Creating A Strategic Marketing Plan
A strategic marketing plan is vital to success in a competitive market. Unfortunately, many attorneys cringe when they think of marketing. They shrink from it partly because they aren’t sure it sends the right message about the profession, and partly because they are in unfamiliar territory. In a perfect world, they would automatically get calls from large clients with interesting cases all of whom pay their bills on time.
The growth of the profession in recent years has made the world increasingly less perfect. The number of attorneys is growing at a rate far faster than the general population. The pie is thus being divided into smaller slices. Clients realize they have more choices in legal services than ever before.
There has been a sharp increase in competition for clients. Many attorneys are scratching their heads because the phone isn’t ringing as frequently with new clients. Yellow page ads don’t pull like they used to. When the phone does ring, clients ask you to sell yourself.
This increase in competition is generated not by the profession but by the marketplace. When consumers have a choice they force you to work harder to find, earn and keep their business. If you are to survive in this competitive environment, you must give excellent service and be proactive and organized in your marketing approach.
It is a time honored belief that providing excellent legal services will cause an attorney’s business to grow automatically. That was true when clients didn’t have as great a selection. Now there are numerous attorneys giving excellent service and the clients know it. Good service isn’t enough any more. You need to market yourself effectively as well.
The traditional attorney marketing approach is passive and reactive. It causes many attorneys to be victimized by Marketing Drift. They drift into an area of law or a type of client simply because that is who has been on the phone. If their first client lived in a trailer park and liked their work, they get an inordinate number of trailer park referrals. If they handled a divorce with a favorable outcome, suddenly half their business is coming from divorce.
Most attorneys are susceptible to Marketing Drift because of the Security Imperative. If your earnings are not covering the bills, sustaining the lifestyle you want or reaching the firm’s expectations, there is great pressure to take any matter that comes along regardless of the size, the area of law or the probability they will pay your fee.
This leads to the Security Trap. The propensity to take smaller matters with less desirable clients is self perpetuating because people tend to associate with others like themselves. If you have a passive marketing approach, these undesirable clients become your only source of referrals. You are forced to continue the cycle. This is especially true of sole practitioners and small firms who operate on tight budgets.
Large firms can also get trapped, but in a different way. Larger firms often rely too heavily on a few rainmakers to cultivate business. As the firm grows, so do the expenses, and more pressure is placed on the rainmakers to bring in business. Soon they are bringing in a disproportionate percentage of the revenues. When an important partner leaves or retires, large chunks of revenue are stripped from the firm and no one knows how to replace it. Expenses are still high but now revenues are dramatically reduced. Unless the firm finds a white knight it can implode, sometimes within a matter of months.
The key failing in both cases is the lack of a proactive marketing plan. When you take a passive reactive approach to marketing, your revenues are highly dependent on others. You give up control.
A marketing plan for attorneys doesn’t necessarily mean television advertising and direct mail campaigns. As a matter of fact, I discourage most of my clients from considering these approaches. The best marketing plan for attorneys is a systematic strategy of networking and client cultivation.
All strategic planning boils down to answering three basic questions:
- Where am I?
- Where do I want to go?
- How do I get there?
Most attorneys are so driven by urgent matters that they lose sight of the big picture. What are your income goals? In what area of the law would you prefer to be practicing? Who is your preferred client? If you don’t have a clear idea on these types of issues your results are likely to be random and perhaps disappointing.
There are three basic business development problems attorneys face in their practices. The first problem is having too few clients. The second is having the wrong type of clients. The third is having too many clients and not enough income. All of these problems are caused by the drift arising from a lack of clear objectives.
All good plans start with an assessment of the current situation. What is working? What needs to be improved? How are profits? Am I in the best practice area? What has my profit been over the past three years? It is not until you have a clear understanding of where your business is that you can set objectives.
Given where you are now, where do your want to be in three years? Would you like different types of matters or different target clients? What is your profit goal? Do you want more staff? Do you want to move to different office? The answers to these question and those like them will help you to formulate your marketing objectives.
