Dead clients don’t pay your bills

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One of the best sources of new clients is old clients, that is, former clients who haven’t hired you for a while. That’s one reason I repeatedly pound on you about the value of staying in touch.

Anyway, if you haven’t been doing that, or even if you have, there’s something else you can do to “re-activate” lapsed clients.

In the mail yesterday was a letter (remember those?) from a dentist I don’t know but with a return address that sounded vaguely familiar. I’m always curious to see how professionals market themselves so I opened it. Inside was a $100 gift card, good towards any treatment with this dentist.

I don’t live anywhere near his office so why was he mailing this to me? With a quick search online, I figured it out.

It seems that the dentist I went to nearly ten years ago has retired and moved out of state. Before he retired, he took on a young partner, the dentist who send me the gift card. So, basically, my dentist sold out and moved out.

Mystery solved.

Anyway, the gift card is the size of a credit card and made of hard plastic. If you’re using gift cards in your practice, this is a good way to do it. Doesn’t cost you anything unless they use it and if they use it, well, Bob’s your uncle.

So, if you have former clients you’d like to bring back to the mother ship, why not send them a gift card? (The company that produced this card is www.vivaconcepts.com. I don’t know anything about them and don’t endorse them, I just wanted to tell you where you could get some information.)

The letter enclosed with the gift card said that the end of the year is almost upon us and that “now would be a good time to give the gift of a bright holiday smile, and remind you to utilize any unused insurance before it expires.”

Following this, it says, “Enclosed is a gift card for any treatment you may need addressed. You can also give this card to a family member or friend.”

Bingo. Don’t need any dental (or legal) work? You may know someone who does.

It’s called a referral, in case you’re new around here.

Clients can and do give referrals. Here’s how to get more

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How many people work for you?

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How many people work for you? I don’t just mean employees. Or freelancers. Or outside companies you hire from time to time. I mean everyone who helps you in some way and gets paid to do so.

One? Ten? Twenty? Fifty?

Not even close.

The answer is probably in the hundreds. Maybe a lot more.

Impossible? Not really. Not if you re-think the meaning of “work” and “paid”. See, you’re forgetting about all of your clients and former clients. They work for you, too, even if they don’t show up at your office every morning.

How’s that?

They work for you by keeping their eyes and ears open for people who need your services. They work for you by sharing the content on your blog or newsletter or your posts on social media. They work for you by inviting people to your events.

True, they may not be very good at their job. But that’s just as much your fault as their’s.

If you don’t talk to your clients about referrals and other ways they can help you, most won’t know what to do. Or if they do but they haven’t heard from you in months or years, they forget to do it.

It’s up to you to educate them so they can do their job.

You can do that by posting a “How you can help us” page on your website and putting a copy in your “New Client Welcome Kit.” You can do that by staying in touch with them so they see your name and think about you and what you do.

It’s also up to you to praise them when they do a good job and, if possible, to recognize them for their good work in front of others.

You do that with real employees, don’t you? Praise and recognition? (If you don’t, you might want to put that on your list).

Okay, you get it. You see how all of your clients and former clients and everyone else on your list of contacts can help your practice grow. You also know that with a little help from you, they will be more likely to do it.

So we’re good, right? You know what you need to do?

Hold on. I said they get paid and you want to call me out on that. You can’t pay clients for referrals, nor would you want to.

Ah, but there are other ways to get paid in this world besides cold cash.

Why do you suppose anyone ever gives you a referral? Or forwards your email or report to someone they know?

Because they know someone who needs your help and they want to help them. They feel good doing that, helping a friend or client avoid pain, achieve a goal, or solve a problem. They feel good when their friend thanks them for introducing them to you, sparing them the risk and time of trying to find someone on their own.

Your clients also enjoy helping you. Yes they do.

Sure, they paid you and they got what they paid for (or more). But they like you and want to see you succeed. It makes them feel good to know that they were a part of that success, especially when you express to them your appreciation.

You do that, right? Say thank you to your clients when they do something nice for you? You should. It’s part of their “compensation” and if you don’t pay them, if you take them for granted, they might not want to work for you anymore.

Yes, there’s a big workforce available to you. Help them do a good job for you and they’ll make you glad you did.

Here’s how your clients can help you

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What breed of dog does your client own?

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What’s the name of the last client you spoke to? How well do you know them?

Are they married? What’s their spouse’s name?

Do they have kids? How old are they?

