Pro bono as a marketing strategy

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If a client asks for a discount on your fees, don’t do it. For a lot of reasons, you’re just asking for trouble.

And if you’re ever tempted to proactively offer a discount, to an individual client or across the board, be very careful. It might be the right thing to do, but too often, it isn’t.

Instead of discounts, consider offering free services.

Whereas discounts can make you look hungry, even desperate, free services can do just the opposite. They can make you look successful, generous, ready to help people who need help but might not be able to afford it.

They can also be an effective marketing tool.

Pro bono work for a non-profit can help you build your network and get you some free publicity. It also looks good on your CV.

(NB: get a letter from the non-profit specifying how much your work was worth to them; you might get a nice tax deduction, too.)

For regular business or consumer clients, giving away an entry-level service (e.g., a basic will or incorporation), offering free consultations, a free second opinion, and “first hour free,” can bring a lot of business to your door that might have knocked on another lawyer’s door.

But again, you need to be careful.

Whenever you’re inclined to offer a free service, consider making it a short-term promotion and tying it to a holiday or other special occasion, e.g., to celebrate the opening of your second office, your firm’s anniversary, or your birthday.

You might also limit the offer to new clients, to returning clients, to members of a certain class or group or organization, or the employees or clients thereof.

Done right, free services can make you look good and bring in a lot of new business.

Start small and test your promotion. If it’s working, you can repeat it or expand it; if it’s not, you can modify it or quietly retire it.

Fee and billing strategies you need to know and use

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Being different without being weird

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You want to stand out. Show people you’re different. Help people remember you and talk about you on social media or to their friends. You’re looking for something you can do that’s different but coming up empty.

Relax. Stop trying so hard.

You don’t have to create your own practice area or provide free pizza in your waiting room. You don’t have to do anything radically different. And you shouldn’t. You’re a lawyer, and people don’t want their lawyer to be weird.

You can be different in little ways.

I just saw a video blogger who ends his videos by telling viewers to like and subscribe, as everyone else does, but then does something I’ve never seen anyone else do. He says not to bother hitting the bell for notifications, “because honestly, you have better things to do than to look out for a notification that I’ve posted a new video”.

Small, but different.

Technically, this is bad marketing. You want your viewers/subscribers/followers to know when there’s new content for them to consume. If they don’t get notified, they may never see that new content, and that’s a lost opportunity for you to connect with them and for them to share your content with others.

On the other hand, this is great marketing.

He shows his followers that he doesn’t slavishly follow the “script” everyone else follows, and that he cares about his viewers and puts himself in their shoes.

A small difference, tiny even, but you can get a lot of mileage out of small differences.

When everyone else looks and sounds and smells the same, you don’t need to do much to stand out.

And hey, if you do serve pizza in your waiting room, don’t put pineapple on it. That’s just weird.

Get more referrals by being more referrable

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Objection, calls for speculation

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I saw a video the other day that ticked all the boxes. It was clear and concise, delivered the information viewers needed to know, and didn’t waste our time with anything else. One viewer said what many of us were thinking: “Nice, simple and straight to the point.”

Which is what we should all aspire to achieve in our websites, our letters and emails, our articles, briefs, presentations, and all our communication.

William Howard Taft said, “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

Clarity is equally important in our bills and invoices.

A bill shouldn’t be merely a list of how you spent your time. It should be a narrative that describes your effort.

Spell out what you did in plain English, and what it means for the client. Use active verbs and specific nouns to describe the process you used to deliver the results you obtained, even if (especially if) those results aren’t yet fully realized.

In school, teachers told us to “show your work” instead of merely reporting the answer. They wanted to see what we thought and did and why.

The same standard should apply to your bill.

Show clients your work; help them see and understand what you did and why. If there isn’t room on the actual invoice, add a cover letter and spell it out.

Don’t make clients guess what you did or what you meant. Explain it to them as if they were a child. Or your teacher.

How to write a bill your clients want to pay

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What to do when you don’t want to do something. Or anything.

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You don’t want to review that big file. You don’t want to call the adjuster. You don’t want to deliver the bad news to your client. Usually, you don’t think about it, you just do it.

But not always.

Some days, when you don’t feel like doing something that needs to get done, you avoid it and busy yourself with other things.

We all have days like that.

We also have days when we don’t feel like doing anything but sitting on the sofa and playing with our phone.

What do you do when you have a file you don’t want to look at or an article you don’t want to write? What do you do when you’re not motivated to do something you need to do?

You start.

Open the file. Find the phone number. Sharpen your pencil and write your name and room number at the top of the page.

Do something related to the task you are avoiding, however trivial, and let nature take its course.

Your brain will see you’ve started and compel you to take the next step.

Action is the solution.

