How to compete with bigger firms

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You’re a small firm or a solo, competing against bigger firms. They have more employees and bigger budgets. They have more buying power and can advertise for half of what you’ll pay. They have marketing committees and dedicated staff who do marketing-related activities all day long.

How do you compete against them?

You don’t. If you want to win, you have to choose the right battles.

If you have a small team, perhaps just you and an assistant, don’t target big clients who would never consider a small firm. Target smaller clients who not only would consider hiring a sole practitioner or small firm, they prefer it.

As a small firm, you are quicker and more agile. You don’t need committees to make decisions or change course. You make the call and do what needs to be done.

Unlike big firms, you don’t handle “everything”. You’re not adequate at many things, you specialize and are excellent at what you do.

You don’t have a huge staff or rent entire floors so your clients save money when they hire you.

You work closely with your clients and develop a personal relationship with them. When they need you, they can speak to you. You understand their business and industry. You know their staff. You are more than just their lawyer, you are a partner in their success.

Big firms have their strengths. Don’t compete with them. Don’t approach big companies and try to dazzle them with your successes. Even if they are impressed and love you they’re not going to hire you.

Create a profile of your ideal client and target only them. Tailor your marketing materials and your approach and show them that they are your ideal client and you are their ideal lawyer.

To create a profile of your ideal client, use this

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The hidden value of content marketing

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Education based marketing means providing prospective clients with information about their problems and the available solutions. As they contemplate the severity of the issues and the nuances of the solutions, they get closer to hiring a lawyer. Your content shows them that you understand their problem and have helped others to solve it, and you thus become the lawyer they are mostly likely to hire.

In other words, the quality (and quantity) of your information does much of the selling of your services for you.

So, plus one for content.

But in what form do you deliver that content?

William Glasser said that we learn. . .

10% of what we read,
20% of what we hear,
30% of what we see,
50% of what we see and hear,
70% of what we discuss,
80% of what we experience,
95% of what we teach others.

So you want to give prospective clients options to read, watch, and listen to your information. You also want to involve them with that information by engaging them in a conversation about it, through commenting on your posts and emailing and calling you to ask questions about how the information applies to their specific situation.

In a live presentation, you can engage the audience by soliciting feedback and asking people to talk about their experience with the subject. On your website, you can post surveys and other types of involvement mechanisms.

The more senses your prospects use, the more they learn; the more they learn, the more likely they are to see you, the teacher, as the best solution to their problem.

But there’s a hidden value to this process. As you create your content, you learn more about the subject and get better at teaching it.

You spend more time thinking about what you know and verifying what you think you know. You read what other teachers (lawyers) say about the subject and how they say it. You find more examples and stories to illustrate your points. And as you write and re-write your information, and practice your delivery, you become a better teacher and thus better at attracting clients.

If you want to get better at content marketing, use this

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Is your wicked past hurting your career?

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Last night my wife and I watched the 1955 version of “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s an enjoyable diversion, even if just for the scenic French landscapes and beaches.

Grant is a reformed jewel thief, John Robie, who was in his day known as “The Cat”. He has paid for his crimes and is trying to live a quiet retirement but when a series of high-profile jewel heists occur, the police and the townspeople believe that “The Cat” is up to his old tricks.

Grant seeks to prove his innocence and redeem his name by using his skills and knowledge to catch the real thief in the act.

The central theme of the film is the fragility of reputation. It’s hard to build, easy to lose, and next to impossible to regain.

Our reputations are what people know about us, or think they know, and what they say or do as a result. Jeff Bezos was speaking about reputation when he said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

What, pray tell, are your clients saying about you?

You have spent years building your reputation. It is your most valuable asset. I hope you have been equally diligent about protecting it.

We must all watch what we say and what we do. We must continually listen to what the town’s people are saying about us. I think you know that. Lawyers are by nature cautious and closed mouth about things that don’t need to be said. I think this is one reason why so many lawyers are loathe to use social media.