What part of town do they live in? Do they play any sports? Do you know the name of their accountant, tax preparer, and insurance agent? How about the name of their dog?

I know it’s difficult to build a personal relationship with all of your clients but how about some of them?

Or are you the type who does the work and that’s the end of it?

No communication, no relationship, nothing from you. If they contact you again, fine. Otherwise, you don’t have time for them.

Please say that’s not true. Please say you make an effort to get to know at least some of your clients and that you make it a habit to stay in touch with all of them.

If you don’t, it’s not too late to start. Reach out at least one client this week and have a conversation with them. Take a few minutes to find out something about their personal life. Write it down so you’ll remember it. Verify their email address so you can stay in touch.

Every client you do this with represents potential growth for your practice. Even if they never hire you again, they can send referrals, introduce you to other professionals, share your content, promote your events, and send traffic to your website. Oh yeah, they can also write a positive review about you, including how much they appreciate that you stay in touch with them after the work was done.

Before you spend another hour attending a networking event and talking to strangers, how about networking with the people who already know, like, and trust you?

Start here

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The easiest way to increase your income

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How much do you spend to acquire a new client?

If you don’t know, go through your paid bills for the last 12-18 months and tag everything marketing-related: advertising, direct mail, websites, networking groups, newsletters, software, outside services, signage, marketing assistants, and everything else.

Add it up. These are your hard costs.

Next, look at your calendar and figure out how much time you spent on marketing activities: networking, writing articles, blog posts, and emails, conducting interviews, creating and delivering presentations, meeting with referral sources, posting on social media, and so on.

Assign a dollar value to that time and add the result to your hard costs.

Take your total marketing expenses and divide by the number of new clients you brought in. The result is your average cost to acquire a new client. If a new client is worth $10,000 to you, you can make an intelligent decision about how much you’re willing to spend to acquire them.

Next, go back and look at the breakdown of your expenses. Assuming you track where new clients come from, (please say you do), you’ll be able to increase your profits by managing your marketing expenses.

If your ads are working, you might increase ad spending. If you’re wasting time with networking, you might cut down on the number of groups you belong to.

By far, the easiest way to increase your income is to focus less on acquiring new clients and more on retaining the clients you already have.

Repeat clients (and the referrals they provide) come to you at very little cost. You’ve already paid to acquire the client. From this point forward, what they pay you is nearly all profit.

Referrals are the quintessence of profitability. Here’s how to get more

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Satisfied clients are a dime a dozen

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Do you have satisfied clients? That’s a shame. You could do so much better.

You don’t want clients to be merely satisfied. You want them to have a big smile on their face and be excited (or relieved) they found you. You want them enthusiastically singing your praises to anyone who will listen.

You don’t want satisfied clients. You want fans.

A satisfied client will recommend you to friends and neighbors if they are asked for a recommendation. A fan will go out of their way to talk you up and pass out your cards.

In building your practice, one of your primary objectives should be to make your clients fall in love with you and your firm. One way to do this is to surprise and delight them by giving them more value and service than they expect.

Clients expect competent work, good customer service, and reasonable fees. If this is what you deliver, you’re probably not getting as many referrals as you could.

We just had some minor repairs done on the exterior of our house. Cracks patched, trim painted, a new side door, and so on. Although I know we got a good deal on the work, I couldn’t believe how much we had to spend for “minor” repairs.

When the job was done, the workers showed us some “extras” they had done at no additional charge, things we had originally passed on because they weren’t absolutely necessary and because we were already spending more than we had intended.

The dollar value of these extras couldn’t have been more than a few hundred dollars, but the gesture made a huge impression on us.

We got more than we expected. We felt better about how much we had spent and we were eager to tell others about the company.

Sure enough, as we were taking another look at the work, our neighbor from across the street came over. He said he needed to get his house painted and wanted to know if we were happy with this company’s work.

What do you think we said?

We said they did a GREAT job and we would DEFINITELY recommend them.

He asked for the contractor’s card.

We would no doubt have recommended them without the extra “surprises” they provided. But we went a step further and “sold” our neighbor on “our guy”.

If anyone else asks us for a recommendation, we’ll recommend them. But we’ll do more than that. When we hear that someone needs work on their house, we won’t wait for them to ask if we know anyone, we’ll make sure to tell them about our guy.

That’s the difference between a satisfied client and a fan.

