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Find out what people want and show them how to get it

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Legendary investor Bernard Baruch said the secret to getting rich is to “Find out what people want and show them how to get it”.

Ah, you thought you were supposed to “help them” get it. No, you’re busy. You can’t help everyone do everything (unless they hire you). You have a practice to run.

Show them what to do. Showing is easier than helping and nearly as valuable.

Give them direction and feedback. Point to resources. Refer them to experts. Show them what to do. When push comes to shove, they don’t really expect you to drive them to their destination. They will appreciate you for giving them a map.

On the other hand, don’t just “tell them what to do”. Anyone can do that. Anyone can post a list of recommended resources on their website. No, show them.

Talk to them and make sure you understand exactly what they want and why. Then, provide suggestions and recommendations specific to their needs so they can get what they want as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Explain why you recommend A instead of B. Give examples so they understand your rationale. Make sure they are ready to move forward before you turn them loose but let them know they can come back to you if they run into a snag.

Showing is less than helping but more than telling. Find out what people want and show them how to get it.

This is me, showing you how to get more referrals

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Client relations with Post-it notes?

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You’re throwing a party. You want your guests to open the front door and come right in. You want them to take off their shoes. You don’t don’t want them using the upstairs bathroom. You want them to help themselves to the snacks you’ve laid out for them and the drinks in the cooler.

To make your guests comfortable, you put up signs around the house explaining everything.

That’s the gist of an article I saw today.

It’s a great idea. Not only does it make guests more comfortable, it relieves you of the burden of repeatedly being asked where the restroom is and having to explain “the rules”.

But no, I’m not suggesting you do something like this at your office (unless you’re throwing a party). What I am suggesting is that when it comes to client relations, the sentiment behind this idea is on target.

We want our clients to feel welcome, not just to our office but to our “family” of clients. We want them to be comfortable with us and what we’re doing for them.

And, let’s face it, we also want to make things easier on ourselves.

That’s why we send new clients a welcome letter or kit, explaining things. We tell them about fees and billing, office hours, appointments, parking, and what to expect in the first days and weeks ahead.

We send them copies of our work product so they can see that we’re on the job. We send them reminders about upcoming appointments. When there’s a problem, we don’t email, we call to explain things, answer questions, and ease their anxiety.

In the office, we greet them with a smile and a handshake. We make eye contact and ask them if they would like something to drink. We take our time explaining things and answering questions.

Because our job as professionals goes beyond doing legal work. Our job is just as much about making our clients feel welcome, safe, and appreciated.

Most clients can’t tell how good you are as a lawyer. But every client knows and will remember how you make them feel.

Happy clients give more referrals

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You should be saying THIS a lot

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You’re busy. Good at what you do. And you get asked for lots of favors.

Information, advice, appearances (at events), endorsements. You get asked to share content, review proposals, add a link or authorize a guest post on your site.

All day, every day, people want something from you. If you’re not saying no to most of these requests, most of which are not a priority for you, you may not have time for the handful that are.

Not to mention time to get your own work done.

You delete most of the email offers and requests from people you don’t know. At least I hope you do. You are not obligated to reply.

But what do you do about a request that comes from a client, a colleague, or a friend?

How do you say no?

If they want your time, you can say, “Sorry, I have a prior commitment.” And that’s true. You have a commitment to spend that time doing client work, doing something for the handful of people you want to help, or doing something for yourself.

Because you’re no good to anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.

What if the request isn’t time-bound? They want you to review their article, for example, and tell them what you think. No hurry. You could provide a cursory response. “Looks good. I like the donkey story.” A few minutes won’t break the bank.

But if what they ask requires more than a few minutes, or they ask you to do something you don’t want to do, you’re going to have to come up with something else.

The truth is a good option. If you’re uncomfortable doing something, if you don’t have time to do something, tell them. And tell them why.

You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to come off as a jerk. But you have to say no to most requests because every time you say yes to something that’s not a priority, you say no to something that is.

Referrals should be one of your top priorities

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I thought that was included

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I trust that most of your clients would describe themselves as “satisfied”. You want them to be thrilled (and let everyone know that), but you’ll settle for satisfied.

Because it’s so easy for a client to be just the opposite.

It happens when you don’t do something they thought you were going to do or you charged extra for something they thought was included.

If you read negative reviews posted about lawyers, after “not keeping me informed” or “didn’t return my calls” and the like, numero uno is a variation of not getting what they expected.

