An ugly truth of private practice, especially in a small or solo firm, is that marketing is a must. You might argue that you didn’t graduate cum laude from law school to hang out at cocktail parties and write blogs, but if you don’t take steps to promote yourself, no one will. The good news is that with a little guidance, focus, and discipline, you should start to gain clients, work on more interesting cases, and enjoy a thriving practice in less time than you think. Below are some simple steps to put together a relatively painless individual marketing plan that you intend to accomplish over the next 6 months.
Define Your Practice
I meet many lawyers from solo or small firms, whose strategy is to take any business that comes in the door. One week, a lawyer wants to put up a billboard targeting traffic tickets, while the next week, that same lawyer wants to hold estate planning seminars at the local Ruth’s Chris. While billboards and seminars can be perfectly fine strategies if executed correctly, you must be consistent in your messaging and marketing to successfully grow your practice. Forcing yourself to clearly define your practice and narrow your focus is going to help you gain expertise and credibility, and create lasting relationships resulting in more lucrative work. While you may be qualified and willing to do multiple types of law, I recommend focusing on marketing one practice area at a time.
I encourage you to spend time fleshing out the answers to some basic questions about your practice. Ask yourself things like:
What legal services do I or can I provide?
What types of cases do I most enjoy working on?
Who needs or may need the legal services I provide?
What are some characteristics of ideal clients for my practice area and where do they hang out? (Think associations, business groups, social gatherings, or conferences)
Who is my competition and why should someone hire me? What makes me different and better than my competition?
What are my marketing strengths? Am I social? Am I a good networker? What do I enjoy doing outside of work? What causes or interests am I passionate about? Do I like to write? Do I like to speak? Do I enjoy communicating over social media?
It’s tempting to throw around your impressive credentials and expect clients to instantly hire you, but at the end of the day, clients want to work with someone who is responsive, helpful, and genuinely concerned about their best interest. Easy and transparent invoicing, realistic timelines, and responsiveness are valuable assets to clients in need of your services. Clearly communicating your unique value proposition to your clients and referral sources is an important step to attract new clients.
Document Your Network
Everyone has a network, and it gets bigger every day. People you meet each day have the potential to refer you business or retain your services. Create an exhaustive spreadsheet of everyone you know! I’m talking friends, family, teachers, former classmates, alumni networks, church members, neighbors, professional association members, social media contacts—this is your network!
First, categorize your list into existing clients, potential clients, and referral sources.
Next, prioritize your list based on who you think has the highest potential to hire you or refer you business.
Finally, make sure you have their up-to-date contact information. Verifying contact information is a good opportunity to reach out to people on LinkedIn or other social media.
Fill Your Schedule
It is phenomenal to have a plan, but if your calendar and daily task list doesn’t consistently reflect your plan, you’ve just wasted your precious time. Marketing will only work if you do it consistently. You need to start regularly scheduling time to connect with your network.
If mixers and events aren’t your jam, start meeting friends, colleagues, and old classmates for breakfast, lunch, or coffee. If you attend a conference, be intentional and invite key contacts to breakfast or plan to meet up at a break. If you’d prefer to sit at your desk or can’t get out of the office, schedule time to communicate with your network via personal emails or social media. Your goal here is to build your online network so you can share useful information with them.
The goal of these interactions is to learn your network! Find out where they hang out personally and professionally and what you have in common, such as family, school, community/volunteer groups, church, sports, or shared hobbies/interests. I used to work in marketing at a civil engineering firm, and part of my role was to teach young, awkward engineers how to market themselves. I quickly learned that engineers, much like attorneys, like to solve problems. I told them to look at networking like a research project. Most people are comfortable talking about themselves, so why not ask questions and gain valuable feedback from potential clients?
Discover Your Marketing Comfort Zone
Once you begin to incorporate networking into your schedule, you should start to gradually see your business grow through word of mouth referrals. Casual contacts can quickly become reliable referral sources and may eventually evolve into long-term relationships.
Here are some ideas to keep the marketing momentum going with your network in a way you enjoy and won’t break your budget:
Plan occasional happy hours at a local business.
Send personal notes or gifts – as you talk to people, note special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays.
Invite contacts to seminars that interest them or plan one at your office.
Invite contacts to local social or volunteer events – think races, volunteer opportunities, concerts, sporting events.
I challenge you to take an afternoon to define your practice, document your network, and add as many networking opportunities you can fit in your calendar for the next month. Worst-case scenario, you’ll gain a few pounds from the extra lattes, but you might be pleasantly surprised with the results and actually start to enjoy it.
Crystal L. Mathew is a Legal Marketing Consultant with Your Marketing Person. She helps busy attorneys develop and implement effective marketing strategies without the commitment of hiring a full-time marketing director. If you need help creating a marketing plan, developing consistent messaging, or improving your website or marketing materials, visit her website here.