October 23, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Marketing: Tips for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers

There are countless things to be done when you start your own law office—but the need to get clients coming through the door is paramount among the to-dos. I have firsthand experience in this because, after practicing at a small firm for several years, I went out on my own in October 2009. I set up shop in Cornwall, Ontario (population 45,000), where I practice in the areas of business law, real estate and estate planning.

To help ensure I started—and stayed—on the right foot, I began working with my bank before my business opened. I discussed my business plan with the bank manager and outlined what steps I would take to market my law practice. Apart from letting potential clients and referral sources know that my office was now open, the goal of my promotion and marketing strategy was ultimately to create a consistent flow of clients. Over the course of the past year my marketing efforts have evolved as I figured out what was and what was not working.

There is, of course, no magic bullet or “one-size-fits-all” approach for small firm marketing. You need to market in a way that makes sense for you, your practice area, your community and your clients. However, here are strategies that are working successfully for me.

Creating a Differentiating Logo

One of my first steps was to enlist the help of a graphic designer in creating a unique logo for my practice. Most law firms don’t look that different from each other in terms of the image they present, and I knew this was an area where I wanted to set myself apart. I told the designer that under no circumstances were the scales of justice to be used. Also, I didn’t want my logo colors to look traditional or “lawyerly.” I wanted something modern yet conservative, something that would be recognizable while setting my practice apart from others.

The logo that was created, I believe, achieves those ends, with a three-part image that relates my three main areas of practice. The logo is placed throughout the pages of my Web site, and it plays a key part in conveying a distinctive Allinotte Law Office brand. (See below.)

Next up, here’s how I set out to establish myself as a “local expert” in the areas of law in which I practice, using a mix of both Web-based and traditional tactics.

Spreading the Word with Social Networking

I’m an active user of social media tools, through which I typically share links related to my areas of practice and also general articles and tips relating to topics like time management, goal setting and life insurance.

I have a personal profile on Facebook, where I’ve taken a “friend everyone” approach, and I also have a Facebook Fan Page for my practice. I share information on Twitter, too, and while many of my “followers” don’t live in my region, I’m actively trying to follow and interact with more local people using Twitter. And my use of LinkedIn in particular has lead to some success in connecting with individuals locally. I then follow up with them in real life by scheduling a face-to-face meeting or by meeting them at a networking event.

Plus, any social media connection can act as a real icebreaker when meeting someone at a networking function. In fact, “I saw that on Facebook” has become part of my regular vocabulary!

As an added bonus, my social media usage has garnered some attention in legal publications and also led to an article about me on the front page of my local paper. In response, numerous local business owners have commented that they’re impressed with how I use social media tools.

Increasing Visibility through Blogging and Web Site SEO

My Web site includes a blog portion, which is integrated with my social media usage. Most of the blog posts, which I usually write weekly, are on legal topics relevant to my practice areas. But to keep things a bit lighter, on occasion I also post about personal or family things, upcoming events for community groups I’m involved with, and informative nonlegal articles of likely interest to site visitors. Each post has a “Share/Save” button at the end, enabling visitors to immediately share it on Twitter, Facebook and social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious and Google Buzz. I also have it set up so that relevant posts are shared on my social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) on a schedule that cycles every few weeks to obtain maximum mileage from them.

To further increase my visibility online, I use a WordPress platform for my Web site, with the blog as an embedded portion of the site. The content is indexed according to topic to increase the site’s searchability. In addition, the site is reachable through two domain names: www.allinottelawoffice.com and the more user-friendly www.yourcorn walllawyer.com. My Facebook Fan Page is called “Your Cornwall Lawyer,” too.Importantly, the use of “Your Cornwall Lawyer” and tagging or indexing most of my posts with “Cornwall lawyer” has been helpful in getting high rankings in searches such as “Cornwall real estate lawyer,” which is a phrase prospective clients in my area are likely to use.

Using Traditional Strategies—With a Few Twists

In addition to the digital strategies, I also promote my practice through more traditional marketing channels. Here’s an overview of how I’m using them.

  • Local publications and phone directories. I’ve been providing regular articles on various legal issues for two local publications, which run my articles in both their print and online editions. I’ve also placed print ads in local publications, one on the business page of a weekly periodical and another in a weekly paper directed at home buyers.

    Plus, I currently advertise in the Yellow Pages and in another local directory—yes, people still use phone books! However, instead of being the typical ad, mine offers a free report to prospects via the Web. Several new clients have come to the office as a result of these ads, and numerous more have signed up for the report. Anyone who signs up to receive the report is also invited to subscribe to my weekly e-mails (see below), with an eye toward growing those connections.

  • Weekly and monthly newsletters. I send out a monthly newsletter as well as a weekly e-mail to provide information about legal issues and other matters that could affect clients and referral sources. Along with existing clients and referral sources, my mailing list includes those who attend my seminars and firm events. All individuals are asked to confirm that they wish to receive these mailings before they are added to the list. At present, I have over 200 active subscribers. People can sign up for the newsletter on my Web site or my Facebook Fan Page.

  • Networking events. I’m very involved in the local community. When I first opened my doors, I pounded the pavement at any and all events where I could get out the word about my new firm. I continue to attend as many networking events as time permits. This allows me to meet and interact with local businesspeople and community leaders and helps keep me top of mind with potential clients and referral sources.

  • Speaking engagements. I aim to provide one to three free public seminars per month, and this strategy has been a great success. I engaged the services of a public relations professional on a very limited basis to set up speaking events, where the topics include estate planning, buying a home and tips for business owners. Most often I’m hosted by a group, so the seminars don’t take up much of my modest marketing budget.

    At each speaking engagement, I provide attendees with an offer. It could be an initial consultation at no charge, a reduction in legal fees, or a combination of both. Attendees fill out an evaluation sheet at the session, and then my office follows up to see if an appointment can be set up or to provide other information the attendee requested. Many attendees also ask to receive the Allinotte Law Office newsletter and weekly e-mail, which gives me a nice way to stay in contact after the actual event.

  • Referral sources marketing. In recognition that they’re the foundation of my success, I always thank those who refer business to me, whether it be via phone, e-mail or a handwritten card. But I go further by offering the clients of trusted referral sources a slight reduction in fees. This way, the referral sources are assured that the clients sent to me are getting added value, while allowing me to still comply with my professional obligations, since a financial incentive cannot be provided to a referral source.

Looking Good for Year Two and Beyond

As you can see, no “one thing” fully relates the story my marketing success. Rather, it is many things that have helped me grow my business during the critical first phase. And now, having recently celebrated my firm’s first anniversary, I’m at the point where I can reduce some of my marketing and networking efforts and focus more time on doing client work and deepening relationships with existing clients, prospects and referral sources. Plus, in addition to helping grow my business, all my marketing and networking activities have helped me meet a lot of new people and make some wonderful new friends along the way. I hope some of the DIY marketing steps outlined here will bring similar fruits to your practice, too.