Of course, it’s never their fault. It’s your fault and the world shall know it.

That’s why you have to go out of your way to CYA. Not just to protect against bar complaints or lawsuits, but to make sure your clients know exactly what they get (and don’t get) so you have a shot at keeping them happy.

Especially when it comes to money. Especially because clients are stressed out. Especially because so many clients don’t trust lawyers.

You can’t just slide the retainer agreement across the desk and hope they sign it without reading it. You need to explain everything, slowly and in plain English. Give them a list of FAQs that spell out exactly what you will do and when, and what you won’t do and why.

Ask them to acknowledge that they understand everything. Asking them to initial lots of things is also a good idea.

Maybe give them a three-day cooling off period.

Because if it’s possible to misunderstand something, your clients will find a way to do it. And blame you.

Marketing 101: keep your clients happy

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Do you charge for “micro advice”?

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Many business attorneys won’t talk to a client without the meter running. So many clients don’t call their attorney before they make important decisions, often to their detriment.

The client then has to pay the attorney to fix their mess, often a lot more than they would have paid had they gotten advice in advance.

In the short term, the attorney makes out. In the long run, maybe there’s a better way for both client and attorney.

What if attorneys let their clients know they won’t charge them for “micro advice”? A quick call to find out if they’re going in the right direction, a question or two to see if they do (or don’t) need something else?

I heard that’s what many smart business attorneys do.

I concur.

You want your clients to call you often and they’re more likely to do that if they know they won’t be charged by the nanosecond. Maybe they have something that needs your help, maybe they don’t, but it’s better for both of you to find out.

How is this better for you? For one thing, it builds trust. The client sees that you’re looking out for them, not just sucking them dry.

It can also lead to more work for you. In the short term, if they need your help, you’ll be able to show them why. In the long run, by looking out for your clients, you help their business grow and you can grow with them.

Yes, some clients will (try to) take advantage of you. You will have some line drawing to do. But most clients will appreciate you for “not being like all those other attorneys”. You’ll earn their loyalty and their referrals.

This isn’t just for business attorneys. It’s a good policy for all clients. Even one-off clients can send referrals.

Referrals are good for your fiscal health

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You can’t win them all (but let them know you tried)

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It happens. You do everything for a client, bending over backward to serve him and get the results he wants. If those results aren’t forthcoming, however, or things don’t happen quickly enough, the client may blame you.

And fire you.

That’s what happened to an attorney who wrote and shared his tale of woe.

He had a client complain about “zero results”. He said the attorney did nothing for him, even though he had done everything that could be done.

The client said the attorney was wasting time to “rack up fees,” even though the client was paying an agreed upon flat fee.

“How do you make clients [understand and appreciate] what you’re doing for them?” the attorney asked.

In this client’s case, nothing. He’s a bad egg. Nothing but trouble since day one.

But while all clients want results, if those results aren’t forthcoming, or take too long to achieve, most clients appreciate their attorney’s efforts or their behalf, if they are made aware of it.

Job one is to make them aware of it.

At the beginning, you spell out everything that is about to happen. You tell them (orally and in writing), exactly what you will be doing, when, and why.

Why A instead of B? Why next month instead of immediately?

You tell them about possible delays, contingencies, and problems. You also tell them what you will do if and when those issues occur.

You tell them stories of clients who had successful outcomes despite delays, contingencies, and problems. You provide testimonials from clients who watched you shed blood, sweat, and tears for them and loved you for it, even if things didn’t turn out they want they wanted.

You send copies of everything, of course, and update them frequently. Weekly is not too often. Even if “nothing” happened, let them know that you’re still on the job.

You report everything you have done, everything the opposition has done, and what you plan to do next.

You bring them into your head so they can see and hear what you see and hear and understand why you do what you do.

And you get their okay every step of the way.

No, you don’t let them manage the case. You encourage them to provide feedback and ask questions and you show patience when they do.

Sounds like raising a child, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is.

The difference is that you can fire a client, and in this case, that’s exactly what you should do.

Client relations 101

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Some attorneys are their own worst enemy

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You’ve heard me say it before: to build a successful practice, with lots of repeat business and referrals, you should focus on clients, not cases.

Don’t look at what a single matter is worth to you. Look at what the client can bring you over their lifetime or the lifetime of their business.

The initial case might be small. You might earn a negligible fee. Sometimes, you might not earn anything. But if you focus on treating every client like they are worth a fortune to you, eventually, some of them will be.

