Lawyers Journal

Seven tips for "do-it-yourself" marketing in tough times

*This article is a redacted, adapted and updated version of a longer piece that first appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of The Elder Law Report, a product of Aspen Publishers.

Competition for clients is keenest during hard times, amplifying the need for better marketing and outreach precisely when resources are most scarce. For small-firm practitioners, who lack a mega-firm's marketing arsenal, the challenge is particularly great.

But small-firm lawyers don't need expensive advertising to market their services effectively. They can utilize seven "do-it-yourself" tips based on effective marketing programs conducted at larger firms.

1. Define what you do and for whom you do it. You don't have a marketing strategy until you decide what you don't do and who you don't serve. This means taking a hard look at who your core clients are (or should be) and knowing what they want.

To focus your practice on high-end clients, you must abandon the distractions of commoditized work, and develop your reputation and skills in a sophisticated niche that is in demand. To target a broader clientele, you can develop low-cost, fixed fee products for pedestrian needs and budgets.

2. Think like a client. Whatever your products and services are, you need to understand how they are viewed by clients. They want to know: Why should I buy this product or service? What value does it offer to me? Why should I buy it instead of something else? Think about the client's frame of reference and you will be better able to sell your products and services.

3. Promote your products and services.
Every large law firm has a marketing plan for promotion, and every small firm should have one too.

Your plan might include enhancing the descriptions of your products and services on your website, or posting effective descriptions on free professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn.

With just a little more investment of time, you can link your law firm site to your own blog (which can dramatically raise your search engine ranking). There are free blogging sites (like Blogger and Wordpress) that are intuitive to operate, and will allow you to post expert analyses and commentary on practical and topical issues of interest to clients (more than half of whom report searching blogs for topical expertise).

You might also consider pitching your skills as a commentator to local radio stations or newspapers, or pitching yourself as a speaker to local trade or service organizations.

4. Build trust with clients and prospects. Extensive marketing studies have shown that buyers of professional services make their buying decisions based on trust. The average client has no idea what school you attended, and generally does not care. They typically don't know if you are perceived as a great lawyer or a relative unknown. What they do know is whether or not they trust you and believe you care.

So try to find ways of making more intimate connections with clients and prospects through community outreach, charitable service or other "connecting" activities. Remember the marketing maxim: No trust means no sale.

5. Do client surveys. Many large firms now follow the example set by successful corporations, doing surveys of customer-clients to discover what they buy, why they buy it, who they buy it from, what they pay for it, and what they like and don't like about a specific firm's products or services.

Surveys not only show clients that you care about their opinion, they demonstrate that you trust them to provide honest feedback. They can deepen a client relationship perhaps more than any other action you can take, and they often result in more business when done professionally and thoughtfully.

6. Do service training. Many large firms understand that nothing sells like good service. Consistency of service is critical to building trust, and staff members are just as crucial to the client's service experience as lawyers.

If the receptionist does not answer the phone, you have a problem. If your legal assistant treats staff or clients differently than you, then you have a problem. If the client is greeted, treated and serviced differently by different members of your firm, you have a problem.

A down economy can provide the perfect time to adopt standards for service so that valuable clients and prospects are not lost due to service imperfections, and there are many independent marketing pros with legal experience that can provide you with service measurement, consulting and/or training.

7. Involve your entire staff. Many practice leaders and managing partners have told me that they have learned how marketing initiatives can bring people together as a team. Not every employee can contribute to or rally around a long legal document, but they can all participate in projects centered on marketing and promotions, which can be fun, as well as productive.

John O. Cunningham is a freelance writer, marketing and communications consultant who practiced law for nearly 17 years, including several years as general counsel to a publicly held international company and a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company. He can be reached at [e-mail C3cunningham].

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