Today’s solo and small firms often vie for the same business as larger firms with much larger marketing budgets. Therefore, it is crucial for solo and small firms to employ marketing and promotional tactics that will help them acquire new – and retain existing – business. The first line of offense is to identify target audiences and make sure your tactics will reach them in their homes and places of business.

There are many tactics to develop new business and increase existing business. Clients, prospects and referring counsel alike look for ways your firm stands out from the crowd. This includes every message your firm disseminates, from your voicemail messages and e-mail signatures to how you talk about your law firm at social gatherings. It also includes your attitude in business and the attitudes of those who work with you. If you love what you do and where you work and that attitude is carried across all means of communication, inevitably, prospects will want your firm to represent them. The same holds true for existing or past clients, who will remember to always come back when in need.

Identical marketing principals apply for managing counsel, associates, paralegals and administrative staff. It is important that firm members see themselves as part of a team. When the team does well and the firm thrives, each member of the team is rewarded. Therefore, by consistently, inexpensively and effectively executing the proactive and positive tactics outlined here, everyone in your firm can contribute to the ongoing success of your team.

NEVER LET ‘EM SEE YOU SWEAT

It all begins with a positive attitude. A positive attitude about your place of business ultimately leads to contagious enthusiasm. If you speak to your family, friends and significant other about how much you like what you do and where you do it, they will ultimately want your firm to represent them when there’s a need.

A positive attitude directly affects your success as an individual and as a business. Your mood fuels your thinking, which consequently affects your personal and business life, thus your clients, prospects and those who refer you business.

If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, are the victim of another’s road rage or are rebuked by a client, coworker or judge, it is important not to let that affect those you work with and those you serve in practice. It is still important to answer the telephone with a smile, address your colleagues with cheerful greetings, and as they say, “never let ‘em see you sweat.”

EXPECTATIONS, PERCEPTIONS

Most law firms agree that client referrals are an essential source of business, because word-of-mouth advertising is the leading and most successful sales tactic known to man. It is imperative to effectively manage your current clients’ expectations and perceptions of your firm so that they want to refer business to you. Every time you have contact with a client you are marketing or promoting your firm.

The key to managing perceptions is to understand your clients’ expectations. Most clients are uninformed about what constitutes good legal service, and they measure success based on false expectations. Once you understand this, make sure you “under-promise” and “over-deliver.” For example, if a client calls to speak to his or her attorney and reaches the administrative staff, don’t tell the client the attorney will “call back today.” Rather, find out how urgent the matter is and tell the client the attorney will get back to him or her within the next few days. If the attorney is able to return that call before the end of that business day, then the client is overjoyed and feels very important. Other common examples include setting realistic settlement value expectations, always providing time frames for the conclusion of a matter in terms of the longest possible scenario, and never telling a client that the “check arrived today.”

LET PEOPLE KNOW WHO YOU ARE

Letting people know who you are is the first name of the game. That’s the main reason why we use business cards, a relatively inexpensive and easy way to deliver your company name into the hands of people you want to become your clients or referrers. Everyone within your law firm should have a business card. All the members of your firm are the front-line offense and should be communicating your messages regularly.

Often, when a call comes into your office, new clients, prospects or referring counsel are directed to voicemail and they’re not sure for whom they are leaving a message. Here are some simple tactics to use to get your message across.

Leave an upbeat and informative outgoing voicemail message. You are trying to be welcoming to your clients and prospects. They will hear your voice and predetermine if they want to work with the firm. Your voice must be strong, unwavering, clear, convicted, friendly and intelligible.

Remind the caller who you are and where you work. By restating who you are and where you are from, the listener gets refocused. And remember, the more a person hears your name and company name, the more likely he or she will remember you the next time they need legal counsel. “Hello. I am Jack Smith, senior partner with the law offices of Smith & Jones.”

Reiterate your capability. Clients and prospects want to know that your firm is the right firm for them. By stating your practice areas, they can get to know you a bit better when they contact you for assistance. “Hello. I am Jack Smith, senior partner with the law offices of Smith & Jones, specializing in criminal defense matters.”

Practice leaving yourself a voice mail and speak on the loud side. If you get bored listening to yourself, you know you are in trouble! “Hello. I am Jack Smith, senior partner with the law offices of Smith & Jones, specializing in criminal defense matters. Our goal is to get you help when you need it, where you need it. Your message is important, so please provide details after the tone, and I will get back to you. If you are calling after regular business hours, call our 24-hour hotline at 888-555-1212.”

Create an e-mail signature. Your e-mail is another window to the world, and you should tell everyone who receives a message from you who you are and how to reach you. Once you’ve created the signature, you can insert it in all new messages, in all messages you reply to or forward, or just in a specific message. Your e-mail signature should include your name, title, company name, address, telephone number, fax number, e-mail address, Web site and a paragraph regarding the statement of use. Your e-mail signature should also include a standard disclaimer.

