Know thy enemy

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I’m like that teacher you hated who always gave homework. Today is no exception.

The bad news? This will be an ongoing project, something you need to do for the rest of your career.

The good news is that it’s not difficult and shouldn’t take up a lot of time. In fact, most of the assignment can be done by a virtual assistant and I won’t mark you down for cheating.

The assignment is to set up files for tracking the activities of your competition. Doing this will provide you with ideas for doing a better job of managing and marketing your services.

If you can identify firms or individual attorneys who regularly compete with you with ad dollars or at networking events, or elsewhere, start with them. Otherwise, pick someone (at random), in your building or at your networking events, who has the same practice areas you do.

Five or ten competitors is enough to start. Once you have identified them, look at their websites, do a search for their name(s), and see what you can find out:

  • What market(s) do they target?
  • Where do they advertise, network, speak, or publish?
  • What is their theme, message, or USP?
  • What kinds of content do they publish on their website(s) or blog(s)?
  • What do they offer prospects to drive traffic to their sites and/or get them to opt-in?
  • How and where do they use social media?
  • Which centers of influence (referral sources, endorsers, publishers, etc.) do they associate with?
  • What services do they offer? What don’t they offer?
  • Which keywords do they appear to target? Which do they seem to overlook?
  • What resources, talents, and connections do they have that you don’t have or are weaker in?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • Who are their biggest competitors?
  • How do they manage their practice in terms of personnel, equipment, and workflows?

Read their content, save copies of their ads, and make lists of where they speak or write and about what topics.

Don’t obsess over this. Just observe and make notes.

Then, periodically review your notes and look for opportunities to improve your marketing and management based on what your competition is doing:

  • Identify new target markets or market segments
  • Identify categories of referral sources you don’t currently have in your arsenal
  • Look for ways to improve your marketing messages, content, website(s), and external content (e.g., guest posts, comments, social media posts)
  • Examine your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition; find ways to make your strengths even stronger and eliminate or marginalize your weaknesses
  • Brainstorm ways to exploit your competition’s weaknesses and overcome their strengths
  • Look for ways to improve your workflows, tools, and resources

Keep an eye on your competition. You may learn something you can use.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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We’ve got trouble. Right here in River City

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According to the Wall Steet Journal, there’s a lot less suing going on these days. “Fewer than two in 1,000 people. . . filed tort lawsuits in 2015,” down significantly from 20 years ago.

Why? You know the drill: higher costs, caps on damages, changing jury sentiment against “frivolous” claims, carriers taking a hard line, and the list goes on.

Alternative legal services (paralegals, mediation document prep services, legal plans, etc.) and self-help measures are also thinning the herd. The latest? You can now use a chatbot to get answers to a variety of legal questions and help (advice, sample letters) in fighting parking tickets.

On top of this, more firms offer “low cost” legal services, educating the public to not pay “retail”.

Should we panic? Yes. If panicking is what you need to do to wake up and smell the coffee. Otherwise, no. There may be less business overall, but there is (and always will be) more than enough for you.

But you may need to make some changes. It’s not your father’s profession anymore.

  • Consider changing practice areas. If you handle tort litigation, consider refocusing on business litigation. Or at least adding this to your menu of services. Also consider “emerging” practice areas like “Drone Law”. (I mentioned this the other day, not realizing it’s not “coming” it’s already here, according to the email I got later in the day offering a CLE class on the subject.)
  • Don’t expand your practice areas in order to compete with multi-practice-area firms, in fact, don’t compete at all. Specialize. Be the best you can be in fewer practice areas. Clients prefer specialists, remember?
  • Target the high end of the market and charge higher fees to clients who are willing and able to pay them. Of course you’ll also need to up your game and offer more value and premium services.
  • Target niche markets and dominate them. Become the best known and most highly regarded lawyer or firm in smaller markets. Leverage word of mouth and “influencer” marketing and take the lion’s share of the business.
  • Make marketing an even bigger priority. Pick a handful of strategies and get good at them.

