How do you compete with this?

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Comes this question: What do you do when a prospective client  (who found you through the Internet) tells you they probably won’t hire you because they’ve had free consultations with several of your competitors, suggesting that one of them will get the nod?

If most of your competition offers free consultations, and you don’t, should you change course to stay competitive?

Maybe. 

If you get (or want to get) most of your clients via an Internet search, where prospective clients are given to shopping and comparing fees, you probably need to offer free consultations just to stay in the running. 

On the other hand, if you get (or want to get) most of your clients through referrals, and prospects talk to you because they trust the client or professional who referred them and/or they don’t want to bother shopping around, then maybe not. 

But there is one more option.  

If you do something or offer something most other lawyers don’t do, and you can “sell” that difference to prospective clients, you may not have to make any compromises. 

Do you specialize in a particular area of the law that most lawyers don’t handle, or focus on representing a certain type of client? 

Do you have a better track record you can quantify and point to?  

Do you offer benefits that no one else offers (or no one else promotes?) 

Failing these, if you what you offer is pretty much what everyone else offers, there’s only one other way to beat them–with better marketing. 

You need a stronger on-boarding process, better marketing documents, better follow-up, and better salesmanship. 

When someone takes a look at you, you need to do a better job of selling them on hiring you. 

Start by answering this question: “Why should anyone hire you instead of any other attorney in your field and market?”

If you have a good answer to that question, you’ll know what to do. If you can’t, you’ll know you have some work to do.

Check out my free referral course 

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Want my advice? Will that be cash, check, or credit card?

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Free reports. Free consultations. Free information up the ying yang.

If everything is free, how do you make money?

Good question.

The answer is simple: give away lots of free information but charge for your advice. Another way to put it: if you talk to them, you charge them.

Your time is valuable. Don’t give it away. But information is just paper or electrons and while you invest time in writing or recording or conducting a presentation, you’re investing in creating new clients and the return on your investment is, well, incalculable.

Me entiende?

Information is free. Advice is not.

There is one exception: Free consultations.

Why? Couple of reasons.

First, if you’re in a field where most attorneys offer them, e.g., personal injury, if you don’t offer them, you won’t be able to compete.

Second, ROI. You invest 30 minutes or so talking to a prospective client and in return, you (eventually) earn thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do ten free consultations, sign up seven new cases (or whatever), and when you add up the collective fees, you look like a friggin genius.

In other words, it’s worth it.

Simple as that.

If we’re being technical here, and we’re attorneys so that goes without saying, you do give the client some advice during the consultation. But at the same time, you’re evaluating whether or not you want the case. Hey, maybe they should charge you for their time.

You can reduce the amount of time you spend on free consults by educating prospective clients and referral sources prior to speaking to anyone. Put information on your website, in your articles, ads, and so on, and especially in your “referral letter,” so that people know when they should and shouldn’t call.

Go write something and give it away. But don’t give away your time. Unless you’re doing a free consultation.

How to create (and use) a referral letter to get more clients

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Want more clients? Try this.

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Here’s the thing: no matter what you do, some of the people on your list won’t hire you. Even though they know they need your help, even though they have the money, they still won’t pull the trigger.

You can send them more information. And more success stories. You can remind them about their pain and the consequences of doing nothing about it. You can explain the steps you take working with your clients so they can see how thorough and caring you are. You can rhapsodize about the benefits your clients get that other lawyers don’t offer.

And you should do this. Give your list a steady diet of information about why they should hire you and you will get more clients.

But you’ll still have holdouts.

Should you bother with them? Of course. Just because you have to do more work to get them on board doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad client.

So what else can you do? You can do something most lawyers never do. You can offer them a free service.

That’s ridiculous, you say. Giving away free information, sure. But giving away free services makes no sense. You sell your services, after all. You can’t earn a living working for free.

Hold on. I’m not proposing treason. Hear me out.

A free service, even a very small and limited one, allows people to “try” you. Even though they don’t pay you, they are now a client. They get to meet you and your staff. They get to see you in action. They come to trust you. And they’re happy they decided to “hire” you.

So when you offer them another (paid) service they need, there is almost zero resistance.

Think of it like advertising. You give away $300 of your time (your advertising or marketing cost), in return for $3000 in revenue. And let’s not forget referrals which can multiply that number.

Isn’t this the theory behind free consultations? If you don’t mind, I’ll answer my own question: yes it is.

You don’t have to offer a free service to everyone, nor do you have to offer it all of the time. Try it once or twice, with a limited group of prospective clients, and see how it goes. Maybe a “year-end” or “holiday” special, just for first-time clients. And if you don’t want to offer a free service, offer a discount.

