As a new year approaches, a typical resolution for most lawyers involves marketing – do more of it, do it better, get more business from it. Yet these objectives are often hazy at best, and are not likely to produce the desired results. There is no grand plan, no "one size fits all" marketing prescription that ensures success. Marketing is an analytical process that must be approached with specific criteria in mind. These five criteria can determine a new year's marketing success:
- Goals: the definition of marketing success in the new year and standards for measuring it
- Assessment: the marketing strategies that have worked well in the past and can be applied to the new year
- Systems: the methodology for systematizing marketing efforts so that they can be implemented consistently over the coming year
- Anticipation: the factors that will have the greatest impact on whether the marketing effort is effective, and how those factors can be prioritized.
- Accountability: the self-imposed consequences for failing to meet marketing objectives.
Developing new or strengthening current client relationships requires work and planning to produce tangible marketing benefits. Year-end is the best time to plan for beginning to put these business development efforts into motion. This, sadly, is contrary to the practice at most law firms. Too often, year-end is viewed as the time to put on a big push for clients to pay as much as possible on bills that have been left outstanding for months, and planning for expanded relationships in the new year is forgotten. Turning around this counterproductive mindset and developing new tactics for the upcoming year is a much more effective use of marketing effort. The lawyer who makes the following resolutions for marketing effort in the coming year is assured of going a long way toward implementing the five criteria for success.
Define the Target
A marketing plan should identify: the people most likely to hire the firm for the work it wants to do; how to tell them about the services that the firm offers; and actions to develop close relationships with these prospects aimed at helping them achieve their goals. It requires defining the location, demographics, occupation, financials and other characteristics of clients who will provide the work desired. The acronym, SMART, describes the elements of an effective plan:
- Specific: The real marketing issue is not getting more billable hours, it's what kind of specific billable work is most desired.
- Measurable: Marketing efforts should be measured by specific number of contacts made, clients added and billable time gained.
- Achievable: Set near-term targets that are realistic and continually raise the bar.
- Reasonable: Don't pursue unreasonable expectations about potential revenue or number of clients added – that is a prescription for failure.
- Timely: Set an adequate timeframe for implementation that still imparts a sense of urgency.
The key to marketing success is building relationships with these targeted potential clients. Relationship development is a marathon, not a sprint, and it starts with getting into the public eye. Many ways to do this involve little if any expense:
- Call friends, business associates or past clients and offer to help them with any problems.
- Be prepared with an "elevator pitch," small brochure and business card at all times.
- Communicate with law school friends to discuss war stories and develop referral sources.
- Write articles and attend bar association functions.
- Develop a blawg (legal blog) that covers topics of interest to targeted clients
- Participate in social networking web sites like LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Check the local bar referral services for targeted prospect engagements.
- Expand and integrate online marketing – social media, websites and blogs.
Leverage Trade Shows
There is no better way to establish effective personal relationships with prospects than by researching and targeting attendance at industry trade shows and association meetings. Such interaction with potential clients demonstrates awareness of their business, understanding of their concerns and seriousness in offering solutions. Studies consistently show that clients and prospects (who can be surveyed online using LinkedIn or other social networking tools for events to attend) actively seek lawyers who know the client's industry and understand their business. With the events identified, get the attendee list to evaluate and single out targets and invite them by email to attend the firm's booth. Find out which trade publication editors and reporters are attending the event and make appointments to meet with them. After meeting and pitching to potential clients, review every business card received and contact the person by phone within one week of the show. This builds on the personal relationships established.
Give equal weight to marketing to existing clients as toe prospecting for new ones. Far too often lawyers are apprehensive about making such visits, but they should remember that clients will not be hostile or confrontational; otherwise they would not have remained clients. They want to feel comfortable with their lawyer, and giving them the chance to talk about their business can only help. A client visit should focus on listening to the client and learning more about the client's business in order to plan for the year ahead. Clients want to share this information because they want to trust their lawyer. Clients whose lawyers ask about their plans and objectives begin to think of that lawyer as an advisor and friend, not just someone who sends out a monthly bill. And it is always a good policy not to bill for the visit – a gesture that clients will remember.
Guarantee Service Quality
No lawyer can ethically guarantee a result, but an effective marketing technique is to guarantee exceptional effort – which does not violate Rule 7.1 (misleading communication), because it deals with factors within the lawyer's own control. Such a "guarantee" at the start of an engagement, especially when combined with a budget, reduces clients' feelings of risk, so that they feel comfortable moving ahead. The terms of a "satisfaction guaranteed" approach can be simple: for example, if a client is dissatisfied with the service received, promise to resolve the issue, even if it means reducing the client's legal fees. There is no ethical problem, but tremendous marketing benefit, to guarantee that the firm will make every effort to satisfy clients – and then stand behind that effort.
Learn the Recession's Lesson
All the steps outlined here are concrete, achievable resolutions for a new year of marketing success. The last several years have shown that firms can no longer just take whatever clients are available, because trying to stay in business and grow without a clear strategy is a recipe for disaster.
For too many lawyers, the idea of marketing is daunting because there are so many potential clients, so little time to reach them and so many options for pursuing them. Marketing can only be approached practically with a narrow focus that creates a profile of ideal clients and develops a strategy for communicating about services and capabilities to this target, not everyone. It requires defining the location, demographics, occupation, financials and other characteristics of clients who will provide the most profitable and professionally desirable work. Remember the five criteria for success, and start making your new year's resolutions now.
"Through Ed's invaluable coaching and no-nonsense approach, he enabled me not only to stay employed at the firm, but to make partner and have a future with the firm."
JM, Los Angeles, CA