Summer is vacation time, so what do you have planned? If you are like most small-business owners I know, you won’t be going anywhere without your smartphone, tablet or your laptop. That’s because you’ll undoubtedly be working.
If you could change that would you? Well, you can. If you learn to delegate the things that others can do better and focus on your core competencies.
For many years, I allowed my business to control me and dictate my life. I was afraid to take vacations longer than a week because I was certain my company would implode without my physical presence. If things were good, I was flying high, but if we lost a client or didn’t land the “next big deal,” I could be miserable to be around.
I am not going to lie to you and tell you that I’ve now reached nirvana, and I never, ever allow my business to control me or my feelings. I can’t say that I never feel down if something goes wrong in my company as I often take things too personally, but the lows aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be and typically don’t last nearly as long. It’s taken several years and a lot of time, energy and hard work to get where we are now. But I’m proud to know that last year was our best year ever, and we are on track to double our revenues this year.
I don’t share this with you to impress you, but to impress upon you that we absolutely, positively could have never achieved these goals without two things: (a) a strong, supportive team and (b) written systems we have put into place to help us “run” the business. We have assembled a dynamic team of over 60 people who are truly specialists in what they do.
A growing number of law firms are finally recognizing what non-legal companies have known for decades: to build a financially successful business, you must focus on your core competencies and either delegate or outsource the rest of your business functions. As the owner of a small law firm, you are unlikely to have any expertise in accounting or payroll processing, and you may not have a large enough law firm to justify hiring a fulltime bookkeeper so your best option is to outsource that to a company that specializes in that specific area. Not to mention the fact that you didn’t go to law school to learn how to process payroll or to handle employee issues or to deal with difficult clients or run a small business. You went to law school to learn how to practice law and become a technically skilled attorney.
A similar parallel can be drawn to marketing—with some notable exceptions. Most of the time labor intensive parts of marketing can be outsourced, for example: designing and developing a new website, writing content for your blog, running your social media marketing campaigns, improving your Google rankings with search engine optimization (SEO), or sending out a monthly e-newsletter. There are some things you cannot outsource or delegate, like going to lunch with a referral source to solidify the relationship or giving a presentation to a group of potential clients, but for every one marketing activity you cannot outsource there are three or four you can.
5 Steps for Outsourcing Your Marketing Efforts When it comes to outsourcing your law firm’s marketing and business development efforts, here’s a five step process we recommend our clients follow:
- Identify the marketing strategies and business development tools that will work best for your practice area.
- Analyze your firm’s realistic ability to effectively design and implement the plan using existing, internal team members.
- Select which strategies your firm will handle internally and which ones you want to outsource.
- Interview and select an outsourced legal marketing company who can assist you.
- Set realistic goals and benchmarks.
Not all marketing strategies work for all practice areas. How you market a personal injury firm is very different from how you develop business for a commercial litigation firm. Once you have selected which marketing tools you want to use, the next step is to analyze your law firm’s current ability to design, develop, implement and maintain the marketing plan. You must be realistic! The worst thing you can do is try to do it all by yourself or force your staff to do it. If your plan is to “dump” a bunch of marketing activities onto an already overwhelmed office manager because s/he took a couple marketing classes in college, then don’t be surprised when it implodes.
In the end either it will only be done half-heartedly and haphazardly or it will not get done at all! If you believe all you need to do is get your two associates to land one new client per month by going to some networking events, then I wish you good luck with that. One of the ways I have seen work is when a law firm dedicates 25-50 percent of one person’s time just to marketing and business development. Any less than 25 percent of their time is probably not meaningful. Give them very specific tasks to do, be sure they have the proper skills and training to succeed, meet with them every week to review their progress, and set realistic, measurable goals they can achieve within a certain timeframe.
Many attorneys become frustrated when they try to “pull the team together” and get them to “do some marketing.” Then there are the attorneys who try to do it all on their own. They falsely believe they are saving money by handling most or all of their marketing efforts by themselves. However, we have found this is actually the most expensive way to do marketing. Think about this—how much do you charge per hour? $200? $300? $400? More? If you charge only $200 per hour for your expertise and it takes you only one hour to research, write and post a 300-400 word article on your blog, then that one blog post “cost” your business $200!
If you do that 20 or more times every month, which is the best practice according to the latest research, that means you are spending $6,000 per month or $72,000 per year just on blogging! Certainly you can find or hire a part-time writer for less than that. Some business strategy experts would even go further and say it actually cost you twice as much because not only is it taking an hour of your billable time, but that was an hour that you weren’t charging to a client. Either way, that’s a huge expense.
If an attorney came to you and said they are launching a brand new practice area and expected to reach a high level of expertise in that practice area within a few months but they were only planning to invest a few hours each week learning about the new practice area, you would probably question either their intellect or their commitment to excellence. Why would you think it’s any different when it comes to marketing your law firm?
It takes years of dedication working with thousands of different attorneys, running test after test and trying dozens of different marketing techniques with different practice areas to truly become an expert attorney marketer! I would propose that it’s not something you can truly achieve an expertise in by practicing a few hours a week, any more than you can become an expert litigator by reading a John Grisham novel.
How to Evaluate a Legal Marketing Provider When working with any outsourced legal marketing company on your business development efforts, here are the questions I recommend you ask to evaluate their services:
- Do they specialize in working with attorneys in small to medium-sized law firms?
- How many attorneys have they worked with?
- What is their experience working with attorneys in your specific practice area?
- Do they understand the business of law (how the law works)?
- What is their knowledge of legal ethics and how attorneys are restricted in how they market their services?
- Have they researched how prospects “buy” legal services—both online and offline?
- What is their knowledge of your competitors?
- How many of your competitors are they currently working with providing the exact same service they are offering to you?
- Is their service geo-exclusive, or are they offering the same services to all your direct competitors? 10. Do they have the assets to allow you to compete, or are they a one-person show?
- Is this a “done-for-you” service, or will you or your staff do the heavy lifting?
- Are you “leasing” their marketing efforts or is it a “work-for-hire” service? Who owns the end product when you part ways?
- Will they be around for the long term? Are they growing or declining?
- Who will actually be implementing the service (it probably won’t be the salesperson selling it to you)? What are their credentials? Can you speak with them?
- What are the processes, procedures, protocols and systems they use when implementing the service?
- How do they measure results? How will you know if they are successful? How long will it take before you start to see results?
- What are the timeframes to develop and deploy the marketing service?
- Can they give you the contact information for several references?
Three Things You Should Never Outsource That said, there are certain activities that you and only you, as the owner or managing partner of your law firm, must do. Here are three important marketing efforts that I never recommend you delegate to someone outside of your law firm:
- Building meaningful relationships with your clients. While you can and should have staff members involved in doing the actual work and even managing the client relationship on a daily basis, you cannot abdicate the relationship building responsibility with your key clients.
- Meeting potential referral sources. You need to have a systematic approach to setting up introductory meetings with potential referral sources and following up with them after the meeting. You can delegate or outsource both of those activities. However, the actual face-to-face meeting needs to be conducted with a partner in the law firm. You are the face of your business.
- Giving a legal seminar to promote your law firm. Presenting to potential clients or referral groups is generally best done by the owner or managing partner of the firm. You can have an assistant prepare your slides and handouts, but unless you have another attorney that has a specialized area of expertise or is a significantly better presenter, you should be the person giving the actual talk.
There are many marketing tasks that you can and should delegate or outsource because it’s simply not the best use of your time. But the three listed above are well worth your time because of their potential to deliver a massive ROI.