How important is your firm’s client base? If this question seems like a no-brainer, it’s because it is. Fostering a steadily growing client base is a vital ingredient for any successful law firm. Growth equals profits. Yet despite this, legal marketing is often perceived within the industry as the proverbial ugly step child.
The reasons are obvious. Marketing takes lawyers out of their comfort zone. Good lawyers do not necessarily make good marketers. And time spent on a marketing campaign that bombs is time wasted! Imagine how much case work could have been completed in that time…
While these issues may be valid, the fact is that your firm isn’t going to grow on its own. So you can either accept legal marketing as a necessary evil, or watch your profits flatline.
For those brave enough to embrace it, welcome aboard. Marketing your firm won’t be easy, but it’s also not as difficult as you might think. Many of the road blocks inherent to legal marketing are being broken down, particularly with technological advancements in the online arena.
So open your mind as we explore the road blocks most firms encounter, and discuss the new technologies that are helping to break them down.
Road block 1 – Resource limitations
Lawyers work hard! A work conditions report conducted in 2003 found that your typical lawyer works around 48 hours a week. To compound this fact, almost 90% of Australian law firms employ less than 5 lawyers. The end result…? Resource shortage and time depravation!
Many firms would argue that they just don’t have the time, nor the manpower to implement effective marketing activities. Yes… common business development tactics such as attending & contributing to seminars, brochure development and mail out campaigns are resource heavy. But you have options. It’s time to take your thinking beyond the ‘old school’.
Modern marketing techniques can be light on both your time and resources. In fact, a number of online opportunities allow you to adopt a ‘set & forget’ approach to marketing.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an example. SEO is the practice of improving your web sites ranking within the search engine results in order to drive more traffic to your firm’s site. The effect of good SEO is dramatic. Data released by AOL revealed that the site attaining top spot in the search results draws almost half of the traffic for that search term. Second spot draws less than 15%!
A number of factors affect your sites ability to rank well within the search engines, including:
1. The quality of your content
2. The number of external sites that link to you
3. Your page titles
4. The age of your site
5. The frequency of content updates
6. The cleanliness of web site design and coding… and more
In fact, Google claims to use up to 200 different factors to measure a sites quality. Consequently, SEO isn’t a task you can take on yourself. You’ll need the help of a specialist, of which there are plenty! A Google search on SEO will reveal a wide range of agencies and consultants providing the expertise you need.
The real beauty of SEO is that once your site is optimised for the search engines, you can essentially sit back and watch the traffic come to you. And while semi regular site tweaks may be necessary (the search engines constantly update their site ranking factors to avoid abuse), the majority of the hard work will be done at the outset. And best of all… the traffic you receive via the search engines comes free of charge!!
To extend your marketing reach beyond the search engines and into the web stratosphere you could try Google Adsense or affiliate marketing (with providers like Commission Junction). Both allow you to hook into established web networks and place ads for your firm on thousands of web pages, while dealing with just the one provider. This form of advertising will give your firm good exposure, but the traffic is a little less qualified than from search engine marketing (as they are not specifically looking for legal aid).
Online directories are another alternative for low maintenance marketing. Whether it’s generic directories, or specialist legal directories such as Lawyer Centric, directory marketing can ensure a steady flow of client leads. For what it’s worth, specialised legal directories tend to be cheaper and are more likely to draw truly qualified client leads (as they target a very specific audience).
Road block 2 – Lack of marketing expertise
Lawyers are trained & hired to practice the law. You probably spent 4+ years studying it at university. But what your law degree didn’t teach you was how to market you firm and build your client base. And if you’re anything like your American counterparts (God forbid!) you’re not happy about it.
A recent survey by Buy Laws found that 91% of American lawyers are unhappy with the lack of marketing training at law schools. The study also found that 37% of respondents only just manage to generate enough business to stay alive, and 41% either don’t get good marketing results or don’t bother at all due to lack of knowledge.
While it is true that you probably haven’t received the training needed to be considered a marketing guru, it doesn’t mean good help isn’t out there. And better yet, it’s free! If you’re truly interested in improving your marketing skills there are a plethora of marketing sites that offer free expert advice in the form of articles & regular newsletters. The following sites are some of the best marketing resources providing free expert commentary:
1. Marketing Profs
2. Marketing Today
1. Marketing Sherpa
If you’re genuine about enhancing your marketing skills, the information is out there. All you need to do is go and get it.
Road block 3 – Networking is hard!