On the latter point, you’re in luck. Many lawyers still don’t get it. Some don’t believe they need to do any marketing at all. You should find them easy to beat. But don’t get complacent. There’s a new crop of young attorneys coming up who do understand the need for and power of marketing, and they’re eager to take business from you.

But don’t get complacent. There’s a new crop of young attorneys coming up who do understand the need for marketing and they’re eager to take business from you.

So basically, do what you should have been doing all along. Narrow your focus, develop your skills, offer more value, and hustle.

There’s plenty of work out there. Go get it.

Good marketing comes down to getting good at the fundamentals

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Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better

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Jim Rohn famously said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” I don’t think he was speaking to lawyers musing about the challenges of building a law practice in a highly competitive field or market, but he might as well have been.

If you’re in a seemingly oversaturated market, wondering if you should get out because there are too many lawyers who do what you do, take my advice: don’t. At least not until you consider why your field or market is so crowded.

The reason there is lots of competition in a given market is not a mystery. It’s because there are a lot of paying clients in it. Lawyers are making money in that market, which means you can, too.

Compare that to a market or practice area with very little competition. You might strike gold in a market like that but the market is unproven and it is more likely that you’ll go broke. (If there’s enough business in the market, you would see other lawyers in it.)

So rejoice that you are in a market with lots of competition. There are clients to be had and money to be made.

How do you stand out? How do you compete with all those lawyers trolling for clients in the same pond?

You know the answer. Marketing. Do a better job of it than your competition and the business will come to you instead of them.

Fortunately, that’s not hard to do. Most lawyers don’t know much about marketing and those who do often do it poorly. If you know what you’re doing, they’re easy to beat.

What if they have millions to spend on advertising and you don’t?

No problem. You have other ways to bring in clients. And those clients will be more profitable because you don’t have a big advertising budget (and the associated overhead) to cover. Your clients will often be better clients, too, because the kinds of advertising done by the big firms tends to attract the lower tiers of cases and clients.

Anyway, you know I’m preaching the truth. You also know that you don’t have to be a marketing genius to win the battle for new clients. You only need to be better than other lawyers who don’t know what you know and can’t be bothered to find out.

Start here

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Competition? I don’t have no stinkin’ competition!

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One school of thought about building a successful business or practice is to find a successful business that does what you do (or want to do) and copy them.

Not literally, of course. You couldn’t do that even if you wanted to. Your practice will be as individual as you are, even if you have the same practice areas, target the same markets, and deliver the same caliber of service.

You are unique. So is your practice.

So don’t worry about being a copycat or being accused of stealing ideas. Your implementation of those ideas will differentiate you.

What I’m suggesting is that you don’t need to do something nobody else does. Do what others do but do them differently.

If there is a lot of competition in your market, that’s good. It means others are making money. When your town is littered with personal injury attorneys, your TV and radio airwaves are filled with ads from other PI attorneys, if the cost-per-click of advertising is insanely high, these are signs of a healthy market.

You can get a share of that market.

One way you can compete is to use different marketing channels and techniques. When everyone else is advertising, you focus on referrals. When everyone else proclaims their success in getting big verdicts and settlements, you focus your message on the types of people you’ve helped and problems you’ve solved.

Instead of touting that you handle “injuries,” you can differentiate yourself by emphasizing your experience in representing victims of one type of injury, one type of tort, or one type of client. In other words, niching what you do.

You can also differentiate yourself with your ads or marketing message. Talk about a benefit you deliver that all attorneys in your practice area deliver but don’t talk about. A USP (Unique Selling Proposition), is yours to own if you are the first or the only one claiming it.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Copy what successful lawyers are doing. Just do it a little differently.

More ways to differentiate your practice from the competition, here

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Why you shouldn’t worry about legalzoom (and why you should)

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The legal landscape is changing. More people are using Legalzoom, paralegals, and pre-paid legal plans, and it’s making a lot of lawyers nervous.