Your objective is to bring in new clients and this is a proven way to do it. What they pay you over their lifetime is far greater than what they pay you on the front end.

How to get more clients to give you more referrals

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The Real Housewives of Orange County

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I get a fair amount of direct mail from lawyers and other professionals inviting me to a free dinner at a nice restaurant. Basically, they buy you steak or seafood and you listen to a presentation, followed by a pitch to make an appointment.

If the professional gets all the bits and pieces right, this can be an effective strategy for marketing high ticket items like legal services, securities, and insurance products.

The other day, I got one such mailing from one of my neighbors, a financial adviser who is conducting a retirement planning dinner. My wife saw it and recognized the name of the host as one of the stars of “The Real Housewives of Orange County”.

Yep, she’s one of our neighbors.

The mailing doesn’t mention her “Housewives,” connection, however. I’m sure this was intentional. Aside from the fact that she may be contractually precluded from leveraging the show by name, no doubt she wants real prospects to attend, not just star struck folks who want to meet a celebrity.

The mailing contained a brochure, the invitation, and two tickets. Fairly typical and reasonably well done.

There is something on the invitation that’s not that common, however.

The invitation says,

Would you prefer a face-to-face meeting?

If you would rather discuss your retirement questions in a private setting, you can schedule a consultation with [her name] in the comfort and privacy of our office. As a sincere “thank you” for your time, you will be presented with a $50 gift card after completing your consultation appointment. No purchase is required. Call xxx to schedule your appointment.

If you are using free dinner (or lunch) presentations to market your services, you might consider adding this option. You’ll get in front of people who can’t make the event or who prefer privacy. If you’re willing to buy them dinner to hear your presentation, why not make the same offer if they come to see you privately?

Actually, you might want to do this even if you don’t use dinners as a marketing tool.

Am I suggesting that you pay people to come see you for a free consultation?

Yes. It will increase response.

If there are no legal or ethical restrictions, and your numbers work, i.e., you close enough prospects to make it worthwhile, why wouldn’t you?

You don’t have to offer this to everyone. You could use it for special occasions, a holiday promotion for example. You could offer it in some ads or mailings and not others. Or with certain joint venture partners.

For example, if you’re working with a CPA, have him email his clients and tell them about your consultation or seminar, etc. When his clients come to see you and mention the CPA’s name, they get a gift card or other freebie.

If you don’t want to offer a gift card or other cash equivalent, offer a “planning kit,” a copy of your book, a resource guide, or a presentation on CD.

Whatever you call it, bribes work. Even if you’re not a real housewife.

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When people need you but don’t hire you

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I spoke with a guy who does websites for attorneys. He told me he has a client who is getting approximately 20 leads a month via his website but very few of them make an appointment. He wanted to know if I could help.

Of course I can help. I’m friggin Batman.

I took a quick look at his website and saw a lot of issues, but one issue tells most of the story. He doesn’t offer free consultations.

If you want to talk to the attorney, you have to pay.

He handles high end divorces and his site says he charges for a consultation so clever spouses can’t talk to him and thus eliminate him as a lawyer for their spouse (conflict).

True or not, I’m not sure prospective clients buy this explanation, and this is coming from a guy who practiced in Beverly Hills where this tactic is common. If prospects don’t buy this (or understand it), you’re not scoring points on the trust meter.

If you want to charge for a first consultation, “sell” the consultation by telling prospects all of the value delivered during that consultation. What do they learn? What do they get? How do they benefit? You should do this even if you offer free consultations.

Anyway, not the point.

The point is, is he making money? He gets a low percentage of leads converting to appointments, but if he closes them at the appointment, he might be doing just fine. Perhaps he doesn’t need to convert more leads to appointments, perhaps he should work on getting more traffic.

Charging for consultations weeds out people who aren’t serious or who might not be able to pay his fee if they wanted to hire him. He saves a lot of time by not talking to them, and time is money, even if you don’t bill by the hour.

On the other hand, he might earn more by offering free consultations. He would undoubtedly set more appointments, and this might lead to more clients and more revenue. He could screen out low-percentage prospects by speaking with them for a few minutes on the phone before setting an appointment, or having someone in the office do that.

If the conflict of interest issue is on the level, so be it. Otherwise, I would suggest running a test. Offer free consultations for a month or three and see what happens.

He might get more calls and more clients and conclude that he’s better off offering free consultations and very glad he found out. Or he might find that while he’s getting more appointments, he’s not getting more sign-ups and he can go back to his original plan.

