With 2019 looming large on the horizon, you are likely thinking about how to garner the motivation and focus to generate high-quality clients and referral sources next year. In addition to spending time with friends and family, many of my clients like to take the last couple of weeks in December to reflect on what went well last year, what didn’t go well, and, overall, to refine their goals for next year. I know. It would be nice to have an army of marketing people like your big-law colleagues to help you create a solid marketing plan for next year. Just remember: You are a brave soul who has chosen the life of an entrepreneurial lawyer over life in a big law firm (or working for the government or as an in-house lawyer). As we begin planning for 2019, let’s step back and look at what motivates lawyers to practice alone or in a small firm.
Why Small Firm and Solo Practice is Awesome
You call the shots. You are not mired in politics day in and day out. You make the decisions that will drive your practice forward by focusing on what works.
Cost containment. Your friends who practice in larger firms buy into an overhead allocation they have little control over. The overhead includes shared resources such office space, secretaries, paralegals, conference rooms, copy services, human resources, accounting, marketing, IT, and myriad other areas. When you own a practice of your own, you have complete control of what you spend. No votes, no extra services you don’t use. You control your budget 100 percent. In most large firms, the “33 percent, 33 percent, 33 percent” rule prevails. For every dollar you bring in, one-third each goes to overhead, partner profits, and, your salary. That’s right. In big firms you will generally be paid about one-third of what you bring in.
Clients you love. When you practice as a solo or in a small firm, you have a choice to make regarding your clients. Do you want to work with them? Do they respect and value your expertise? Will they be responsive and stay engaged in the process? When you meet with a client for the first time, it is really your choice—not theirs—if you choose to work with them. Many of the “worst” clients you have worked with likely dripped with red flags before they signed your retainer agreement. As the Grand Poohbah of your practice, you choose who you want to work with. The more selective you are, the more you will enjoy your work.
Bring your dog to work day. That’s right, this can be every day for you, because you are the boss! You can dress the way you want and set your own hours. You can work from your office, from a coffee shop, or from home if you choose. You can hire employees or independent contractors to help you deliver services to your clients. You can use your personal flair to attract the clients and referral sources you enjoy most. The choice is yours.
Get Ready to Grow in 2019
Now that you are revved up and happy to be in control of your own destiny, let’s look at how next year can be your best year ever. Many of the ideas below will not be new to you. In fact, it’s the tried-and-true strategies that generally work best. It’s about getting back to basics versus following the next new, shiny scheme promising a steady stream of new clients. Think about this. You need to choose how to create your marketing plan versus letting another company’s e-mail marketing campaign dictate what “works.” As you review the steady stream of unsolicited e-mails you receive, please be very wary of those guaranteeing quick results, the highest rankings, X number of leads generated each week, and other empty promises. If you want success in 2019, you must make the choice on what will work best for you. Consider the following—the tried-and-true best practices that should be in your marketing mix next year.
There is no “easy button,” so let’s get down to brass tacks. As you sit in front of the fireplace or plan a bit of reflective downtime, consider the following activities that, if done with thoughtful reflection and focus on your future, will generate results. These results will include better relationships with existing contacts, a steady stream of new business, increased name recognition, and a targeted approach to your communications. These are not the newest, coolest, greatest, sexiest things out there—just the things that have worked best.
Your discovery or due diligence. Before you get serious about committing yourself to action in 2019, you need to follow the process you use with your own clients. You wouldn’t dream of offering advice to clients without conducting an analysis of their legal issue. Right? You need to do the same thing for yourself including:
- Client review. Who were your best clients of 2018, and what did they have in common? Why did they make your A-list? Who do you wish you hadn’t worked with, and why?
- Referral sources. When you look at your favorite clients, who referred them to you? How did they find you? Was it through your efforts online or through your base of referral sources? You need to know how your best clients found you in 2018 so you can double down on your efforts in those areas.
- Revenue review. Where did you make your money? Did you have a few cases that garnered high fees, or is your practice volume-based, where you need a lot of clients to earn a living?
- Profitability review. If you subtract direct client expenses and your time, which clients were most profitable? Which were not?
