
Bright idea: Take a step back and conduct an objective assessment of your website. Compare it to those of your friends and colleagues in the legal industry. Ask yourself, “Does it look impressive?” or “Would I hire me?” If the answer is no, hire a professional website developer to work with you on creating a website that will truly differentiate you in the marketplace through design creativity and content written with SEO in mind.
Communicate with Your Contacts
Invest in a e-communications tool such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. These services are very intuitive and will allow you to create nicely branded (to the new website many of you will be developing!) communications that look professional and contain timely, relevant communications. So, what should you communicate?
- Explain changes in the laws that affect your clients and referral sources.
- Provide links to blogs you have written recently.
- Launch the new website you just developed.
- Promote the new attorney or staff member you just hired.
- Highlight your volunteer activities.
- Invite readers to like and follow you on social media.
- Focus a communication on a particular service you offer with links to website content including the practice summary page, your biography, client testimonials (if your state’s ethics rules allow), case studies that focus on this type of client, their issue, your approach, and the result.
Bright idea: Start regularly creating blog posts on topics that underscore your expertise. You will always have content for your e-communications if you are regularly producing blog posts. Remember that blog posts aren’t law review articles. Think of a topic you recently helped a client understand and write a blog on it! Your blog should:
- Introduce the topic and why it matters to the audience you are writing for.
- Provide three or four supporting paragraphs about the implications of the topic.
- Offer up a few recommendations for clients facing the same situation.
- Conclude with a call to action that you are always available to talk with a client in this situation.
Marketing Is a Contact Sport
Hopefully, after disregarding the myth that you can advertise your way to new business, you will see that the clear majority of your cases have come from people who referred your clients to you. People who know you, like you, trust you, and respect you—these are the people you need to be spending your marketing time with. While staying in touch with contacts can feel like a daunting task, it is critical to your future success as a lawyer to find a process that works for you.
Bright idea: Create a contact action plan where you can record your best contacts by name and identify what your next steps are with each person. Your contact action plan should include each person’s:
- Name, title, company.
- E-mail address and phone number. (Make sure they are on your database!)
- Whether this is an “A-level” or a “B-level” contact. I want you to start with your very best contacts.
- When you last saw the person.
- When you would like to follow up with this person again.
- What your follow-up is after your meeting. You always need to have a next step, or the relationship will stagnate. And do what you promised.
Do Something Every Day
I have served as a marketing coach to lawyers for nearly 30 years. There is one small thing you can do that will guarantee your success in private practice. Do something every day to work on your practice. Don’t let yourself become so immersed in delivering services that you forget about the future. We call that working in your practice. Every day, even if for only a few minutes, you need to step above the fray of the day-to-day stresses of your practice and take one proactive step to maintain and grow the relationships you have, even when you’re busy.
Remember that if you wait until you have time to market, it might be too late. I know that on many days, you don’t think you have time to do marketing, but to be a successful lawyer, you also know you must make time to keep your name recognition high. It’s easy. Just say yes—to attending events, to writing articles, to speaking to client groups. Say yes to that accountant who invites you for coffee or the therapist who wants to take you to lunch. Keep your contact action plan full of the people who, when you nurture your relationship with them, will provide a steady stream of new client work for you now and into the future.