That doesn’t mean we can merely let our work speak for us. Clients hire lawyers they know, like, and trust, and you have to make some effort to get them to do this.

So yeah, there are risks and we have to take them. Fortunately, building your reputation doesn’t require the elimination of all risks, only the intelligent management of them.

So be smart. Don’t don’t steal any jewels. Or piss off the wrong people.

And remember what the watch commander on the police drama, “Hill Street Blues,” always said at the end of each briefing: “Let’s be careful out there”.

Get clients to know, like, and trust you. Here’s the formula

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Are you yelp-proofing your practice?

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The other day our washing machine decided it needed to go on vacation and stopped working. My wife called the service company we’ve used in the past and booked an appointment. They were due to come out today between 8 and 11.

My wife has a busy day today and called to see where we were in the queue. Yep, you guessed it, they had no record of the appointment.

It seems that their computer also needed a vacation and lost a bunch of bookings. They had no way of knowing who to call so it was a good thing my wife decided to call them. (They’ll be here later today).

What about the customers who don’t call to confirm? When the repair person is a no show do you think some of them might call another service? And then rip into them on review sites?

Yeah, I do too.

The company needs a fail-safe mechanism to minimize the risk of this happening again. How about something simple like instructing the person who answers the phone to write down the name and phone number of every caller, on paper, before entering the info into the computer?

Problem. Solved.

If I owned the company, not only would I implement this, I would make a point of dramatizing it in my marketing. In our ads, on our website, on the phone, I would explain that since computers have glitches and the Internet sometimes goes down, we use “double entry” appointments to protect our customers. Or something like that.

This may seem like a small point but marketing is about small points. Showing the world how you are different and better than the other guys by dramatizing the little things you do to give your customers a better experience.

I’m guessing this company won’t do any of this. They won’t apologize or offer us a discount or a freebie to make amends. But if they did, they would go a long way towards strengthening relationships with the people who not only pay their bills but who can recommend them to their friends.

Client referrals start with good client relations

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Facebook wants us to kill each other but I’m not taking the bait

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Facebook and other social media platforms are rife with ugliness, especially during the political season. It’s like we’re all in a giant sandbox, yelling at the other kids and calling them a doody face. Facebook censors a lot of content but they’re smart enough to realize that the more we fight, the more eyeballs they get on their ads.

Anyway, this morning I thought that a good rule of thumb would be to never say anything on social media we wouldn’t say in person.

What do you think, good rule?

I’ve blocked so many “friends” lately it’s crazy. Me: “Okay, I used to think this person was smart, now I see they are an idiot. Or evil. Or both. Life is too short and I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Blocked.”

Why not reply? Defend my side of the issue? Show them the error of their wicked ways?

Not worth it. I have better things to do. Besides, I don’t really know most of them.

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean every day) I wish there were no social media.

Omm.

Anyway, this morning, I read an article about a memo written by advertising legend David Ogilvy in 1982. The memo includes ten “rules” for better writing, the tenth of which made me pause and reflect: “If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”

Of course today he would be vilified on social media for saying “guy” instead of “person,” but it’s good advice don’t you think? If it’s important, talk to people.

What if instead of writing a demand letter we went and visited opposing counsel and told them what we wanted and why? Or at least called and spoke to them?

I don’t know if we’d get better results but I’m almost certain our interaction would be more professional and dignified. We might get testy but we’d have a conversation, not a shouting match (usually). Even if we didn’t agree on anything, we would at least respect the other person in the morning.

In my pre-digital days, I encountered many fools but I was able to get along with most of them.  I had no choice. I couldn’t block them so I had to learn how to play nice with those doody faces.

I do use social media. Here’s how

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If you sell legal services does that make you a sales person?

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Yesterday I spoke with a trial lawyer about a business idea he was contemplating. He wanted to know my thoughts about it. During our conversation, I had to chuckle when he said he didn’t know if he would be good at it because he wasn’t a sales person.

