As we all adjust to the "new normal" in the legal services landscape, there are some practices that continue to shift and to which we must respond aggressively.
Competition for legal services has never been greater and the technological reach has never been broader, so why is it that sometimes we do not even know the attorney in the office next to us?
One of my prevailing approaches to advising and guiding my law firm clients to develop a profitable client base is to get to know your neighbor, literally and figuratively. How many times do we miss out on business development opportunities because we are just not paying attention? Your next best client and/or referral source could be sitting right next to you on the train ride home, or standing beside you on the Little League field.
• Developing the marketing mindset.
To leverage every possible opportunity to help others and reach out to prospective clients, lawyers must develop a marketing mindset in which they see the opportunities that are right in front of them. Yes, it is a discipline to be developed, but once they master this (often with the help of a professional coach to point out the opportunities), up-and-coming rainmakers' worlds will never be the same. I promise.
• Attitude is everything.
I suggest that lawyers recognize they must distinguish themselves from the crowded lawyer space to a far greater extent and push forward in spite of it.
Striving to be a "glass-half-full" individual, I know for sure that attitude is everything.
Assess your mindset toward building a prosperous practice to check your attitude before taking the first action.
Do you believe in what you are doing? Are you resentful that you are placed in "selling situations"? Do you begrudgingly attend networking events? And, when there, do you not use the time productively? You are not alone.
What we see very often is that lawyers frequently behave from a position of fear, not confidence. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard, "I'm not good at X," I could buy an island in the Pacific somewhere. The question is not whether you are "good" or "bad" at any particular behavior or action, but rather whether you are willing to work at it.
This reminds me of a great quote by Henry Ford: "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." It's all in the attitude.
• Turning everyday contacts into powerful business and client connections.
On the way to developing the marketing mindset, I advise my clients to avoid overlooking their everyday contacts who may either become clients themselves and/or help connect them to powerful business and client connections.
What we find is that many lawyers are unsure of how to approach a social/personal connection and convert it into a business contact and/or new client. It often comes down to asking open-ended questions of your personal contacts to gauge their business connections and challenges, and then evaluating whether you are in a position to help solve those and/or can refer him or her to someone who can.
While building a strong book of business is very situationally based, there are a few axioms of truth. If you display a helpful spirit and genuinely want to help others, that will become evident. People around you will open up and want to share their issues or problems. Oftentimes, the key is positioning yourself in the right circles where your help is needed and afforded.
At the end of the day, we all want to be heard, understood and validated. Lawyers will make many friends and clients along the way if they genuinely become the go-to person for their contacts.
• Discovering an attitude of abundance by sharing skills and expertise.
Following the advice above, I often iterate to our clients that they will attract clients quite easily by discovering an attitude of abundance with others by sharing their skills and expertise. Sure, lawyers must run profitable practices, but in the course of developing a solid reputation as an expert in their areas of expertise, gaining recognition for their pro bono and volunteer work is never a waste of time if they are savvy enough to know how to leverage these activities. So many opportunities exist for sharing your special skills.
• Mastering the 30-second introduction: Avoiding the cardinal sin.
As lawyers develop that marketing mindset and attitude of abundance, they must be prepared to easily share their 30-second introduction when they are asked. And, if they are networking effectively and in a targeted fashion, this will happen often.
The number-one cardinal sin I guide my clients to avoid is when someone asks him or her, "What do you do?" Inevitably, the quick answer is, "I am a lawyer." Do not ever say that again. It is a surefire conversation-stopper. Where do you go from there, especially for the layperson? Instead, I counsel clients to begin their 30-second introduction with "I help." I help clients solve problems; I help clients prevent lawsuits. "I help" is such a stronger message than to simply recite a job title.
• Defining your network.
One of the largest keys to developing a strong book of business is learning the art of effective networking and fostering strong business relationships. After all, we are in the relationship-building business. If we cannot or will not cultivate a flow of new relationships, then prospects of developing a robust client base are slim.