Building relationships and a solid network of professional acquaintances is critical to your ability to increase your client base. After all, it’s not what you know, but who you know right? That’s probably why you go to all those industry conferences & luncheons. But do you really get full value from those conferences? How many meaningful new business relationships do you take away from each one?
Many people believe that when it comes to ‘working the room’ you’ve either got the gift or you don’t. But what if you don’t? How can you add value to your firm and build meaningful business relationships?
You’ve probably heard of MySpace and Facebook before. They’re social networks that give people an online platform to connect with their current friends and meet new people. But have you heard of LinkedIn? It follows a similar premise, except that it is targeted towards business professionals.
At the most basic level you can use the service to store your personal business connections. But the real value comes in the networking capabilities. Members can extend their personal network by accessing second degree connections (the network pool of each of their personal contacts) and third degree connections (the network pool of each second degree connection).
The existence of a mutual contact essentially gives you a virtual ‘foot in the door’. And furthermore, it can be done on your own time. For those without the ‘gift of the gab’, this may be your ideal networking solution.
Road block 4 – Limitations of traditional marketing techniques
Marketing a law firm presents unique challenges. Legal choices are heavily considered decisions. New clients want detailed information in order to achieve a level of confidence that your firm has the necessary expertise to manage their case effectively. Questions from new clients will typically include:
1. What areas of law does your firm specialise in?
2. What experience do you have managing similar cases?
3. Who are your current clients and what would they say about your firm?
In order to address these questions, you need the opportunity to speak to clients in a detailed & specific manner. But how can that be achieved? Unless you have the budget to develop a comprehensive firm brochure, or buy a full page print ad, your marketing messages are likely to lack the detail to convert prospects into clients. Standard print ads, directory ads, radio ads, online banner ads (and others) all place restrictions on your ability to communicate with clients in any manner of detail.
Your web site need not be your only rich source of information. You have options. More and more online platforms are emerging that provide you with the opportunity to publish detailed information. Blogs are perhaps the most common. Blogs are free to set up from providers like Blogger and provide a basic web site framework for you to work with. The key advantage of blogs is that they allow content to be updated quickly and easily (unlike web sites which require technical expertise to update).
While most blogs are non commercial in nature, many ‘bloggers’ have realised that they can use the medium to position themselves as experts in a particular industry. The field of law is no exception. Blogs are a natural communication tool for law firms as they allow easy publication of articles, case studies and commentary of legal issues. A small number of Australian lawyers and law firms have embraced blogs, yet the potential remains largely untapped in the legal industry.
Online directories present another marketing opportunity for savvy law firms. And no we’re not talking about the Yellow Pages. The ‘one size fits all’ model applied by multi-industry directories typically limits the type & quantity of content advertisers can publish. We are in fact talking about niche directories that are tailor made for a specific industry.
Lawyer Centric is an example. It is a directory designed by lawyers specifically for the legal industry, and offers a number of promotional services for firms, including:
1. An advertisement in the legal directory.
2. The ability to receive client emails directly to a nominated email address.
3. The ability to create a customised web page to promote your firm’s practice areas, technical knowledge, articles & client testimonials.
4. Unlimited access to publish articles to a legal article database.
5. Unlimited access to post vacancies on the legal job boards.
Members are able to choose between free & paid membership.
Road block 5 – Cost
In all honesty, our last road block is probably the first that sprung to your mind. Money! Traditional forms of advertising/marketing are far from cheap. Whether it’s newspaper, radio, Yellow Pages or online ads, the cumulative cost of advertising can be in the thousands each year (if not tens of thousands). That’s a lot of money!
Naturally, you want the best return on investment for your firm. And that’s probably the best part about each solution we’ve proposed so far. They’re all cheap! Let’s revisit each solution one last time to review what implementation will cost you:
1. SEO consultancy can be pricey, but is an excellent long term marketing investment. Remember, after the initial cost of optimising your site all traffic you receive is free. Google Adsense & affiliate marketing operate on a pay per click basis. You’ll only pay each time someone clicks through to your web site. Most clicks will cost you less than a dollar!
2. Each marketing newsletter is delivered to you free of charge. You just need to find the time to read them.
3. LinkedIn is a free networking service.
4. Blogs are free to set up and maintain. Of course, your cost is the time it takes to generate regular content. But if you are already writing articles and case analyses…
5. Lawyer Centric offers both free & paid membership. The cost of a paid membership is just $250 annually.
And now, it is over to you. The seeds have been sown. The question is whether you choose to embrace them or not.
Newer technology means that legal marketing no longer needs to be the ugly step child of the legal industry. In fact, with a little research and some smart implementation, you could create a Cinderella story of your very own.