For example: This electronic mail and any attachments are intended only for the use of the intended recipient and may contain trade secrets, privileged or otherwise confidential information. Unauthorized review, use or dissemination of this electronic mail or the information contained herein or attached hereto by any person other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you have received this message in error, or believe you are not authorized to receive this message, please contact: info@smithjoneslawfirm.com.

If you are still using an AOL or MSN e-mail address (or any search engine or Internet Service Provider-based address), it is time to upgrade. It is much more professional for clients and colleagues to receive e-mails from jack@smithjoneslawfirm.com than jackthelawyer@hotmail.com.

STAY IN THE NEWS

There are three easy ways to stay in the public eye without spending a lot of money: issue press releases, author opinion-editorials (op-eds) and hold yourself out as a resource to members of the news media.

Issue press releases, which are typically used to garner media attention and attain press coverage. To create a buzz and build your firm’s reputation, your firm must remain in the eyes of the media positively and consistently. The more often people hear your firm name, the more likely they will remember the firm when searching for counsel or referring cases.

Local newspapers regularly run stories and blurbs about what is happening with business and their members, and they usually welcome submissions of photographs of events and people. However, press releases are not just for the media anymore.

Send them to clients: Clients like to hear that their law firm is doing well. They want to believe they’ve hired the best firm for their needs. Sending them your press releases strengthens the relationships that you have and helps to reinforce their decision in choosing your firm. It also strengthens your firm’s value in their eyes.

Send them to prospects: Prospects include past clients, potential clients, business associates, friends and family. This helps prospects better know who you are and what you do. It also helps influence prospects’ justification to choose your firm when the need arises.

Send them to vendors: Vendors can be clients too, and they have a wealth of contacts to which they may refer your firm. Staying in touch with your vendors is important in order to strengthen the relationship that you have with and to influence referrals to potential clients.

Send them to strategic partners and referring counsel, which can include your “of counsel” attorneys, referring attorneys, universities, accountants and others. When strategic partners hear your news, it strengthens and enhances the commitment and support to your firm.

Send them to employees. Keeping your employees in the loop communicates the direction and strategy of the firm so that they can, in turn, effectively communicate the firm’s philosophy to others. It also builds pride in the firm.

Send them to employees’ contacts. By encouraging employees to “spread the news,” your firm increases its visibility exponentially. Remember, “He tells two friends . . . “

Send them to trade associations: If you firm and its attorneys are members of the American Bar Association, your state and city bar associations, trial lawyers associations, etc., your firm should communicate its news for maximum exposure. Most associations have a regular publication or Web site where they will gladly share your news with your colleagues.

Other ideas: Place copies in the lobby of your office, in your press kit, and in your newsletter or brochure.

Another way to stay in the news is to contribute op-eds, or personal opinion-editorial columns. Op-ed articles contribute significantly to increasing visibility, name recognition and credibility. They are a cost-effective and underutilized way to reach newspaper and Web site readership, especially when raising topics that are controversial, legislatively motivated or public policy-based. Since newspapers get countless submissions of op-ed columns, getting an op-ed published can sometimes be difficult. When writing an op-end column you will want to follow some basic guidelines to ensure that it gets published, such as writing about ONE thing, using a local approach when writing for a local newspaper and telling readers why they should care.

Finally, offer to be a resource to the news media. On a daily basis, news producers and talk show hosts are seeking intelligent and media-savvy attorneys who can readily discuss matters taking place in the media. Once there is a story, commentators are always in demand.

Send producers, hosts and editors a letter attaching your bio or C.V. Tell them you are available to discuss matters within your specific practice area. Provide them with all of your contact information, especially your telephone and mobile phone numbers and e-mail address. Follow up with a telephone call, and leave a detailed message if you don’t reach them the first time. Practice your message before leaving it, keep it to 30 seconds, and make only your most important points. The voicemail you leave will serve as your audition to television and radio producers especially. If they like what they hear and have a need for your knowledge, you will very likely get a call in return.

It is important for solo and small firms to promote themselves in order to continue to flourish in today’s increasingly competitive market. During the 1970s and ’80s, it was common to find small family-owned apothecaries on street corners. Today, only a few remain that have made their message heard above larger conglomerates. The same fate will inevitably befall the solo and small firm without solid, proactive, targeted, positive and ongoing promotional communications.

GINA RUBEL is a licensed Pennsylvania attorney who owns and operates Furia Rubel Communications Inc. ( http://www.furiarubel.com). She provides public relations and marketing programs for the legal industry. Gina has published articles in The Legal Intelligencer, Philadelphia Lawyers Magazine, Lawyers Weekly USA and MediaMap.com. She is also a frequent lecturer. Her clients have appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America and National Public Radio, among others