In a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, Scottish war veteran Mike Campbell is asked how he found himself after going bankrupt. His response: “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”
Campbell’s answer was not only an apt description of how riches are lost but an echo of the human condition and our stubbornness in the face of change.
Although our society is still recuperating from a global pandemic, it’s clear the world has changed permanently. Meetings are now Zoom-oriented, conversations are more typing than talking and work from home is a priority for employees. Due to these changes, industries face upheaval, and companies struggle to find new ways to reach clients.
In law, the shift has been more gradual, but interest is waning for in-person meet-ups, and building an online presence is becoming more vital than ever—with virtual law firms growing by 30% in 2021. This may sound daunting, but the benefit of shifting to a virtual medium means you can reach a wider audience and get more clients from the comfort of your own home.
As the world continues to digitalize, legal professionals must embrace this change sooner rather than later to remain competitive. Below are five steps to increase your online client base before you find your business left behind gradually, then suddenly.
Set up your web presence
First, decide if you want to use your online presence to only connect with new clients or as a way to supplement your practice. Essentially, is the internet just another point of contact, or are you going to provide services online? Either way, you’ll need to follow a few industry-best practices:
- Adhering to the rules and ethics listed by the ABA for your state of licensure.
- Implementing secure client intake and data software.
- Integrating technology to help you streamline your practice.
Once these necessities are seen to, you should lay the groundwork by establishing a website that’s optimized for both mobile and desktop, creating social media accounts for your practice, and registering yourself and your partners on platforms with high visibility tailored to your audience.
Understand your niche and audience
Businesses spend $37 billion each year on ads that fail to engage their audiences. The reason is that most companies don’t take the time to get to know their actual demographic rather than the one they imagine. Understanding who you connect with is vital to building an online presence.
As a lawyer, you’re in an advantageous position to create your target audience profile. First, your specialty in law determines who you’ll be representing. Divorce attorneys won’t be handling a murder trial, while a corporate lawyer is typically not taking a case for child support. There are obviously outliers, overlaps and particular circumstances, but defining your niche is easier for lawyers than for most other professions.
However, this may not be specific enough. Within your niche, a target audience is still waiting. To find it, audit your existing client information and see if you can identify any patterns among your clients. Analyze your audience’s demographics, why they connect with you, and what kind of messaging interests them. For additional insight, you can conduct surveys, make phone calls, or ask them to fill out questionnaires. This will help you determine your real target audience.
Create a marketing plan
After discovering who your audience is, it’s time to lay out an action plan on how to reach it. A marketing plan should encompass not only what you’re going to do but why and how you’re going to do it. Every marketing campaign should have a clear strategy aimed at appealing to the needs and interests of your target audience.
Questions to consider:
- Which sites and social media platforms do our potential clients use? How can we build our presence there?
- Right now, are we focused on short-term or long-term growth? (Pay-per-click/PPC ads or SEO?)
- Who are our competitors, and how do we differentiate?
- What is our budget for marketing, and how can we maximize it? What’s worth paying more for, and what can we accomplish at a low cost?
Become a thought leader
After you’ve built a sustainable online presence, it’s time to evolve your firm into a brand that attracts attention and fills your inbox with potential clients. Using your expertise to engage popular topics with a unique lens creates credibility in a place where anyone can access it.
When it comes to thought leadership, 88% of organizations believe it enhances their brand trust and, by extension, their revenue-generating model. Clients don’t want to hear from the second or third best but from industry leaders who evolve with change and help others understand how the future looks. As thought leaders, you and your brand are viewed as entities with deep insights into the law.
You can define your reputation as a thought leader through various mediums. From white papers to social media posts responding to current societal issues, creating pieces for thought leadership needs to take on a fresh approach and cut through the monotony with new perspectives.
Reward referrals and recommendations
When it comes to looking for an attorney, 62% of individuals seek a referral from friends and family. Even on an online platform, word of mouth is still the strongest indicator of your trustworthiness, so it pays to incentivize referrals and recommendations or endorsements—especially from other lawyers, whose recommendations often carry greater weight.
For example, you might write a recommendation online for a lawyer you respect and hope that colleague will return the favor for you.
Preparing for the future
The move online may seem like a major leap, but the return on investment for creating an accessible brand can prepare you for years of success. Establishing your brand’s voice and creating a path for clients to reach you online helps your firm stand out and remain competitive in an increasingly digital landscape.
In law, the protocol for reaching new clients is only changing gradually. However, 65% of millennials and Gen Z prefer getting services online, so if your current clientele tends to be older, your business may decline “all at once” when those clients age out.
To avoid this fate, it’s time to diversify your client base by appealing to online audiences. But you don’t have to make this journey alone!