Another year has come and gone. As you reflect on your goals, accomplishments, and challenges of the past twelve months, take a moment to answer this question: On a scale of I to 10, how happy are you with the progress you have made this year in building your business? If I means “extremely unpleased” and 10 means “ecstatically happy,” where are you currently?
Regardless of where you are, at some level most of us believe we could of done better, accomplished more, retained more clients, or made more money (if you’re not in that boat, then Congrats to you). So here’s the real money question: what are you going to do differently next year to help you achieve or even surpass your goals? Do more marketing? If so, what kind of marketing? Do you have a plan? Who is going to implement the plan? How much are you going to invest in building your business? Einstein reportedly said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As you put together your marketing action plan (MAP) and plan for next year here are three recommendations I have for you to consider.
Step 1: Build a Bigger Referral Base
The key to building a strong client list is by building relationships with strategic referral sources, someone who already has a relationship with the people you want as clients, but in order to make this succeed you must both be in a position to offer the other something of value.
For example, if you target small business owners, you would look for those who already have a relationship with small business owners. Some of the best referral sources are accountants, financial planners, chambers of commerce, community leaders, local bankers, CPA’s, commercial real estate agents, payroll processing companies; the list goes on and on.
So once you have identified professionals who have relationships with potential clients, how do you build a referral network with them?
One of my clients sent out a letter to around 80 targeted professionals that basically said:
“Hello, I’m Attorney Jack Smith with XYZ Law Firm. We know that competition for professional service advisors is getting more and more intense with more people entering the field. We are building a cross referral network with other trusted advisors who are experts in their field.
Over the last 15 years we’ve been practicing law, we have really focused our practice on working with small business owners and high net worth individuals on estate planning, wills and trusts and asset protection.
Through a series of breakfast meetings and private meetings at our office, we’re going to build a cross referral network with a limited number of other professionals who are committed to growing their practice and sending cross referrals.
We’re not looking for any kind of a fee for facilitating this network, but we would like to officially invite you to check it out and see if this is something you’d like to support.
For more information,give us a call at this number or visit our website to learn more about our practice.”
From this mailing, my client got a group of about 25 professionals together. They hold meetings about once a month and send out cross referrals to each other.
Some other great resources for referrals include your existing clients.These clients can help both you and your referral partners. If you partner with a CPA or financial planner, each of you would send a letter out to your respective client databases offering a free consultation on behalf of the other as an added benefit of being a valued client.
Co-sponsoring an event or a seminar series is another excellent way to build relationships with strategic referral partners. Technology makes it easy and inexpensive for an attorney and another professional to host a webinar or teleseminar on topics of interest to potential clients.
Your local bank branch is another source waiting to be tapped. Banks generally have a generous local marketing budget, and frequently don’t know what to do with it. Offer your services as an expert speaker for a seminar that the bank could host – they do all the work in setting it up and getting an audience. You now have a room full of prospective clients and all you had to spend was some time preparing your remarks.
Professionals are always looking for good strategic referral partners.They understand the value of referrals as much as attorneys. You can ensure that you’re a good partner by educating them about who you are, what you do, the kind of clients you target and the great service you provide. Educating potential referral partners allows you both to determine the benefits of the relationship. Reciprocity is the key: to get referrals, you have to give them, too.
Step 2: Keys to Retaining Clients
Today, the challenge to becoming an exceptional law firm—one that is impervious to economic downturns and fee pressure from online legal services and low cost centers in developing countries – is more intense than ever. Technology and marketing strategies have changed the way law firms rise to the top. Once a firm has gained a client, they need to work hard to maintain that relationship.
One of the simplest ways to rise to the top and bring your clients with you is by listening.
Start listening to your clients. Listen to those you have, those you’ve lost and those you want. You need to fully understand what it is that clients like, don’t like or need from their law firm. Go to past clients and ask why they left. Go to current clients and ask about their needs. When you talk to prospective clients, ask them what they are looking for. To get (and maintain) their business, you need to understand precisely what they need, and therefore what you can do that no other law firm is doing to earn their trust and their business.
The best way for the law firm to understand those needs is to ask the client and to listen to what they say. Once you’ve heard their demands, takes steps towards accomplishing them.
The next step you need to take is to start listening to your staff. They understand the business.They interact with clients every day and they have ideas. They are on your team and want you to succeed. This is the place where you will find some of the most innovative thoughts about how to test your business thinking, transform old-style law firm marketing techniques and to increase profits. The next generation is entering the business world and they bring with them a fresh knowledge of the way technology and advancements are changing the marketing world.
Now, you need to open your ears to all the businesses outside the legal profession—particularly how they market themselves. It is there among fast, agile, hungry entrepreneurs that you will find really outstanding ideas that you can apply to your own law firm marketing approach. Looking to these outside companies will bring a new insight into marketing. Some of the ideas will be completely new to the legal community.
Whether you are currently feeling the sting of price pressure or thinning client lists — or you simply want to become one of the elite firms in your area, listening will help you to retain a strong client list.
Step 3: Adapting to the Ever-Changing Times
New research prepared for LexisNexis by The Research Intelligence Group shows that 76 percent of adult consumers looking for a lawyer used online resources at some point during the search process. If this surprises you,you are already well behind the curve.
Times are changing. Did you notice that AT&T has sold its Yellow Pages business to private equity firm Cerberus Capital in an effort to “jettison shrinking parts of its business?” Yellow Pages revenue shrank 30 percent in just the last two years; the fingers are still doing the walking, they’re just walking over to the computer, smartphone or tablet.
Technology has changed consumer behavior forever and whether you spend your time lamenting or embracing this change will determine how successful your law practice will become.The very basics you need to successfully market your law firm today include:
- A top notch website that converts curious visitors into contacts
- A blog that is constantly refreshed with new and relevant information
- A social media presence that engages followers and builds meaningful relationships with them: Linkedln, Facebook,Twitter,YouTube, Google+
- Participation on lawyer-centric websites like Awo.JDSupra, Lawyers.com, etc.
- A monthly newsletter program that helps you stay connected to all your prospects, clients, and referral sources
- A search engine optimization (SEO) program to get you on the first page of Google so people can find you
I know that for many of you, all this sounds overwhelming. But it’s certainly no more daunting than running a business, which is what you are really doing, even though they didn’t teach you how at law school.
However, just as you learned the law, you can also learn the fundamentals of law firm marketing to take you the rest of the way toward building a successful law practice. Adapting to the growing technology is one step towards marketing yourself.
As a strong law firm, you will need to pull on various resources at once.You will need to balance your legal marketing online and your marketing in person.You need to listen to the clients you have and the ones you’re close to having.You need to foster strong relationships with other professionals to ensure that you are constantly bringing in new business.
You need to run your law firm like a company, which is why you need to watch those entrepreneurs and learn from them. Pick up the tricks of marketing and run with it. By using these three important steps, you will be well on your way to the top. Stephen Fairley