Know When To Say 'No' to Potential Clients

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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. Such lawyers may try to do too much: attend frequent networking meetings, write regularly for newspapers and blogs, speak frequently to community groups, join nonprofit boards, and always be up to date on social media.

That involves a lot of time, energy and expense. Is the return worth it? That's something each lawyer must answer individually. But don't be afraid to reach the conclusion that sometimes it's best to say "no."

Successful marketers don't obsess about whether they're doing it right or about others who may seem to be ahead in the marketing game. They stay within themselves and focus on who they are, what they can do, and what they want to do.

A marketing strategy is a question of the lawyer's comfort zone, creativity, time availability and financial resources. When you consider a new opportunity, you may find it easy to see positive potential and overlook the costs, not only in terms of direct expense, but also in terms of time taken away from client service and practice management. Saying "yes" to one opportunity by implication means saying "no" to others that might be more valuable.

Three examples illustrate the power of saying "no" when it comes to business development:

  • Not every new client is worth taking on. Clients who will not agree to fees, sign a fee agreement or pay a retainer should be considered suspect. A client who insists the matter is "life and death" often turns out to be a future source of last-minute emergencies that are irritating at best, and can result in errors under pressure. Saying "no" to a potential client who will demand constant, unrealistic or instant attention will only benefit the practice.

  • Not every lead is worth pursuing if existing clients are behind on their bills. A lawyer's best option at some point may be to stop marketing and focus on collecting the accounts that are overdue. By not undertaking any marketing initiative for 30 days and focusing the time otherwise needed on the collection of accounts receivable, the amount of money brought in could be the equivalent of many months' revenue.

  • Bigger isn't always better. The loss of a large client is such a major risk that you should be wary of any client whose billings may exceed 10 percent of your total revenue. If such a client leaves or "forgets" to pay you, the loss may be hard to handle. Too many firms focus on a very few, larger clients and are severely damaged when the fees from that client dwindle out of dissatisfaction, change of executive, merger, recession or other unanticipated problems.

Once you learn which clients you should say "no" to, your marketing tactics fall into place — brochures, blogs, speeches, articles, social networking and all the rest.

Make sure that your tactics are in tune with your targets. Marketing can only be approached practically with a narrow focus that creates a profile of your ideal client and develops a strategy for that target, not everyone. Those are the "yes" clients and prospects that merit your best efforts.

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