When training law firm attorneys in business development skills, we often ask them to define their network. Associates, in particular, will often respond, "I don't really have a network." Case in point, if you are living and breathing, you have a network. Look around. Who are your neighbors, who do you know at the fitness center, synagogue, church, Starbucks, trade association, Chamber of Commerce, etc. You get the point. We all have networks to tap into and by taking definitive steps to broaden those networks by tapping into the networks of your network, this will provide a multiplier effect.
• Networking is not an event.
Referencing my earlier mandate of lawyers to develop the marketing mindset, savvy rainmakers understand that networking is not an event, but rather a lifestyle. They always have their radar up for opportunities to help others and to identify business development opportunities.
• Getting and staying connected.
We all live in a LinkedIn world where we have never been as connected as we are today, especially for those who have embraced (or are in the process of doing so) the power of social media marketing. It is nothing to shy away from. If you do not understand how it all works or are skeptical to its power and/or relevancy, I suggest you "get hip" and seek out a social-media marketing specialist to educate you, today. It is that powerful and can be such a huge and high-impact marketing tool for your growing practice.
Because of that, it has never been easier to get and stay connected with anyone. There are LinkedIn groups through which to meet and get to know individuals with similar interests and problems for which you have solutions.
There are many systems and software such as contact relationship management programs that can greatly support and facilitate building a "top-of-mind" awareness in front of clients, nonclient referral sources and prospects. So much help is available for those who understand its importance. Even the email marketing programs such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse are but one effective tool for developing the getting and staying in touch imperative.
• Crafting a business development plan that works.
When working with lawyers to develop a business plan, I frequently will hear he or she has tried so many things but that nothing really worked. I find it amusing that very bright lawyers are blaming the outcome on the one who did not take the action as the culprit for their failures. Because of that, I am very clear in working with our law firm clients to develop a business/marketing plan that works.
I often explain that the outcome of any plan is dependent upon the commitments the client is willing to make and the actions he or she is willing to take on his or her behalf. As a marketing adviser, I can guide clients to the best recommended actions, however, no coach or adviser can make a client either take an action or guarantee the results. We can, however, guarantee that clients will have a better thought process and decision-making process as a result of working with us.
• Getting clear on career dreams and goals.
In our work with law firms, we see most lawyers are not clearly focused on their long-term career objectives and they rarely, if ever, actually have a marketing plan of any sort. So, when promotion does not come their way, no one should be surprised. As an important part of our work together, I assign clients to self-reflect on what they really want their professional life to look like: What are their goals and dreams? Anything is possible as long as the vision and commitment to take actionable steps is present. We like to say, "What feeds your soul, gives you joy?" Embrace that and get clear.
• Five simple steps for turning interactions into transactions.
We offer our clients five simple steps to turn interactions with others into profitable transactions:
• A written plan of goals, objectives and specific steps/tactics to achieve same.
• A system by which to get and stay in touch regularly with your network to ensure that they know and understand how you help others.
• Communicate concisely with others in every interaction — every single one.
• Actively listen to those around you to learn how you can help or connect them to someone who can.
• Follow up, follow up, follow up to all interactions, encounters, network acquaintances, etc. This is where many clients fall down and drop the ball. It is imperative to develop systems with your team to put a plan in place. We often provide clients with template email language to use when following up so it takes less time and thought to promptly circle back around with each new connection.
There are many details contained within the basics of legal marketing, and goals may not be reached overnight but over two decades, but I have discovered the secret sauce of marketing success for all lawyers:
Consistent and persistent massive amounts of action over a prolonged period of time is the only path to successful marketing results.
Kimberly Alford Rice is principal of KLA Marketing Associates (www.klamarketing.net), a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. Rice helps law firms and lawyers develop practical business development and marketing strategies that lead directly to new clients and increased revenue. Rice also provides career management services to lawyers in transition. She can be reached at 609-458-0415 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.