Now, here’s what I want to know. I want to know if the contractor instructs his employees to “find” extras that need doing and do them, gratis. Is this his standard policy, because he knows the value of giving clients more than they expect?

If it is, that might explain why our guy has hundreds of five-star reviews and his competitors have so few.

Here’s how attorneys can get more five-star reviews and more referrals

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How much do you know about your clients?

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Your clients are more than an amalgam of the legal problems they bring to you and the more you know about them, the more you’ll be able to help them.

And helping them is one of the best ways to inspire them to help you.

If you want your clients to fall in love with you, send you referrals, and tell the world about your amazing ways, if you want them to go out of their way to help you, you should be prepared to do the same for them.

Help them solve problems and achieve goals that go beyond the core services you offer.

Send business clients referrals. Introduce them to professionals and business contacts who can do the same. Send traffic to their websites. Promote their events. Post reviews about their products or services.

Send consumer clients information that can help them save time or money. Recommend trustworthy contractors and vendors. Refer them to tax, insurance, real estate, and investment professionals. Support their charitable causes.

How do you know what your clients want and need? You ask them.

In new client intake forms, ask questions about their business or personal life. When you speak to them on the phone or in the office, listen carefully for clues about their problems or goals. When you’re done talking about their case, ask “How’s business?” or “What’s going on with you and the family?”

Get your clients to open up to you and they’ll tell what you can do to help them. If you can’t help them yourself, go out and find someone who can (and help them get a new client or customer).

The more you know about your clients, the more you can do to help them and the more you do that, the more likely it is that they will help you.

Learn more, earn more

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It’s cheaper to keep a client than to find a new one

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Before you invest another dollar or another minute looking for new clients, do yourself a favor and invest in retaining the ones you already have.

It’s cheaper.

They already know you and trust you. They already know what you do and they’ve seen you do it. You don’t have to go looking for them and woo them. You don’t have to do much to get them to hire you again.

Make sense?

So how do you retain clients? For starters, make sure you don’t chase them away.

A recent survey revealed that 23% of “customer complaints” are about rudeness or bad attitude. Hey, that’s an easy one to fix. Be nice, and if you’re already nice, find ways to be nicer.

Next on the list: don’t ignore them. Clients may run away from a rude lawyer, but most clients drift away from the lawyer who doesn’t pay attention to them.

If you ignore your clients, they may forget your name or the reasons they hired you and be easily seduced by the next lawyer who comes along.

That’s also easy to fix. Stay in touch with your clients.

What’s that? You’ve already done the work for them and they are unlikely to need your services again?

Silly boy. Have you forgotten about the referrals they could send you? Have you forgotten that those referrals are  easier to sign up than prospects who hear about you through an ad or online search?

Are you forgetting that if they refer you a client with a legal matter you don’t handle, you can refer them to another lawyer and earn their referrals in return?

Are you ignoring the other ways clients can help you like sending traffic to your website or telling their friends about your free report?

You worked hard to attract prospective clients. Once they hire you, you don’t have to do nearly as much (or spend nearly as much) to retain them.

Is there more to client retention than this? Sure. There are affirmative things you can do to strengthen your relationships and make your clients an advocate for your practice.

But let’s start with being nice and staying in touch.

Your clients want to send you referrals. Here’s how to help them do it

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Who fills out the paperwork in your office?

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In my practice, when I had a new client in the office I didn’t have them fill out any forms or paperwork in the waiting room and I didn’t have my staff do the initial intake–I filled out the paperwork myself.

One reason was that I wanted to talk to them about their case, get all the details, and ask follow-up questions my staff might not ask. I was able to do a better job for them as a result.

Another reason was that I didn’t want them fussing with paperwork when what they really wanted was to unburden their troubles on me and let me fix them. I thought they appreciated my making it easier for them to do that.

I could have had someone else do the initial information gathering before I saw them, and if I was pressed for time I sometimes did that. But I preferred to fill out the forms myself because it gave me an opportunity to spend a few more minutes with the client and get to know them.

I could ask about their kids, their job or business, and where they were going on vacation. I might tell them about a case I had that was similar to theirs. I could have some fun with them and lighten their load.

I often saw my clients only two times: at the first appointment and at the final appointment when I presented a settlement check and final paperwork. Those two visits were an opportunity to bond with them and I didn’t want anything to take away from that.

When clients like you, and think you like them, they come back to you and refer their friends.

