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The art of scaring clients

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I  heard an ad for a tax remediation firm. It did a lot of things right, including telling business owners the bad things the IRS can do to you if you don’t pay.

It was a long list of scary things, and very aggressive. They can do this, they can do that, they can even take your business.

What, they don’t pull down your pants and spank your tushy?

Anyway, you’ve heard me prattle on about the importance of scaring prospective clients. You know that “fear of loss” is more powerful than “desire for gain.” And you know that you are doing clients a favor if, by putting the fear of God in them, you get them to (finally) take action that is in their best interests.

You scare them to get their attention. You scare them to get them to take your message seriously. You scare them to get them to call or fill out a form or download your report.

But sometimes, you can scare them so much they don’t do any of those things. They shut down and stop listening.

A little context.

A business owner who hasn’t paid Uncle Sam knows that bad things happen. They’ve gotten the delinquent notices and notices of intent and seen the penalties and interest accrue. They may even know that they can lose their business. But they think they have time. Or they’re in denial about how bad things really are.

They rationalize, procrastinate, and compartmentalize, and when they hear your message of doom and gloom, it’s too much to handle so they tune it out.

What should you do instead? You should provide some relief.

Yes, the ad talks about getting rid of liens and paying off the debt with pennies on the dollar. But it doesn’t tell them how they will feel to finally get this monkey off their back.

The ad should get them to see, in their mind’s eye, how good they will feel and what they’ll be able to do once this problem is taken care of. Tell them about other clients who have been in their shoes and are now sitting pretty.

Give them some hope. Give them something to look forward to. Show them the light at the end of the tunnel.

So you need a mix. A warning and a promise. Pain and pleasure. Blackness and light.

You also have to let them hear your compassion and understanding. Talk to them like a fellow human being who wants to help them, instead of blaring at them like Big Brother.

 

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4 words that helped me pass the bar exam

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In law school, as we learned how to ‘think like a lawyer,’ we learned the importance of being able to look at both sides of an issue and argue either one. On exams, that’s precisely what we did.

On exams, I routinely used a four-word expression to transition from one side to the other: “On the other hand”.

No doubt, you did too.

We need to remember those four words when crafting (or signing off on) a marketing message (presentation, ad, conversation, etc.) directed to prospective clients.

Prospective clients know there are alternatives to hiring you. When you acknowledge this, you gain trust. You don’t look like a salesperson, you look like an advisor.

So you might say, “Here are your options:”

  1. “You could do nothing. That may work out if. .  On the other hand. . .”
  2. “You might wait and see if X happens. If it does, you should be okay. If it doesn’t. . .”
  3. “You could handle it yourself (e.g., write a letter, talk to the other lawyer). But, you’re taking the risk of [bad things that could happen])”
  4. “Or, you could let me handle this for you. Here’s what I’ll do. . .”

Given these options, most prospective clients will make the decision that’s best for them, which is usually the one that’s best for you.

How to get more repeat business and referrals

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Shut up and take my money

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You know how when you’re negotiating you start with common ground? You review the things you agree on, first, before you talk about anything else?

You do the same thing when addressing a jury.

You want to get your audience nodding their heads in agreement. You want them to see that you are rational and believable because you’re talking about something they already know is true. You want them to trust you, at least insofar as what you’ve talked about so far. And you want to narrow the scope of your conversation with them so you can take them where you want them to go.

It works this way in marketing, too.

That’s why you need to know your prospective clients’ background, experience, and beliefs before you craft (or sign off on) a presentation, email, ad, or other marketng message.

What do they know? What do they want? What do they believe to be true?

Your message to someone who has never used an attorney is going to be different than a message to a long-time consumer of legal services. Your message to someone who knows they need help and is trying to decide which lawyer to hire will be different than a message to someone who is in denial about their problem.

If you want people to relate to you and your message, you have to speak to them in language that resonates with them.

It’s easier to do that when you target niche markets instead of anyone with a checkbook and a legal problem in your practice area.

This will help you find the right niche for your practice

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C’mon, you know you want to

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Can you approach someone you don’t know but want to speak to via email? Yes, you can. Just make sure you send a personal email, not a “form letter”.

