Marketing insights for sole practitioners

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My post on going solo brought emails from lawyers who appreciated that I didn’t varnish the truth about how hard it is.

If you are a solo or thinking of opening your own office, I recommend you read Philly attorney Jordan Rushie’s candid post about his experiences in staring his own practice. It’s interesting reading if you want to compare notes, required reading if you’re about to open that office and need to make a shopping list.

Rushie agrees that going solo is almost a crazy idea–a lot harder and more costly than some would have you believe, far more work and far less income than you can imagine. Although he acknowledges that it’s never the “right time” to go solo, if you have a choice, wait until you have the experience, money, and contacts to be able to do it right.

Rushie’s has some interesting comments about marketing for the new solo. Actually, his advice rings true for just about any attorney. He says you don’t need:

  • An expensive, fancy web site. I agree. You need a place to send people to get information about your practice and how to contact you. You can add more content and make things look nicer later on, after you’re making money.
  • A logo. Right again. Although you can get a decent one designed for a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, you’ll waste too much time deciding on the right look. You don’t need a logo, you need clients.
  • SEO Optimization”. Rushie suggests that more traffic won’t necessarily bring you good clients but that it will certainly bring you tire kickers. You can set up mechanisms to screen and filter out the low-quality inquiries and, therefore, get some decent clients, but the time (and money) you will spend are probably better spent elsewhere. Put this on the list for later.
  • A marketing/PR firm. I agree with this, too. Even if you could afford the cost and could find a firm that really knows what they’re doing (many don’t), you’re better off building relationships. Rushie says, “take potential clients to a ball game,” family, friends, and other lawyers out to dinner. No question about it, you will get far more business by leveraging your existing relationships for business and referrals than you will get hiring a marketing firm. I’m not saying you don’t need marketing information and advice. You do. But you’re better off learning it yourself so you can do it yourself.
  • Social Media or a social media consultant. Rushie says he doesn’t rely on social media to build his practice. He gets about 5% of his work from Facebook friends, “but they are usually people I knew from high school who would have called me anyway.” I know there are exceptions, but I hear something similar from a lot of attorneys. Don’t ignore social media but don’t depend on it, either. Use it as an excuse to connect or re-connect with real people because the magic happens when you talk to people or meet with people in the real world.

Rushie says not having a plan on how to grow your practice is a big mistake and of course, I concur. The good news is that the plan is a lot easier, less technically challenging, and less costly than you might think. Build your practice by building relationships.

Unfortunately, unless you know a lot of (the right) people, building relationships may take up a lot of time. Fortunately, as a new solo without a lot of clients or work keeping you busy, you have time to go meet some new people. Unless you’re too busy learning how to practice law.

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I wish I knew this before I opened my law practice

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In high school and college I did some entry level work during the summers. I was a stock clerk at a department store, delivered flowers, that sort of thing. In law school, I worked as a law clerk.

By the time I graduated law school, the sum total of my work experience was. . . nothing to write home about.

I opened my own law office about a year after graduating and passing the bar exam. I had very little experience as a lawyer, no clients, and no money. Most importantly, my network of contacts was almost non-existent.

As you can imagine, my first few years of practice were very difficult. If I had known what it would take to start a practice and make a go of it, I might have done things differently.

Yes, I knew it would be rough. But I naively thought I would make up for what I lacked with hard work and determination. Like Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore’s character on the 1970’s TV show, I had spunk.

Unfortunately, spunk doesn’t buy groceries.

Anyway, things would undoubtedly have been different if I’d had a network of contacts before I opened my office. When you have relationships with the right people, you can leverage those relationships to get clients, leads, introductions, and advice. You can hit the ground running in a new practice. You’re not starting completely from scratch when you can tap into other people’s established networks.

The lesson is this: build your network before you need it. Or as Harvey MacKay puts it, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.”

It’s more difficult to build a network when you need it. “Hello, I’d like to introduce myself and ask you if you can send me some business.” And yet, it can be done. If you approach them the right way, and you approach enough of them, strangers will help you. But it’s much easier to get that help from people who already know, like, and trust you.

If you’re thinking about opening your own practice, build your network before you make the move. You don’t need a huge network–a few well-connected individuals is all you need to start. They can lead you to others.

First, identify by category the types of people you would like to know. Then, look for ways to find and meet people in those categories.

If you have already opened your own practice, it’s never too late to start building your network.

The best day to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The second best day is today.

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Guy Kawasaki on social media and SEO

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If you’re like me, you (a) want more search engine traffic, (b) you don’t know much about SEO, and (c) you find the whole subject to be overwhelming and frankly, boring.

If so, you may like what Guy Kawasaki said about the subject in a recent interview:

My recommendation for SEO is very simple. It’s Write Good Stuff. In my mind, Google is in the business of finding good stuff. It has thousands of the smartest people in the world, spending billions of dollars to find the good stuff. All you have to do is write the good stuff; you don’t need to trick it. Let Google do its job and you do your job.