So who fills out the paperwork in your office? You? The client? Staff? Do you send them a form to fill out before they come in for their first appointment? Or do you use a combination of the above?

Every practice is different, of course, so I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’ve told you what I did, and why, but you need to decide what’s best for your practice.

What I can tell you is that while this may be a “little thing,” you should spend time thinking about it because when it comes to building relationships, and building a successful practice, little things mean a lot.

Do it right and your clients will send you more referrals

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What would it take for your clients to say bye-bye?

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What would it take for your current crop of clients to leave you? What would make them say “enough” and hire another attorney?

Ponder on this for a bit. How might you offend them? What promises would you have to break? To what level would your standard of care have to fall?

It’s good to know these things so you don’t do them. And so you can work on strengthening what you do in each of those areas.

One area to consider are your fees. If you’re doing things right, fees aren’t the most important consideration for most clients. In surveys I’ve seen it’s number four on the list of factors for hiring an attorney, after things like “keeping them informed/availability” and other service-related issues.

If fees aren’t the number one factor, you have to ask yourself how much more you could charge before clients start to leave.

Could you safely raise your fees by 20% without losing clients? How about 30%? Could you double your fees, or triple them?

If you increased your fees and lost some clients, what percentage would be tolerable? Consider the added income you would bring in from the clients who didn’t leave and from new clients who signed up at the higher level?

When it comes to fees, surely even the most loyal client has a breaking point, right?

Maybe not.

I mentioned in a prior post a conversation I had with an attorney who was spending thousands of dollars a year on auto insurance for the family’s three cars. I asked her if they had shopped other carriers to see how much they might save. She immediately told me that she would never do that.

They like their agent and have been with him for years. He provides them with good service and they would never consider going anywhere else.

“What if you could save $2000 a year?” I asked her, and pointed out that this was entirely possible.

“No,” she said, they wouldn’t switch. They’d had other agents before and were disappointed with them, so they really appreciate (and are loyal to) their current one.

It didn’t matter that they might be grossly over-paying for something they might never use. It didn’t matter that if they did file a claim, the agent has little or nothing to do with whether or not that claim is paid, or how much.

Most people, myself included, look at auto insurance as a commodity. There are lots of places you can buy it. A few phone calls or online applications might allow you to save as much as two-thirds for the same coverage.

But this didn’t matter to her.

Granted, auto insurance isn’t purely a commodity. There is a service aspect to it. But how much is that worth?

Apparently, more than some people think.

Now, if this is true for auto insurance might it also be true of legal services? Something that isn’t a commodity (or shouldn’t be)?

I say yes. Which means that if you do a good job for your clients, you might be able to safely charge significantly more than you do now.

Especially if your clients have had other attorneys and were disappointed with them.

Fees, billing, and collection made simple

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Referral marketing for lawyers–roots before branches

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Let’s say you want to get more referrals from your clients. Not a bad idea. Now, how will you go about it?

Your strategy might be to give your clients lots of attention, show them that you care about them, and make them feel good about choosing you as their lawyer.

Good. An excellent strategy. What techniques will you use to effect your strategy?

What will you say to them at their first appointment? What will you give them? What will you send them, and when? What will do, and how often?

Strategies before techniques. Roots before branches.

Strategies derive from your values and beliefs. If you believe it’s important to surprise and delight your clients with over-the-top service and extra value, if you believe that doing so will endear them to you and make it more likely that they will return to you, say nice things about you, and send you referrals, your actions will reflect those values and beliefs.

If you believe that giving clients lots of attention takes too much time and won’t produce more loyal clients or more referrals, however, your actions will be different.

If you believe that your clients can provide you with more referrals than they now provide, you will be more inclined to invest time equipping your clients with information and tools they can use to send you more referrals. If you believe that your clients do what they can and can’t do any more, you probably won’t.

What many lawyers do, I think, is implement certain techniques before they have firmed up their beliefs and committed to a strategy. They hear that it’s a good idea to send new clients a thank you letter, for example, so they do it, but their heart isn’t in it. They say the words, but they don’t feel the sentiment behind them.

Sure enough, when they speak to the client, their words and behavior often tell a different story.

Start by asking yourself what you want to accomplish and choose one or more strategies for accomplishing it, based on your values and beliefs. Only then should you examine the techniques that are available to you.

My new course, “Maximum Referrals,” can help you do that. It shows you both the strategies and techniques you need to build a successful referral-based practice.

Check it out, here.

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