Your first order of business is to get the email opened. A great way to do that is to write something that makes the recipient curious.

Like (I hope) the subject line of this email did you.

But then you and I “know” each other. I can be a little playful. If this was the first time I communicated with you I would (probably) not use that as the subject. Instead, I might use something like this:

“Quick question”.

I got an email with that subject not long ago and yes, I did open it.

Because I was curious.

This may not suit you, however, or your market. What then?

Well, you don’t want to appear too familiar. So “Hey there. . .” won’t make the cut.

You can’t bore someone into opening an email. So forget about using “I hope you’re doing well”.

And you don’t want to come off like you’re selling something, so, “May I send you some information about our xyz services?” is a dog that won’t hunt.

So what can you say to make ’em curious?

I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Okay, cheap trick. Having more fun. I’m not going to tell you what to say. That’s something you have to figure out.

If you were writing to me, what might you say to get my attention and make me curious to read your email (other than “Quick question”)? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Do you have an accountant? If he didn’t know you from Adam, what might you say to make him curious?

(“This is about your wife” would get your email opened, but. . .)

Start paying attention to (unsolicited) emails you get that make you curious enough to open. Write down the subject they used. Spend time brainstorming other ideas.

Put your list away for a week or two. When you come back to it, you’ll see a lot of subject lines that make you cringe and say, “Oy vey, what was I thinking” but you may also see a few gems.

Go ahead and try one.

C’mon, you know you want to.

Build your practice online

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Only you can prevent legal problems

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Remember Smokey the Bear PSAs promoting campfire safety? Among other things, he told us to make sure the fire was out (instead of letting it go out on its own), because, he said, “Only you can prevent forest fires”.

Preventing forest fires isn’t a difficult sell. Simple tips and reminders to be careful, presented by a cute cartoon animal, and (as far as I know), the campaign worked.

Preventing legal problems, on the other hand, is a much harder sell.

“Do this to prevent that,” you say. Yeah, but it’s expensive, say your clients. And I have time. And I don’t want to think about this right now.

It is much easier to sell a cure.

“You’re in trouble? I can save you,” you say. Where do I sign?

When someone has a legal problem, they are in pain. They want to alleviate that pain. Getting their attention and convincing them to hire you is a much easier task than trying to sell them a way to prevent the problem in the first place.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. Just that you need to understand that its more difficult to sell and adjust your marketing accordingly.

If you sell prevention, give prospective clients more evidence of what can go wrong. Agitate the problems. Tell them more horror stories. Play on their fears.

And give them more time.

Prospective clients need time to digest your message, yet another reason why you need a list. They also need time to see their peers and colleagues experience the problems you are warning them about and the consequences of ignoring those warnings.

I saw a book being advertised this morning: “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great”. If I was advising the author, I would tell her she would sell a lot more copies if the title was, “5 Simple Steps to SAVE Your Marriage”.

Fix your marketing problems with this

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You’ve got to make people feel something

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We’re good with facts, you and I. We’re good at explaining the facts and helping people understand what they mean.

That’s important, but marketing requires a different skill.

To get people to hire you, send you business, share your content, sign up for your list, or do anything else you want, you can’t rely on just giving them the facts.

You’ve got to make them feel something.

Make them feel safe, understood, appreciated, or cared for. Talk about the relief they will feel when they hire you and the pain they will feel if they don’t.

You’ve heard the expression, “Facts tell, but stories sell”? Stories sell because they touch people’s emotions. That’s why you tell people about clients who didn’t listen (and got hurt), and about clients who did and got saved.

But don’t ignore the facts. People “buy” for emotional reasons, and justify their purchases based on logic. When you quote a big fee, for example, and tell the prospect what might happen if they don’t take action, you should also show them how they will save money in the long run by taking care of the problem now, before it gets worse.

In your next article or post, or the next time to speak with a prospective client, if you’re telling them to do something you know to be in their best interest, make sure you include an emotional appeal.

If you don’t, and they get hurt, it’s your fault, not theirs. If you do, and they get saved, you’re a hero.

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A critical marketing skill

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Marketing requires a number of skills. One of the most important and valuable is the skill of being able to look at things the way prospective clients and others do.

Most people could use a little practice in this area.