Make sense? Good. Now go make some dollars.

For more awesome ideas on marketing online, get this

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How to protect yourself from freebie seekers

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For many people, a free offer is irresistible. They’ll sign up for your newsletter to get your free report or audio or other goody, with no intention of hiring you. In fact, many will unsubscribe from your list the first time you mention your paid services. Others will languish on your list and cost you money, as their collective numbers push you into a different cost tier.

Should you attempt to pre-qualify people before they join your list?

Generally, no. A bigger list is usually a good thing, even if it includes a large number of freebie seekers. So make your offer as inviting and easy to accept as possible. Don’t make people go through hoops to join your list.

Many will drop off soon. And the cost of keeping non-prospects on your list is acceptable because the easier you make it for anyone to sign up, the more who will, and that includes real prospects. If you make it harder to join, you’ll keep out the riffraff but also reduce the number of true prospects. And, you never know when someone might actually need your services, no matter what their original intentions.

There are some things you can do to pare down your list. You can periodically ask if they want to continue to be on your list. You can ask them to opt-in again. Or, you can sweep your account and remove subscribers who have not opened your (html) emails. But unless your list is in the tens of thousands, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Free consultations and free service offers are different, of course, because of the time factor. Here, you should at least minimally pre-qualify people before you see them. You can ask them to fill out a questionnaire, have them speak to someone in your office first, or briefly speak with them yourself on the phone.

In addition, make sure you post enough information on your website so that visitors can get most of their questions answered without speaking to you, and self-identify as a good candidate for a consultation.

Free is the most valuable word in marketing. Don’t let freebie seekers stop you from using it, um, freely.

The 30 Day Referral Blitz shows you how to write a kick-ass free report to build your list and drive referrals

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What the iPhone app store can teach you about marketing legal services

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I was scrolling through the “Top 25 list” in the app store on my iPhone and noticed that the top grossing apps (mostly games) are either free or .99.

How can something that’s free or almost free be top grossing? The answer is simple: Upgrades, add ons, and back-end purchases. These companies sell “other stuff” via “in app purchases”–additional tools, levels, or other capabilities–and enough people buy on the back end that they can afford to give away their product on the front end.

It’s the “freemium” business model and while the term is relatively new, the concept is as old as marketing itself. “Sampling,” as it is traditionally referred to, is a proven way to sell everything from toothpaste (coupons and trial size) to automobiles (free test drives) to Tempura chicken in the food court (a sample on a toothpick).

Even attorneys use it (free consultations).

The idea is simple: give people a taste and they’ll want the whole meal. The free sample allows the consumer to overcome doubt and indecision, to experience the product or service on a small scale, with no cost or obligation, before making the decision to buy. The more you give away, the more you sell.

How can you apply this to marketing your services?

If you’re not now offering free consultations, I suggest you consider doing so. Many attorneys resist this, claiming their time is too valuable, they don’t want to give away their expertise because that’s all they have to sell, and while these may be brilliant attorneys. . .

they’re not very good at math.

If you invest an hour of your time in a free consultation and get a $10,000 paying client as a result, I don’t know, that seems like a pretty good trade off to me. I know you say there are only so many hours in a day and you can’t equate giving away a game app with giving away legal services, but actually, you can.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a six-year old with a lemonade stand or a partner in a 1,000 lawyer firm, the formula is the same:

  1. How much did you spend to get the business, and
  2. How much did you generate in revenue?

The difference, minus fixed costs, is profit.

And, since legal services are generally high ticket and high margin, attorneys are actually better suited to using sampling in their marketing. We can afford to spend more to acquire a new client since we earn so much more.

So, let’s take things a bit further. If free consultations work, how about free services? Could you offer a free or highly discounted service on the front end, knowing you will more than make up the difference on the back end?

Yes you can.

Which brings me back to the app store.

Recently, I’ve noticed a spate of new apps by lawyers, mostly personal injury firms. They explain what to do in case of an accident and provide a place to record information, take photos, etc., and they are free. The lesson isn’t that iPhone apps are a viable way to bring in clients, although they may well be, it’s that if you can’t or won’t give away a sample of your services, give away information.

Free information in any form–reports, tip sheets, checklists, booklets, audios, and iPhone apps–can do much of what a free consultation or free service can do–give prospective clients a taste of what you can do for them.

If you want more clients, give samples.

Update: After posting this, I saw this article discussing app pricing strategies, in case you’re thinking in that direction. Interesting reading even if you’re not.

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