“Getting started is magical,” says psychologist Thomas Pychyl. “Motivation follows action, not the other way around.”

On days when you don’t feel like doing anything, get out of the house and go to the office. If you work from home, go to your home office and sit at your desk, as if it was just another day at work.

Move your body, engage your mind, pick up a file or re-read your notes and momentum will take over.

Unless it doesn’t.

Some days, you just want to sit on the sofa and play with your phone. In which case, maybe you should take the day off.

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Being proactive about referrals

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Referrals happen, right? You don’t have to say anything or do anything other than provide great service. Happy clients tell others about you, give them your business card or your website, and magic happens.

Your business contacts do the same thing. They might say that you did a good job for some of their clients or customers, or they know you by your stellar reputation, or they know you from church or your kid’s soccer team, and you’re a nice fella or gal.

More magic.

If you get any referrals right now, you know this is true. Referrals happen this way all day, every day.

Without you doing anything extra to make that happen.

But while you don’t have to say anything or do anything, there are things you could say or do that could significantly increase the number of referrals you get.

You might double or triple them. You might increase them tenfold.

How much would it be worth to you over the course of a year to get even one additional referral each month?

Okay, enough with the sexy numbers. You want to know what you could say or do to stimulate more referrals, and you don’t want to work hard to do it.

I’ll give you 3 things you can do, starting today.

First, you can talk about referrals. No, I didn’t say ask for them. Talk about them. In your blog posts and articles, in your presentations, and in your conversations.

When you tell a story about a client with a problem, simply mention that they were referred to you by another client who had a similar problem, or by another lawyer or influential person in your community.

Every time you do that, you tell people that you (routinely) get referrals, suggesting that they might do the same.

Thing is, some people can send you referrals but don’t, primarily (according to surveys) because they “didn’t think of it”. This is a simple way to help them think of it.

The second thing you can do is to equip your clients and contacts to refer you.

Give them something they can hand out besides your business card, so that when they talk to someone who might need your help, they can give them something that tells them what you do and how you can help them.

They don’t have to explain. The handout does that for them and tells the prospective client exactly what you want them to know and what to do next.

One more.

Make a habit of asking people for referrals to other professionals.

Tell them you like to network with other attorneys, real estate or financial professionals (or whoever might make a good referral source for you), and ask if they know anyone. If they do, ask for a name, tell them you’ll call them to introduce yourself, and ask, “is it okay if I mention your name?”

You get to talk to potential referral sources who will know that you represent one of their clients or business contacts. You still have work to do, but your mutual client or contact gives you a huge head start.

And yes, it is as simple as that.

Learn more about what to do with this (for clients) and this (for professional contacts).

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Psst, wanna buy a used blog post?

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I didn’t write it, it doesn’t say anything new, but I’ve saved a blog post for future reference and I am recommending you do the same.

13 Brilliant Ways to Repurpose Your Content & Save Time is an excellent roundup of that very subject.

It’s written for authors, but the information applies to anyone who uses content to promote their business or practice.

I’ve used only one method. I’ve turned blog posts into books and used those books to generate more traffic to my website. I get more visitors, more subscribers, and more clients, and I didn’t have to write anything new.

This post reminds me that there’s a lot more I can do.

If you don’t do any content marketing, seeing what’s possible might encourage you to start. It’s a simple way to use what you know to help people find you and find out how you can help them.

One more thing. The content you repurpose doesn’t have to be your own.

You can point at someone else’s blog post or article or video, for example, and tell people about it.

Like I’ve done with this post.

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Do you have a “getting to work” ritual?

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Before you start your work for the day, or begin another session, is there anything you routinely do just before you begin?

A routine, a habit, a ritual?

Maybe you always sit down with a fresh cup of your favorite hot beverage. Maybe you put on headphones and listen to your favorite jam. Maybe you assemble your notes or review what you wrote the day before.

You might like to check your calendar and task list, clear your email inbox, or dash off some instructions to your assistant, to clear your mind of those tasks so you can work on things that require more focus.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, said a “getting to work” ritual makes getting started easier and makes procrastination less likely, even if that ritual has nothing to do with the work itself.

Surfing the web, playing a video game, reading a few pages in a novel—a starting ritual could be anything that puts you in a good mood.

“When people talk about procrastination,” Duhigg said, “what they’re usually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.”

It seems it’s not so much what you do, it’s that you do something that signals your brain it’s time to get to work.

Researchers tell us that not only can a starting ritual help you start, it can also help you perform better. No doubt that has a lot to do with being in a good mood.

Whether you call it getting warmed up, clearing the morning cobwebs from your brain, or having a bit of fun before you dive into the challenges of the day, a getting started ritual makes a lot of sense.