This morning, on my walk, I saw a sign pointing to an open house. The name of the agent was on the sign, along with her phone number. I noticed that the phone number had a 714 area code, whereas the open house, where I am, is in the 949 area code.

I’m pretty sure the agent doesn’t live in the 714 area. It’s too far. My guess is that the agent used to live in 714 but moved here and kept her number. A lot of people do.

Another possibility is that the property is a “one-off” listing she’s handling in my area.

Here’s the thing.

When prospective clients, buyers or sellers, see her 714 number, some of them might think, even on a subconscious level, that she’s not the best agent for the job because she’s not local.

That’s just silly, isn’t it? Most people won’t even notice the area code. Most of those who do notice won’t care.

But some will, and instead of putting aside their doubts (or asking her about it), they’ll go with another agent.

This won’t happen often. It really won’t. But if it only happens once every other year and you factor in the loss of repeat sales and referrals, over the next ten years she could lose a bundle.

I may sound a bit nutty for thinking this, but if you don’t at least think about how people might interpret your actions and messages, you’re not thinking like a marketer.

Nutty people buy and sell houses. And hire attorneys.

It’s important to consider things like this. As you create marketing documents, update your website, talk to referral sources and prospective clients, speak, write, email, or do anything else to communicate with the world, before you click the send button or open your mouth, take a moment to do a “safety check”.

Think about how people might interpret your message. Think about the words you use and the context where your message will appear. Consider the details and nuances.

Because if you don’t, somebody else will.

Make your website great again

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Different vs. better

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You often hear me urge you to tell prospective clients (et. al.) how you are “better or different” from other lawyers who do what you do.

What’s the difference?

“Better” means that you deliver more value or better results. It might also mean that you give your clients better service–making them more comfortable with you and the process.

And it might also mean that you do things for them that go beyond the core services you are hired to deliver. An example might be your reputation for helping clients find other professionals, vendors, or business connections, for matters unrelated to the legal work you’re doing for them.

Okay, what about “different”?

Different often means you do what you do in ways other lawyers don’t do it. You conduct the first interview personally, for example, instead of having a staff member do it. Or you make house calls. In communicating with your market, your job is to translate how your differences are  “better” for the client.

Being different is also a way to stand out in a crowded market. You might always wear purple neckties, for example; that’s different, not better, of course. But if people remember you via your signature color, you’ll have more opportunities to talk to prospective clients and show them how you are better.

Look for ways to differentiate yourself from other lawyers. Show them how you are better. If you aren’t better, be different. You do that by being yourself.

Ultimately, most clients aren’t going to hire you because you offer dramatically better legal services than other lawyers. They’ll hire you because of you.

How to earn more without working more: the formula

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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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It’s not about how much you know or how good you are at what you do

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Education marketing is about showing your market what they need to know about their legal issues and the available solutions. It’s about teaching them the benefits of taking action and the risks of delay.

That’s why you create content and deliver it to your target market. But if that’s all you do, you’re not doing enough.

Effective content isn’t about showing people how much you know. It’s not about showing them how good you are at what you do. It’s not about those things because effective marketing isn’t about you, it’s about your audience.

Your articles, posts, and presentations need to map what you know and what you do to the fears and desires, wants and needs of the people consuming your content.

Think about your ideal client. What keeps them up at night? What are they worried about? What do they fear might happen?

What keeps them going during the day? What are they working to achieve? What makes their sacrifices worthwhile?

Once you know what makes them tick, show them how you can help them get what they want.

You do that by speaking to them, not at them.

Engage them. Show them that you truly understand their situation–their problems, their pain, their desires–either because you’ve been in their shoes before or because you’ve worked with and helped people in that situation.

Tell stories about your clients and former clients who are like them. Describe their background, occupation, and legal situation. Use the terminology common to their industry or market. Use quotes from people they recognize.

Turn up the heat and acknowledge your reader’s pain. Dramatize their problems and warn them, in no uncertain terms, of what might happen if they don’t take action or they make the wrong decision.

Wake them up and shake them up and tell them what to do to get relief.

Don’t deliver a white paper, sell them on taking the next step. Because you can’t help anyone until they do.

How to write a report that gets prospective clients to call you

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