Relax. Don’t worry. Write what people want to read. They’ll find you.

Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them find us. When I can, I put key words in my blog post titles and body, but I don’t contort myself to make that happen. Yes, I want you to find me but more important to me (and you) is that when you do find me, you get value out of what you read. It means you’ll come back and read some more and you’ll tell others and they’ll come, too.

SEO is not the only way people find things on the Internet. Word of mouth is very powerful.

On the subject of social media, Kawasaki says many entrepreneurs want to hire consultants and formulate a plan before they get started. He has different advice:  just dive in. Set up a profile and “just have at it”. You’ll learn more by actually doing it.

I subscribe to a few blogs that write about SEO and social media but to be honest when I get to their posts my eyes glaze over. Most of the time I don’t read them. I use that time writing.

If the growth in the readership of this blog is any indication, I’ve made the right choice.

Write Good Stuff. People will find you. And hire you.

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How to create a more successful law practice

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I read another thoughtful post by Leo Babauta on the Zen Habits blog about the subject of practice. No, he wasn’t writing about a law practice, but I thought his message of “practicing” to effect improvement applied as much to a law practice as to anything else. Plus, I like the play on words.

We are what we repeatedly do. We are the sum of our habits. If we want to change who we are, we have to change what we do.

Change begins with awareness. If you didn’t say “thank you” to the new client who just hired you (you’d be surprised at how many attorneys don’t), reading this sentence made you aware that you didn’t and also aware of how important it is. (Your mother will tell you, it’s one of the most important things you can do.) If you usually say thank you, but for some reason didn’t do it last time, there is room for improvement. The standard of excellence isn’t saying thank you most of the time, but every time.

Now that you are aware, make a decision to change. Then, practice your new habit. With something as simple as saying thank you, you might only need to be reminded. Write it down on your intake sheet, use a post it note, put it on your calendar, whatever you need to do to remember to always say thank you.

Also be aware of what happens when you get it right. Watch your new client’s face as you look him in the eye, shake his hand, and sincerely tell him how much you appreciate having him as a client. Tell him you’ll take good care of him. Let the handshake linger a few seconds longer. Give him your full attention. Say thank you, and mean it. You’ll see some of the tension leave his face as he comes to realize that you really do care.

Your law practice is a collection of habits. What you (and your staff) regularly do and how well you do it defines you, distinguishes you from other lawyers, and plays a big role in determining your success. There are big habits and many small ones and they all matter.

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How to get more clients from cases you don’t handle

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shield laws for bloggersI’m sure you read the story about the blogger in a defamation case who got hit with a $2.5 million judgment because, the judge said, she is not a journalist and was not protected by the state’s shield laws.

Interesting story. Important subject.

You read the story but did you make any money with it?

Attorneys can easily leverage a story like this to get more media attention, more traffic to their web site, more prospects, more referral sources, and more clients. And I’m not talking about the attorneys who handled the case itself, I’m talking about you.

Interested? Here’s all you have to do.

First, write a two or three page report summarizing defamation laws in your jurisdiction. You don’t have to practice in this area to do this, Uncle Google will help you, or you can ask an attorney friend who does (and tell him about this idea so he can do it, too).

In your report, mention the case about the blogger. Offer your opinion. Include a few citations, maybe a few resources.

Now, go back to Uncle Google and ask him to give you a list of bloggers in your target market(s) who are in your state or province.

Next, contact these bloggers (a personal email will do) and tell them you wrote a report for bloggers about how they can protect themselves against lawsuits like the one in the news. Offer to send it to them, free of charge. Tell them they are welcome to send it other bloggers they know and care about. (If you know the blogger, you could just send them the report in your first email).

In one day, you can get your report into the hands of dozens of people who every day write and influence the people you are targeting for your services. You have provided value to the blogger on a personal level, and asked nothing in return.

Where can this lead? Interviews, hosted webinars for their readers, guest posts, referrals, introductions, you name it.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t practice tort law. If you do, that’s an added benefit, but the point of this effort isn’t to show these bloggers you can help them in this particular area of the law, it’s to meet them.

Now, what else could you do with your report? Here are a few ideas:

  • Send it to local media with a cover letter letting them know you are available for interviews.
  • Call or email your clients and contacts: Who do you know in (your area) who writes a blog? Tell them you have a report that can help them.
  • Offer it through social media; post a video on youtube, opining on the story and linking to your report; offer it via forums, chat groups, listserves, and other areas where bloggers and people who know bloggers congregate.
  • Contact local blogger groups, business groups (anyone who has a blog), and offer a lunch talk.
  • Write about it on your blog or in your newsletter.
  • Take out ads and offer the report, as a “public service”.
  • Send it to lawyers in your practice area in states or provinces where you don’t practice. Tell them what you’re doing with the report in your area, invite them to do the same in theirs. (If you have to ask how this could help you, forget about this idea.)
  • Do a presentation at your bar group’s next function on how you used a news story to market your services.