Before I wrote this, I played Words With Friends for 5 minutes, scrolled through my YouTube feed and bookmarked some videos to watch later, and got some coffee.

I don’t know if it helped me get started, but it sure put me in a good mood. Yeah, it was probably the coffee.

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Your best source of referrals?

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Many people say clients are your best source of referrals. They know, like, and trust you and can share their experiences with your firm with their friends and business contacts.

True, but they might not know that their friend or contact has a problem or needs to talk to an attorney. They might not know about all the services you offer or how to recognize when someone needs your help. They might not think of you when someone they know has a problem, or know what to do to refer them.

Which is why you need to educate your clients, equip them to make referrals, and stay in touch with them.

Some say other attorneys are your best source of referrals because they know when their client or contact needs the help you provide and can influence them to talk to you.

That’s true, too, but those attorneys might have other attorneys they work with and refer to, or they might not know you well enough to trust you to properly handle their client’s matter.

Which is why you need to build relationships with other attorneys, make them aware of what you have done for your clients, and stay in touch with them, before you can expect them to send you referrals.

Some say your best source of referrals are people who have previously referred clients to you. That’s also true, but only if those previous referrals were happy with you.

Which is why you have to provide your clients with great results and great service, properly thank the referral-giver, stay in touch with them, and continue to build your relationship with them.

Your best source of referrals? I don’t know who might be yours, but I can tell you one thing. It will be people with whom you have a good relationship.

Which is why you need to stay in touch with people, instead of assuming they know who you are and will contact you if they need you.

I’ve never found an easier way to do that than an email newsletter.

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No shortcuts?

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We’re told we have to put in our dues, meaning we have to do the work and give it time. We’re told it takes hard work and we shouldn’t try to beat the system. We’re told it takes as long as it takes and there’s nothing we can do to speed things up.

But this isn’t true.

Knowing the right people is a shortcut. Knowing people who can send you business, give you good advice, and introduce and endorse you to key people in your niche or market will almost always shorten your path to success.

Timing is a shortcut. Investing in precious metals before massive inflation destroys the value of paper currency can lead to great wealth. Starting a new practice area before other lawyers realize its potential could help you get the lion’s share of the business.

The Pareto Principle is another shortcut. Figure out the 20% activities in your work that lead to 80% of your results, do more of those 20% activities, and you can multiply your results.

Personal development is perhaps the ultimate shortcut. Increasing your knowledge, improving your skills, becoming a better leader and communicator, are the very stuff of success.

So yes, there are shortcuts. But there are no guarantees.

So, while you’re looking for shortcuts, you might want to cover your bets by working hard and giving things time.

No, hard work won’t guarantee your success or speed up the process. But it might help you find some shortcuts that do.

More shortcuts for building bigger, faster

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What can you do to differentiate yourself?

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In the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, southern California auto dealer Cal Worthington featured an assortment of chimpanzees, elephants and other circus animals in his TV commercials. Worthington rode a bull and a pig (and referred to them as “my dog spot”), offered free ice cream and train rides for the kids, and promised to “eat a bug” if you could find a better deal on one of his cars.

Other dealers competed on price or service or selection. Worthington offered this, too. But it was his over-the-top commercials, which ran night and day, that helped him become one of the biggest dealers in the country.

Surely I’m not suggesting you do something like this to promote your law firm. Of course not (and don’t call me Shirley). I’m suggesting that if you want to differentiate yourself from the legions of other lawyers who do what you do, you need to do something to stand out.

It doesn’t have to be outrageous. Just different from what most lawyers in your niche or market say or do.

Fortunately, since most lawyers do and say the same things, are rarely do anything that might raise an eyebrow, this shouldn’t be terribly difficult.

In days past, where lawyers advertised solely in the yellow pages, some lawyers stood out by running ads in newspapers. When everyone ran one-shot ads, e.g., “Here we are, call us,” some lawyers stood out by running lead-generation ads and direct mail campaigns to build a list.

What does everyone in your field do today that you could do differently?

Commercials that are in black and white? Or commercials where someone interviews you. Maybe “editorial style” print ads that look like news stories, like I used to run.

Think. Or hire a creative team. It could be well worth it.

Note that while advertising is likely to bring you the biggest and quickest results, you don’t have to advertise to stand out.

Post something on your website, offer something in your articles or blog, do something in your presentations, and word of mouth will do the rest.

Not-so-crazy example: where other lawyers invite prospective clients to call to make an appointment or ask questions, you might say you are currently accepting new clients “by referral only.”

Different. And suggests that you are in high-demand and don’t accept everyone.

Most lawyers sing from the same hymn book and it’s hard to tell one from the other. Give some thought to what you could do to get noticed.

Marketing ideas to get you started

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