Smaller firms shouldn't sell themselves short

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Published on 10/2/06

The real definition of marketing is simple: Identify the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicate with them to let them know who you are, and then develop close relationships with these people to help them achieve their goals.

Almost 30 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Arizona v. Bates that lawyers have a right to advertise their services, attorneys no longer wonder whether simply having a business card would cause them to lose their license. Instead, solos and mega-firms alike pursue a wide range of marketing activities that can vary widely in both sophistication and effectiveness.

What, ultimately, is the difference between the marketing activities of large- and small-firm lawyers?

To be effective, irrespective of the size of the law firm or the firm's marketing activities as a whole, each lawyer must establish the expertise necessary to entice a prospect to become a client.

This is done using many tools, some with more credibility than others: writing a newspaper or trade magazine article, speaking to a community organization, running an advertisement, launching a website, mailing out a brochure.

Often this is done less according to a plan than to a hope that something sticks. The goal, no matter what is done, is to create a personal relationship with the prospect before he or she becomes a client.

In that regard, marketing for small law firm attorneys is no different than for large law firm attorneys. Large law firm practitioners must market individually just as small law firm practitioners do. A large law firm has a staff of people devoted to helping individual lawyers in the firm and individual practice groups; this is absent from most small law firms. There is, thus, expertise available inside large firms that small firms will have to hire from the outside.

While some lawyers believe they are not marketing-oriented or skilled, I believe everyone can market, and should market, more than they do. But, people have to stay within their "comfort zone" and do the things that come naturally, within their zone of comfort.

Reviewing successful CEOs confirms that there is more than one type of personality that will successfully run a company. Likewise, there is no one personality type necessary for being a rainmaker to successfully bring business to a firm. Everyone is capable of bringing business into the firm.

Many times in my coaching of lawyers, the focus becomes learning what the "comfort zone" is for the attorney and demonstrating to the attorney that he can stay within that zone of comfort and still be a successful business-getter. Once the attorney understands this zone and what activities are appropriate within this zone, he is off and running, contributing to the firm in ways not previously contemplated.

Finding a comfort zone and using it are two different skills. No matter how or where you market, know to whom you're marketing. Create a profile of your ideal client and develop a marketing strategy that focuses on this target, not everyone.

You can increase your revenue dramatically by focusing on the demographics, occupation, location, financials and other characteristics of clients who will give you the work that you want. That is the difference between marketing and successful marketing.

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