The guy who has a fender bender today could have a catastrophic injury next year. The small startup that can barely afford to talk to you today could become your biggest client in a couple of years.

And every one of them can send you referrals, send traffic to your website, say nice things about you on social media, and tell their friends or contacts about your upcoming event.

Clearly, this doesn’t mean you can give every client the same amount of attention. Your best clients should get more of your personal time. See them, talk to them on the phone, build a relationship with them that goes beyond the work.

The rest of your clients should be nurtured with email, letters, and calls from your staff.

Whatever you do, don’t be like some attorneys who believe that doing a good job for their clients is all they have to do. They don’t understand that clients come back not just because you did a good job but because of how you made them feel.

How to get clients to send referrals

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One size does not fit all

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Your marketing has a personality. A style. In part, it is comprised of what you say to prospective clients and how you say it, but also things you don’t say because you presume prospective clients already know it.

That’s a dangerous presumption because not all clients are alike.

Some clients have a lot of experience dealing with legal issues and hiring lawyers. Others don’t. Some clients have deep pockets and understand how lawyers’ bill. Others have to dig deep to pay you and have trouble understanding why you charge $400 per hour when they earn only $25.

You have to understand these differences, and others, and groom your marketing and client relations playbook for each type of client. You need different content, different language, and different levels of hand holding.

You shouldn’t expect your clients to completely adapt to you and your ways; they are the client, you serve them, and you must be prepared to adapt to theirs.

“Know thy client,” I’m sure someone wise once said, and it’s good advice. It will help you attract good clients who will like you and trust you and hire you again, because they know that you understand them and care about making them happy.

Study your clients–their backgrounds, their industries, their cultures and personal lives. What do they know? What do they want? What are they afraid of?

Because one size does not fit all.

This will help

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The one thing that’s more important than a good first impression

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You’re meeting a new client. You smile, shake hands, and do your best to make them feel welcome. You know they’re nervous, uncomfortable about the money they have to pay, and unsure if they can trust you. You want to make their first impression of you a good one.

Because it is.

But there’s something more important, in my humble but accurate opinion. Their last impression.

After the meeting, when you stand up and walk them to the door, those final 30 seconds or so create the impression they take away with them.

Make it a good one.

Sum up what you’re going to do. Assure them that things will be okay. Shake hands again. Look them in the eyes again. Let them hear the sincerity in your voice.

If possible and appropriate, lighten their burden by saying something whimsical or pithy. If you don’t have anything in your repertoire, don’t try to come up with something on the spot.

Tell them again how and when to contact you, and when you will contact them next.

This is not the time to thank them for hiring you. This is the time to make them feel glad that they did.

How to make clients trust you

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A cost of doing business that pays for itself

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You have overhead. And discretionary expenses. Rent, wages, payroll taxes, equipment, advertising, and everything else, and each has it’s own category in your expense ledger.

Everything except one. Customer service.

Customer service should have its own expense category because it is clearly a cost of doing business and it should be accounted for.

The things you do for your clients–to deliver value, to give them a good experience with your firm, to “take care of them” and make them glad they hired you–has a cost.

Some money and a lot of time.

Money spent on overnighting copies at your expense, remembering birthdays and holidays, and providing extra services free of charge.

Time spent talking to clients about non-billable matters and explaining things you’ve already explained, to make sure the client understands. Time spent training and supervising your staff, to make sure they know why taking care of clients is good for business and so they are well equipped to do it.

There’s also time spent on personal development, to develop the habits and skills that make you better at serving your clients.

Add it all up and it’s a big number. Or it should be because it is a key factor in the success of your practice.

The more you give your clients, the better you care for them, the bigger your practice will grow. Clients who feel respected and appreciated are clients who hire you again and again and sing your praises to others.

Customer service also cuts down on problems. Clients who are well informed and regularly updated, for example, are less likely to call you again or complain to you and to the Bar.

Sometimes, customer service means giving clients the benefit of the doubt when they want more from you than they paid for. Sometimes it means cutting your fee or issuing a refund.

That doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of or put up with abuse. It means understanding the lifetime value of a client and being willing to sacrifice a dollar today to earn $1000 long term.

Customer service is a cost of doing business. But it more than pays for itself.

Henry Ford said, “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

Your goal is to earn more income. One of the best ways to do that is to invest in your clients.

The Attorney Marketing Formula is here

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