They shouldn’t be. Instead of fearing these would-be competitors, they should celebrate them.

These companies are doing lawyers a great service. They are expanding the marketplace of consumers of legal services. Many of their clients have never availed themselves of legal assistance before. As more of them start doing that, there are more opportunities for lawyers to show them the benefits of hiring them instead.

But many lawyers need to step up their game.

They need to learn how to use technology, and incorporate it into all aspects of their practice. They need to put marketing much higher on their list of priorities. The world is changing and they need to change with it.

Speaking of tech and marketing, I have a message for the “gentleman lawyers” of the world. The ones with an established client base who no longer work hard to build or maintain it. The ones who take two hour lunches and don’t listen to anyone with “new ideas”.

They’re living on borrowed time. Legalzoom may not be a threat to them, but the next generation of tech-savvy, hungry young lawyers certainly are.

What about everyone else? Well, if legalzoom and the like are a threat to you because they offer the same services you offer, you’re also living on borrowed time.

What can you do?

How do you compete with their massive advertising dollars and technological systems?

You don’t.

Don’t do what they do. Don’t offer what they offer.

Offer different services. Offer more specialized and complex services, to more sophisticated and higher-paying clients. Offer more personalized service and greater value.

If you rely on basic estate planning as the core of your practice, for example, move towards higher end services, for higher income clients. If basic business formation is a primary source of your income, you need to re-focus on more complex work for bigger clients.

If you offer a commodity service, you’re going to have a rough go of it. The competition will eat your lunch.

But there’s no competition at the top of the service/price pyramid. The competition is at the bottom 80% of that pyramid, where most lawyers (mistakenly) compete.

Don’t fear legalzoom, celibrate them. Don’t compete with legalzoom, and don’t let them compete with you.

How to differentiate yourself. Click here

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Law school admissions are down. So what?

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The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the “Number of LSAT Test Takers is Down 45% Since 2009″. Fewer test takers, fewer law students, fewer attorneys.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Neither. It’s just a thing.

Sure, fewer lawyers means less competition, but don’t get too excited. It doesn’t matter how many other attorneys do what you do. What matters is if there are enough clients.

If you handle bio tech law, for example, and you are in a small town where there are no clients for your services,. the fact that you are the only attorney in town doesn’t help you. If you are in Silicon Valley, however, where there are lots of clients, it doesn’t matter that there are lots of attorneys competing for those clients. You’re in the right place.

Go where there’s lots of competition and be better.

Work harder. Deliver more value. Be different. And infuse into what you do the uniqueness that is you because in the end, it’s not just about the legal work, it’s about the relationship.

If you own a law school, declining law school admissions matter. If you are an economist or a think-tanker, measuring the ratio of lawyers to clients nationwide, declining law school admissions matter. But if you are a practicing attorney thinking about your future, it doesn’t matter how many attorneys there are or whether or not there is enough business for all of them. What matters is if there is enough business for you.

And there is. So don’t worry about the competition. But don’t get too comfy when there appears to be less of it.

Do your clients always pay you on time and in full? If not, this can help.

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Attorneys: Don’t let your competition do this to you

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competition There are a lot of attorneys who do what you do, right there in your market. Many of them have more experience than you do. They have a bigger marketing budget, a better blog, and more traffic to their web site. They have better-paying clients and get more referrals. They earn more than you do. Hell, they’re even better looking.

But no matter what advantages your competition have over you, you can keep them from beating you.

How do you stop a stronger opponent, or worse, an army of them? By ignoring them.

Stop looking at what other attorneys are doing. Forget about what they have. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s the worst thing you can do for your career or your self-esteem.

Stay focused on what you do, on your clients, on your work. Build your practice, and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Or as a friend of mine says, “keep your eyes on your own paper.”

No matter what advantages your competition may have, they can’t beat you unless you let them.

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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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