“After 20 years of trial work,” I said, “I’m pretty sure there are a few judges and jurors who disagree with that assessment.”

Let’s face it, lawyers sell. We sell our clients’ claims to judges and juries, and to opposing counsel and insurance adjusters. When we negotiate a contract, we’re selling. When we do a presentation, we’re selling the audience on booking an appointment. When we meet with prospective clients, we’re selling them on hiring us.

Lawyers sell. Every day, and twice on Wednesdays. But that doesn’t mean we’re sales people.

We don’t cold call, we don’t go door to door, and we don’t make appointments and sit at someone’s kitchen table (usually). But we do qualify prospective clients, show them how we can help them, overcome their objections, and close. We may not be good at it but we do it.

We sell. Get over it. Make a full confession. Once you do, you can learn how to get better at it.

You do want to get better, don’t you? If you currently close 7 out of 10 prospective clients, wouldn’t you want to close 8?

The mechanics of selling aren’t difficult to learn. And with practice, you can get better. What’s difficult is overcoming your fear, but you can learn how to do that, too.

It starts by admitting to yourself that you sell legal services. Even if you’re not a sales person.

Let your website do most of the (pre-)selling for you. Here’s how

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How to put (a lot of) your marketing on autopilot

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Writing a weekly blog post and emailing that post to your email subscribers is one of the smartest things you can do to build your practice. If you don’t have an email list and a sign-up form on your website or blog, put that at the top of your project list under the category of “incredibly effective marketing”.

Don’t argue with me, just do it. And then email something to that list at least once a week. You’ll thank me later.

See, one reason many lawyers don’t do this is because it seems like too much work, relative to what they believe will be the outcome. That’s because they don’t know how effective this can be in bringing in new clients, repeat clients, referrals, and other marketing goodness.

If you found out that doing this could double or triple your client intake this year, would it be worth it?

One way to ameliorate the “burden” of writing a weekly email is to collect some of your past emails and add them to your autoresponder sequence.

Autoresponders let you send “broadcasts,” which is what you do when you write and send fresh material, and “newsletters” when you want the software to automatically send emails you have already written on a schedule of your choosing.

Are you with me?

Go through the emails you previously sent to clients and prospects and website visitors and select the best ones that are “evergreen”. You may have some that you can edit (remove dates and time-bound offers and “current” events) and add them to your list.

Still with me?

If you have 20 evergreen emails, you can put them in your autoresponder queue and send them to new subscribers automatically. Those new subscribers won’t know (or care) that you wrote them in the past; to them, the information is new and valuable.

That’s 20 weeks of new emails you don’t have to write. You can also send these to “old” subscribers, many of whom have already received those emails. Just because you sent it to them before doesn’t mean they received them, read them, related to them, or were ready to act on them.

When you have 52 evergreen emails, you can add them to your queue and take the next year off. When the year is over, you can instruct the autoresponder to repeat the process and start sending those emails again.

You’ll want to add new emails (broadcasts) throughout the year, however. To notify your list when you have a new article or blog post on your site, invite them to your event, or make a special offer. But that’s easy to do because you won’t be writing emails every week. Unless you want to. But that’s a subject for another day.

Here’s how to do it: Marketing online for attorneys

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Are you stuck in first gear?

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Do you ever feel like you’ve stuck? You work hard and do the right things but you don’t seem to be getting ahead?

You’re in a rut, my friend, but don’t worry. It’s nothing five new clients can’t fix.

Five new clients who pony up big retainers or five big cases could be all you need to jump-start your machine and shift into high gear.

You know I’m right.

So yes, I’m going to pound on marketing yet again. Can you handle it? Unless you utterly loathe what you do and you need a new career, marketing is always the answer to what ails you.

But today, instead of digging into your bag of attorney marketing tricks, I’d like to see you go in another direction.

What do I mean? I mean exposing yourself to a completely different field. Immerse yourself in something unrelated to the practice of law and see how others have built or are building a successful business or practice.