Once you are clear on what you would like to accomplish you must develop strategies to get there. Focus on networking with people who can bring you clients. These include your current clients, other attorneys and professionals such as doctors, accountants, etc.
Develop strategies for sustaining desirable clients. Stay in touch with your better clients, especially if you’re not working on a matter for them. Newsletters are helpful but there is no substitute for an occasional phone call or lunch.
Include strategies to create mutually beneficial relationships with other attorneys. Most attorneys do this but fail to get a sufficient number of attorneys in their network. I have found most attorneys have between three and five other attorneys to whom they refer clients consistently. It’s no surprise that most of those refer clients back. The key here is to develop a network of at least 25-50 attorneys with whom you can exchange referrals.
If you can’t take a prospective client’s case, always recommend an attorney who can. Call the attorney personally to inform him or her that the prospect will be calling. Even if the prospect fails to call, the attorney will appreciate the effort and give you greater consideration the next time he or she is making a referral.
This is not a radical idea. Most attorneys do this. Unfortunately, they don’t do it often enough nor do they seek these relationships proactively. In addition to your list of 25-50 attorneys, you should also have a list of 25 other professionals to whom you send referrals. Cull both lists frequently. If you are sending referrals and not receiving any from certain people, remove them from your list and find replacements.
At this point, most of my clients ask me, “Where am I going to get all these people to refer? I only refer about one or two a month now if that many.” If you aren’t making many referrals now, it’s probably because you’re not getting many. If you increase your active network to 50 professionals your volume of referrals will increase dramatically. You will then experience “throughput” (referrals you receive that you refer to someone else because they don’t reach your threshold or are outside your area) simultaneously allowing you to feed the network and keep the more desirable cases for yourself. Give each prospective client three names instead of one. This triples the number of referrals you have to give and also triples the gratitude you will get from your contacts.
Once you have created your Strategies, the next step is to develop Action Plans. Many of my clients tell me they have often thought about strategies for bringing in business, but they failed to act on them. Action Plans must be specific, time dependent goals for weekly activity consistent with your strategies. If you hope to establish 50 new professional contacts in the next year, you need to meet with one new person every week. That will require a certain amount of proactive networking.
This networking should be scheduled on your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself to spend an hour or two per week making networking and follow-up phone calls. Give it the priority of a court date.
Schedule events such as Bar Associations, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, etc. to make new contacts. Follow up with these contacts and schedule personal events, such as lunch.
The objectives you originally made for the year should be broken into monthly and weekly goals. Adjust your level of activity to reflect your performance against these goals. If your goal is to take one new person to lunch each week and you already have two scheduled, you might cut back on networking calls that week, but better to try to get ahead a couple of weeks. If you have no lunches scheduled, you should increase your networking activity.
Networking is your most valuable marketing tool. Your income and the quality of your work is largely dependent on the quality and size of your network. It requires consistent effort to maintain and expand it. If you hope to be successful in protecting your financial security and moving toward financial independence, you must schedule time to cultivate it.
With today’s tough competition in legal services, a strong practice requires strategic planning and consistent proactive networking. Take time to make a Strategic Marketing Plan and work your plan every week. This will stop Marketing Drift and let you take control of your financial destiny.
Copyright © Art Italo, 1993, 2009 All Rights Reserved
Other Articles by Art Italo:
Starting a Small Firm or Solo Practice
Marketing for the Small Firm and Solo Practitioner
How to Set Your Retainers and Fees
Improve Law Firm Marketing Using Leveraged Networking
Art Italo is a consultant working exclusively with attorneys in the areas of legal marketing, strategic planning, law practice management and success coaching since 1992.
He has developed and refined the concept of Leveraged Networking after over 15,000 hours of individual consultations with attorneys. He has personally consulted with over 500 attorneys in Atlanta and across the U.S. with practices ranging from solo practitioners to partners with major firms. Art has more than 35 years of marketing and management experience and holds an A.B. from Brown University and an M.B.A. from Pace University.
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