Find the marketing strategy that’s right for you

Issue September/October 2017 By Susan Letterman White

Marketing and business development begins with an answer to the question: Who are you trying to attract as future clients? Your answer should infuse every choice you make about your marketing methods and content. Marketing methods include both active and passive means, using the array of technology options available or no technology at all, and traditional modes of advertising like on billboards, the back of a bus, television advertising or print materials. Once you know where, when and how to connect with your target market, you can decide what to do to let them know the solutions you offer, what it is like to work with you and how you deliver those solutions. Your goal? Remain top of mind, so that when they need what you have to offer, they will know the way to get in touch with you.

Here are three examples of different marketing strategies. Which one is closest to what might work best for you?

Marketing without technology

Alex (real person, name changed) doesn't have a website, Twitter account or LinkedIn page. She isn't active on social media and doesn't write blog posts or print articles. She doesn't plan and deliver programs on her substantive area of law to potential clients or referral sources. She doesn't send out Christmas cards or newsletters to her clients. Her clients do not have email access to her. By all accounts, she isn't doing anything that the experts in law firm business development and retention say are necessary to sustain successful revenue generation for today's solo and small firm lawyers. Yet, she has a steady stream of clients asking for her representation. What's her secret?

Alex's law practice is focused on criminal law. Her potential clients and their referral sources are often where she is demonstrating what she can do for them - in court. In fact, her clients, potential clients and referral sources do not select their lawyers from their digital footprint; instead they select them by evaluating their performance first-hand. The upside is that Alex has more free time to practice law with a life outside of law. She also manages the client relationships by phone or in-person only. If they want to communicate, they must pick up the phone. If it's a true emergency, they will get an immediate response. If it's important to them, but not an emergency, they will get a return call within 24 hours.

Marketing has been explained as communicating to many people simultaneously in-person or digitally. Alex doesn't intentionally market her law practice. The upside is that she saves time, money and possible anxiety associated with that endeavor. She is, however, delivering content about what she does and how she does it for clients, by being in court regularly. She has no digital intermediary between herself and her potential clients and referral sources. She's always on display when in court and passively marketing without any buffer. Every day she is in court she interacts with the people who have the decision-power to build or stall her practice. For some lawyers, that would be the downside.

Perhaps an explanation for Alex's success is in this response to a discussion about websites and getting noticed on JDUnderground, "I don't think people much care when your source of referrals is word of mouth. Word of mouth is 10 times better than any other kind."

Regardless of your practice area, Maggie Watkins, chief marketing officer of Sedgwick, LLP says, "Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting when developing new business. It is a relationship business after all, and prospects want to know you understand them and their businesses and that can only be demonstrated by speaking to them and discussing their issues and needs. Articles, speeches and social media are all designed to get that meeting with the prospect, but the selling begins once you are in front of them and have the conversation."

Content marketing through technology

Not all practices offer the opportunity for passive marketing, as do some areas of criminal law. In contrast, the market (potential clients) in family law is composed of different niches according to family finances. The Legal Services Corporation reports, "86 percent of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in the past year received inadequate or no legal help." This represents a significant business opportunity for anyone who figures out a solution. Damian Turco, a Massachusetts divorce lawyer with a personal injury component of his practice based in Boston, explains: "Prospective clients want to understand the general extent of their legal rights, considering the facts and circumstances of their cases. A natural starting point is the internet. Browsing is anonymous and you can provide them the answers they so need. While doing so, some prospective clients will decide they need representation and, because you've already established yourself as a credible solution, some will call you, schedule a consultation, and become paying clients."

Create a digital presence that answers the questions that are on the minds of your prospective clients and the people who are trying to help them. Then, to further attract the right people further into your marketing funnel, provide the answers to their questions about cost. Turco Legal has designed a specific program for them - Justice for All, - that involves resource-based billing for family law clients.

Content is king for Turco Legal because it is the right content at the right time; however, not all digital marketing content meets this bar. Your digital content may not be as valuable as you think it is. Jayne Navarre recently wrote about the problem with content that isn't engaging the right people. She writes, "The "organic" social media produced by law firms - the stuff that was supposed to create conversation and conversion - appeared to be mostly seen and applauded by a handful of their own employees, lawyers and a few real-life friends and relatives." Create content that will serve as a bread-crumb trail from your next best client's concerns and interests to a virtual handshake with you.

Combine low-cost technology with traditional marketing for a cost-effective combination

Even the best content can get lost among similar content online or on tangible venues, like billboards, public transportation and television. You may need to amp up your efforts by focusing on a narrow niche and repeating your message in different venues at different times. Enter the Truck Accident Lawyers in Pennsylvania. Munley Law is a personal injury law practice with niche marketing aimed at clients who have been injured in truck accidents. This enables clear, concise messaging online and on television.

Of course, this costs money and time and you may face stiff competition for tangible space and the right to get noticed by the right people at the right time. If you are going to use tangible venues in your marketing efforts. Bernie Munley, Chief Marketing Officer of personal injury law firm Munley Law in Pennsylvania, says, "Integrate them with your social media and digital marketing efforts. Social media allows marketers to build brand awareness, engage with their audience, and even target potential clients - typically at a lower cost than traditional media. It would be a mistake to overlook this opportunity.

Susan Letterman White, JD, MS, is a law practice advisor with the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP) and an adjunct professor teaching organizational leadership and leadership ethics at Northeastern University in Boston. Before joining LOMAP, she led Letterman White Consulting as its founder and managing partner for 10 years. Before that, she practiced employment law for more than 20 years and was the managing partner of a law firm.