Create client-focused pages on your website. Think about the types of clients you serve. Develop content for your website around those client groups, not just around the services you offer. You likely wouldn’t pick a surgeon because she lists “heart transplant” on her list of services. Clients want to see that you have done exactly what they need. Consider pulling all the experience you have representing executives, business owners, doctors, athletes, auto dealerships, entertainers, machine shops, dairy farmers, inventors, device manufacturers—you get the picture—into one page on your website that is built just for them. Here, your best prospects can review a summary of your work in their industry, read relevant blog posts you have written, watch videos they would be interested in, review your experience specific to them, see testimonials from happy clients, and contact you to discuss their legal matter. For more, read an article I wrote recently on Laser-Focused Targeting: The Key to Your Success.
Conduct search engine optimization (SEO). Recently, I was in a client meeting where it was reported that more than 15 calls had come in over the past week as a direct result of clients finding the firm on Google. This firm focuses on working with physicians, and because of its strong SEO, one call was from a neurosurgeon, one from a cardiologist, and another from an anesthesiologist. They all turned into active cases! All because their website content has been optimized to reach a specific audience—physicians. How is your SEO? Do a search for the key words and phrases you would like to be found under, such as “lawyer for physicians,” or “camping lawyer,” or “lawyer for inventors,” or “medical device lawyer.” Generally, your prospective clients will not go beyond the first page of Google search results. If you are not on the first page—top half of the screen—you may as well be on page thirty. Also, look at where your competitors come up using the same search terms. SEO is complicated and not something most law firms choose to tackle on their own. We have a blog post that discusses How to Do SEO Without Breaking the Bank.
Create new website content and blogs. The key to top search engine rankings is to keep adding new content to your website. If the key words you want to be found under do not exist on your website, clients won’t find you. Produce a steady stream of new content, including case studies, representative experience, new client-focused pages, audience-specific blog posts, articles you have published, and presentations you give. View your website as a living, breathing organism that needs to be tended to and cared for on a consistent basis—constantly feed it with new content. For more, watch our video How Do I Know If My Website Needs Updating?
Only send targeted e-communications. Generally, the only type of communications we use today are e-mail communications sent to extremely targeted groups of prospective clients and referral sources. General firm e-newsletters are passé. Your clients don’t have time to read anything that is not specific and relevant to them. Therefore, the key to effective communications is to segment your database into groups of clients, contacts, and referral sources so you can send smaller groups information that is interesting and informative. For more, read our blog post on Effective Communications Strategies for Lawyers.
Add videos to your website. This year, many of our clients worked with us to create videos for their websites. In addition, videos can be used on social media and featured in targeted communications. If you choose to add video to your website, make sure you also use a service like rev.com to produce full-text transcripts of each video. Internet search bots cannot scan videos, but they can certainly index text. In addition, make sure your video team knows how to fully optimize each video on your website and on YouTube or Vimeo to generate the strongest SEO results. For more, read our blog post on How to Create Interesting and Informative Videos for Your Website.
Actively participate on social media. While the algorithms seem to change with the weather, social media is here to stay. In my last column, I wrote about the “New Rules” of social media. We recommend that lawyers spend most of their social time on LinkedIn, posting long-form posts (no longer than 200 words) that are accompanied by a unique image. Use royalty-free sites to find images and focus on your personal engagement. If you maintain a LinkedIn page for your law firm, go to that page and share posts with your personal LinkedIn network. Then, engage with your network. Like, share, and comment on others’ posts. Post something timely and relevant at least once per week. Read the article I wrote in October for the GPSolo eReport on How to Master the New Rules of Social Media.
Celebrate Your Entrepreneurialism!
Think about how your clients find you. Most often, it’s through referrals and word of mouth. Don’t fall prey to e-mail solicitations promising a steady stream of high-quality referrals. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on paid directory listings and advertising on legal referral sites. Advertising can be very expensive and is not targeted. Generally, clients don’t hire you because they stumble on an ad you paid for. Make sure your receptionist tracks how new callers found the firm (if you don’t have a receptionist, remember to ask this question yourself), and continue to invest in what’s working for you.
Finally, don’t let new “shiny object” ideas distract you from staying focused on your target audiences and prevent you from taking action. Remember the wise words of Walt Disney, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”