By Gary Holstein, Practice Advisor
This is the first in a series of seven articles about the seven deadly sins of marketing in the legal profession.
“I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.” When Tennessee Williams wrote this line for the character Blanche DuBois in the Pulitzer Prize (1948) winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, he couldn’t have imagined that it would reflect the unspoken marketing mantra of many practicing attorneys sixty years later.
Like many of the attorneys we work with, you may believe that you will maintain a steady flow of clients by performing your work skillfully and effectively. Optimistically, you tell yourself, “If I do my job well, people will refer me business and my practice will flourish.”
But can you really rely on the kindness of strangers?
To some extent. When people are pleased with your work, they’ll tell others about you. But this informal mechanism is inadequate to keep your practice flourishing unless your reputation is large, your niche narrow and your expertise rare.
For most of you, if you believe that good work alone translates into business, you’ve taken a reactive posture to promoting your practice. You simply react to the perceptions of others rather than working to shape them.
Proactive Marketing Puts You In Control and Reduces Stress
Identifying, nurturing and focusing on key referral sources is the lynchpin to proactive, professional marketing. Those attorneys who market purposefully, consistently, and authentically are the most productive rainmakers.
Often we talk with attorneys who advertise in various media and have a web site. Therefore, they feel that they are proactive. I believe their assertion is only half true. Advertising is an ingredient in the proactive marketing formula. But it is only one part of the total marketing mechanism you need to create and sustain a thriving law practice. Other ingredients need to be added to ensure a reliable and steady flow of clients.
Good attorneys who quietly practice the Blanche DuBois approach tend to experience similar negative side effects. They often tell us how hard they work, sometimes to the detriment of their families and personal lives. When asked about their hobbies or interests, many of our clients say, “I used to golf, (or sail, or play tennis)…but I don’t have time anymore.” Frequently, they work furiously for spurts of time only to worry, during down times, when the next client will call. They can’t staff appropriately because the financial cycle is shaped like a roller coaster. Many are close to being burned out and most can hardly remember why they went into law in the first place. Commonly, they feel that the income they make is not commensurate with their efforts.
Each of the above effects contributes to stress, a ubiquitous condition of those in the legal profession. The stress we experience is inversely proportional to control. If you think about things that cause you the most stress, you’ll realize that they are all issues over which you have little or no control. Think, for example, about your stress level when you’re caught in a traffic jam. One of the huge ancillary benefits to implementing a proactive referral marketing program is that you will feel more in control, and as a result, less stressed.
Adopt A New, More Active Marketing Paradigm
Our experience of working with thousands of attorneys over 20 years tells us that a proactive, well designed and executed referral marketing effort produces a more reliable and steady flow of clients, which in turn creates the circumstances for better client selection, more control over work load and cash flow, greater income, reduced stress, and clients who are better served. If you consider these potential benefits in total, they define a better practice: one designed to serve your life rather than your life serving the practice.
How can you create such a plan? First, stop relying on the kindness of strangers. Next, learn the six marketing “commandments” that will produce meaningful change.
Learn The Six Commandments
Commandment 1: Know your referral sources. In order to execute a sustainable referral marketing system, you must be able to identify a minimum of 20 referral sources. If you don’t know where your business is coming from, you cannot create the proper effort and attention to nurture and grow it.
Commandment 2: Focus on relationships, relationships, relationships. Make a minimum of three direct contacts per week that are referral sources or potential referral sources. These may be breakfasts, lunches, dinners, sporting events, or conversations, but they must last at least 20 minutes to be meaningful. These contacts will build sustainable, sincere relationships based on trust. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen R. Covey writes, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”
Commandment 3: Never stop marketing. Most of us tend to market only when times are lean. But this is problematic. It is very difficult to continually re-boot the effort once you stop. Stopping and restarting also erodes trust in your referral sources who may conclude that you only contact people when you need business. A professional marketing effort is grounded in sincerity, trust and building long-term relationships.
Commandment 4: Be authentic. Most attorneys who feel negatively about marketing think of product marketing, which focuses on the perceived benefits of the item to the buyer. Professional marketing focuses on the client. Another reason attorneys often shy away from marketing is because they see it as a departure from who they are. Actually, the opposite should be true. The more you are able to represent yourself and your services authentically through the eyes of the client, the more effective you will be.
Commandment 5: You need a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be compatible with you as a person and include everyone in your firm who comes in contact with a client or referral source. You are always viewed as a part of the total experience someone has with your firm. Additionally, many plans fail because there is no accountability. Someone needs to be responsible for holding you accountable for implementing the plan or it will not succeed.
Commandment 6: Learn all you can about how to market professional services. You’ve already invested time, money, and effort to learn how to practice law. When you learn about the business of marketing your law practice, you’ll create a new life for yourself, your associates, and ultimately your family.
If you are willing to commit yourself to a proactive, systemized, and authentic approach to marketing….
You are absolved from sin #1!
Next month we’ll explore Deadly Sin #2: Seeing a stranger in the mirror.
1. Powers, Mark, “Never Stop Marketing”, Family Law Commentator, Original Publishing Fall 2005, The Briefs, June 2006