You get the idea.

Oh, and you don’t need a news story to do this, you can write about anything that affects people in your target market or they people who influence them.

It’s about providing value in a leveraged way. It’s simple and it works. And if your report goes viral, it could help you take a quantum leap in the growth of your practice.

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“I’m a doctor, Jim, not a salesman!”

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I'm a doctor, Jim, not a salesman!Let’s be honest, most attorneys don’t like marketing. Or so they say.

“I didn’t go to law school to be a salesman,” they’ll say, or, “I’m good at what I do, I shouldn’t have to promote myself.”

I understand how they feel.

And to some extent, their “good work” will serve as a magnet for referrals or repeat business. But to categorically dismiss marketing of any kind is foolhardy.

Advertising isn’t so bad, is it? Even Abe Lincoln advertised:

Do you have a web site? Guess what? You’re advertising. Same goes for a directory listing.

Do you ever answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” Well, whatever you say in response is selling.

In fact, every letter we send, every conversation we have, every article, blog post, or speech, is an opportunity not just to deliver words and ideas but to sell the reader or listener on us and our ability to deliver benefits.

When a client signs your retainer and gives you a check, a sale has taken place.

The sales aspects of our communications are more subtle than an informercial pitch, but it’s sales, nevertheless.

And I’m not even going to mention that negotiating, demand letters, motions, and closing arguments are sales of the highest order.

Lawyers sell. (But that doesn’t make us sales people.)

Lawyers “do” marketing. Marketing is defined as everything we do to get and keep clients.

Sales, marketing, public relations, publicity. . . what’s the difference?

I’ve found no better explanation than this one:

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying, “Circus is coming to Fairgrounds Sunday,” that’s Advertising.

If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk him through town, that’s a Promotion.

If the elephant walks through the Mayor’s flower bed, that’s Publicity.

If you can get the Mayor to laugh about it, that’s Public Relations.

If the town’s citizens go the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.

- M Booth & Associates

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The one competitor no attorney can afford to ignore

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competition for legal servicesMarketing legal services can be cut throat. And yet I often write that while attorneys should keep an eye on their competition, they should not fear them. Competition makes us better lawyers. It educates and expands the market for our services. And it provides us with a way to convince prospects to choose us by showing them how we are different or better.

But there is one competitor that no attorney can afford to ignore.

This competitor is stealthy. If you aren’t careful, he will steal clients from under your nose and you will never know it. There is no competition more powerful, or more deadly than this one, and you need to be prepared.

Who is he? He goes by several names: apathy, indecision, and fear.

Your biggest competition isn’t the other attorneys in your market. Your prospects have another option, as Seth Godin reminds us: the option of doing nothing.

You may do a good job of showing prospects why they should choose you instead of any other attorney, but you must first show them why they need to hire any attorney. If they don’t see the need or their fears preclude them from making a decision, you’ve lost the client, just as surely as you would had he hired the guy down the street.

The good news is that you can defeat this competitor. Make sure your prospects understand the risks of doing nothing and the benefits for making the right decision. Tell them the facts and share the stories.

Once they know why they need to hire an attorney and are persuaded to do so, then show them why the attorney they hire should be you.

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Can pro bono legal work help you grow your law practice? Yes it can.

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marketing legal services with pro bono workWhen I opened my own office shortly after law school, I had an abundance of free time and a lack of clients or experience. Once or twice a week, I volunteered the day at a legal clinic for women. The clients had mostly domestic violence and other family law issues. When I began, I knew very little about family law but I quickly learned. I was able to use those skills in my private practice.

Last week was “pro bono” week. This article presents the “Top 5 Reasons to Do Pro Bono Work“. I’m sure I can lay claim to all five. The article misses a reason, however. My pro bono work helped me to build my practice.

The clinic I worked at allowed us to offer our paid services to the clients. Granted, most of them had little or no money, but I did get some paying work. And little or nothing was definitely better than nothing. It allowed my nascent practice to stay afloat, which allowed me to continue to volunteer.

I also got some referrals from those clients. Yes, most of them were in the same financial shape as the clients who referred them, but not all of them.

I was also able to network with the administrators of the clinic, their benefactors, and the other attorneys who volunteered. I met people who introduced me to others and as my network grew, so did my practice.

I’m not ashamed to admit that growing my practice was one of the reasons I volunteered at the legal clinic. I don’t think any of the hundreds of clients I saw for free or almost free would have any objections.

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How to use your business card to get referrals

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When you hand out your business card, always hand out two. "I’m giving you two cards, one for you and one to give to someone who might need my services."

This causes them to think about who they know who might need your services. They might think of someone immediately and tell you. They might ask for additional cards, because they know several people to give them to.

It also plants the seed in their mind that they should be on the lookout for referrals.

Simple, but it works.

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