Keeping clients happy and attracting new ones can be difficult even in good times. But marketing legal services in this tight economy requires a back-to-basics and highly targeted approach. Here are what I call the Four Pillars of Marketing, which form an effective template you can use to jump-start your practice.
1. Retain and Grow Relationships
Put a plan in place. Develop your plan, and commit to taking action on it every single day. Ask yourself: How many new clients do you want to attract? What type of cases or legal matters are you looking for? What is your revenue goal? Who are your best referral sources?
Make time to market your law practice. If you wait until you have time, it will be too late. Do one small thing every day to promote your office.
Wine 'em, dine 'em, and chat. Identify your top ten current clients, prospective clients, and referral sources, and spend your marketing time with these 30 important people.
Then conduct interviews with your top clients. Develop questions about what is important to them, what keeps them up at night, what they value most about you, whether they would refer you to others, and how you could improve the delivery of your services. Then take action based on their feedback.
You control the level of responsiveness you provide--so be responsive! Return phone and email messages on the same day you receive them.
2. Attract New Clients
Think about what your best clients have in common, and seek to attract others just like them. If you do that, the quality of your practice will begin to soar.
Don't be afraid to tell people why your clients love you. Reflect on what makes you unique as a lawyer, and practice how you respond to the question "Why should I hire you?
Join a trade association. If you want to attract new clients, hang out where they do. Offer to speak at the group's events. Write articles for its publication. Become the
legal resource for members.
3. Increase Name Recognition
Serve on a nonprofit board. Whether you volunteer for the United Way or the American Cancer Society, or help out on a nonprofit environmental or youth services board, giving back to the community is the right thing to do--and it helps you build positive name recognition.
Take a reporter to lunch. Identify journalists who cover the industries in which you serve clients. Call them and introduce yourself. Send news releases and develop story angles you can "pitch" to the media. Become a knowledgeable source in specific areas. Then when a major story arises, the reporter may call you for comment.
Build a useful Internet profile. Excellent tools, such as LinkedIn's learning center for lawyers (http://learn.linkedin .com/attorneys/), will help you. Add contacts, but don't connect with strangers. Keep your LinkedIn network real.
4. Communicate Effectively
Send timely and relevant email updates to your clients and contacts. Then communicate frequently with different groups using targeted messages--assuming you can sort people into cohesive categories. It's best to do this on a regular schedule-biweekly, monthly, quarterly--whatever works for you. The key is to keep your name and profile in front of folks so they'll know who to turn to if they have a matter that needs attention.
For your existing clients, provide detailed invoices. Use this regular, monthly communication to convey the value you bring them. Use time entries to describe your work in terms clients can relate to; the more detail the better.
If you haven't already done so, get a website, which is a must-have for lawyers today. Post legal updates on your website, then send clients and potential clients an email linking to the new content on your site. For as little as $9.95 per month (and a one-time fee of $99), you can create a website for your practice. (See CalBar Affinity Partner, www .ESQSites123.com.)
And while you're at it, document your work. For example, summarize matters you have handled (while maintaining clients' privacy, of course). Describe the situation, your approach to the problem, and the solution you provided. Add a "results" component to your bio, and include it in proposals: Results sell.
The most effective marketing strategies available to lawyers cost little but have a high impact. Focus your efforts on building and developing your relationships, attracting new clients, increasing your name recognition, and communicating regularly with your contacts. Implement these tips and you will
Terrie S. Wheeler is founder and president of MarketYourLawPractice.com, a Minneapolis-based affinity partner of the State Bar of California that offers an online marketing tool.