Read a book, take a class, talk to someone. Get inspired by what they did and adapt their methods or ideas to your practice.

You might be surprised to discover some great ideas that have been right under your nose this whole time.

This morning, I downloaded a Kindle book, The College Entrepreneur. I’m not in college and I’m not interested in starting a new business right now but the book is receiving high marks and was free, so clickity-click and I own a copy. I haven’t read it yet but I’m almost certain I’ll find something in it that I can use in my business.

Get thee to a bookstore and start browsing. Don’t leave until you find something to read that has nothing to do with law or even marketing or business. Learn how others have climbed the mountain of success in whatever it is they do, and then go climb your own mountain.

When you’re ready to apply what you learn to your practice, get this

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Why you need an office handbook even if you don’t have any employees

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An office handbook is typically created to provide employees with a set of rules and procedures for handling things like answering the phone, ordering supplies, opening and closing files, and more. If there’s a question about what to do, the staff doesn’t have to ask you or a co-worker, they can look it up.

It’s also a great tool for helping new hires and temps get up to speed.

Every lawyer should have an office handbook, even lawyers without employees.

If you’re making the rules and you’re the only one following them, why bother? No, not “just in case” you do hire someone, although that’s another good reason. You should create an office handbook because the process of doing so will force you to think about the best way to handle all of the bits and pieces of what you do.

As you create a checklist for preparing corporate or estate planning documents, for example, you’ll look for ways to do it more quickly and efficiently and minimize mistakes. You’ll find ways to save time, save money, eliminate duplication and waste, streamline your processes, get better at client relations, and otherwise run a tighter ship.

Writing an office handbook will help you earn more and work less.

When I started practicing and had only a few clients and no employees, I took the time to create intake forms, authorizations, form letters (representation, declining representation, thank you/welcome, etc.)

I also created a checklist for opening a new file. When I interviewed a new client, my forms made sure I asked them everything that needed to be asked and had them sign everything that needed to be signed. I was also able to put a welcome letter in the mail before the new client got to their car in the parking lot.

Without using a computer.

I was able to open and “work” new files without having to think about it because I had already done the thinking. When I eventually hired a secretary, training her was a snap.

If you don’t have an office handbook, you would do well to create one, but don’t try to do everything all at once. Start by taking inventory of the forms and letters you already use or have access to. Pick one and update it; then tackle another.

When you’ve gotten through all of the things you already use, dive in and create the ones you don’t, starting with the most important and valuable. Like a checklist for making sure there’s a fresh pot of coffee brewing first thing every morning.

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The hidden cost of every decision

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Every decision you make–big ones like whether to go to med school or law school, to little ones like whether to work on the Smith case this morning or work on marketing instead–require an investment of time, energy, money, and mental focus.

You consciously or unconsciously calculate these costs, along with the possible return on your investment.

But there’s a good chance you are omitting something from your calculation. It’s a cost that most people don’t think about, but should, because it might be your biggest cost. Deciding to make that investment might also result in a much bigger payoff.

It’s called the “opportunity cost”–what you give up by taking on project A, for example, when you could instead use that time, money, and energy, to do project B.

Project A might require less time. But when you factor in the cost of losing the benefits of project B, you might decide project B is the better choice.

Savvy investors understand the need to calculate the opportunity cost of their investment decisions, and so must we.

Of course we must also consider the opportunity cost of turning down one project in favor of another. I’ve turned down invitations to speak because I had other things I could do that offered a better return. But in so doing, I lost the opportunity to get my name in front of new people, which, long term, might have had the bigger payoff.

Every decision to do something includes a decision to not do something else.

Look at your task list and see what you have flagged to do next. Ask yourself what you might be giving up if you do it. But also consider what you might be giving up if you don’t.

You invested a few minutes reading this post, minutes that could have been spent reading something else or doing something else. Did your investment pay off? Was it worth it to be reminded about the importance of considering the opportunity costs of your decisions?

If it was, then I made the right decision to write about it.

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