Marketing is hard work, especially when you are constantly trying to get new clients in the door. One way that lawyers can get “new” business is by concentrating on their existing and former clients. People like to work with people they know, like and trust. It takes time to reach that point. Your existing and former clients have used your services in the past, or are using them now. They already know you. A level of trust has been established. It will be much easier to get additional work from those clients than it will be to get work from a complete stranger who doesn’t know you at all.
As an example, I recently worked with a client who had been struggling to get additional work in the door. Because of the continued sluggish economy in the U.S., his practice had slowed considerably. We decided send a mailing out to 25 former clients for whom he had done an estate plan at least 2 years ago offering to review their plan to see if changes were needed. Of those 24 letters, 2 were returned as undeliverable (so the client can update his contact database), and eight made appointments within a few weeks. Follow up calls yielded two more appointments. Not all of those appointments would lead to additional paying work, but the response was tremendous in comparison to almost any other marketing initiative he had undertaken. And for those clients who did not need additional work performed, it was a good opportunity to re-connect, and it is more likely that those clients will remember my client if they hear of anyone else who needs an attorney in his area.
Here are some tips for gaining additional work (or referrals) from former and existing clients:
1. Make sure all of your clients are aware of the different kinds of services you provide. Many lawyers do this at the beginning of an engagement, but this may be the worst time to do so. Clients come to you with a specific problem or issue that they want resolved; chances are that they won’t pay much attention to your other services, since they are so focused on the problem at hand. Instead, as you move through the engagement if you see additional areas where you can be of service, advise the client. At the end of the engagement, inform the client of your additional services; don’t assume that they already know everything you do. Ask them to refer others who might need your services.
2. Stay in touch with clients after your engagement with them ends. You want to stay ‘top of mind’ with your former clients so that they think of you first if they have another legal problem or if they hear of someone else who needs a lawyer. Reach out occasionally just to say hello or to find out what is happening in their world. Send them articles or news of interest. Set up a Google alert for their name, business name and their competitors’ names where appropriate. Link to them on LinkedIn so you can follow their progress. Get together in person to find out how they are doing.
3. Look for additional needs. As I mentioned in #1 above, if you see the client has a problem you can solve, let them know about it, even if they didn’t ask. But you may also see that a client requests one service or course of action that doesn’t serve them as well as another. In this instance, you might ‘upsell’ them to a more or different services that meet all of their needs, rather than only some of them.
4. Consider your timing. Be mindful of both your business cycle and your clients’ business cycles. When are your slow periods? Are there particular times of the year when your clients have more cash than others (for example, if you represent seasonal businesses)? Are there certain events that trigger your clients to purchase legal services in your area? If you can predict when your typically slow periods will arrive, consider contacting former clients shortly before that time to build up your pipeline of work. Or use those slow periods to devise mailings and other marketing materials that you don’t have time to get to when things are busy. Time your mailings or contacts with clients and former clients for the times when the need for your services is likely to be greater, or when you know their cash flow is healthier.
5. Express your appreciation for their business. The client may be paying you to do a job for them, but without your clients, you wouldn’t have a business. Of course, you should provide excellent client service throughout the engagement, but those two simple words, “thank you,” can go a long way toward increasing client loyalty.
6. Make introductions. Stay on the lookout for connections you can make for your clients. Link your clients with colleagues and former clients so they can help grow one another’s businesses. Invite several clients to an event so you can all get to know one another, or host an event for all of your clients (if appropriate depending on your business and practice area).
7. Provide information and education. An educated client may be your best client. Educate your clients about the legal issues they may encounter before, during and after your representation. You’ll not only help your clients’ business, but you’ll also establish yourself as an expert in your field and as someone who genuinely wants their clients to succeed.
8. Ask for feedback. Client feedback serves many purposes. In addition to helping you improve your services, client feedback can help you identify untapped needs or new ways of providing your services that will help you stand out from the pack. But clients who provide positive feedback also reinforce in their own minds how valuable you are to them. Ask for this feedback throughout the engagement; don’t wait until the end of the engagement. This will help you change course if necessary, but it will also reinforce the client’s decision to work with you and may lead to additional business.
9. Ask for referrals. Clients, especially satisfied clients, love to help. But they may not realize how they can help, or that you need their help in referring business to you. They may assume that you have plenty of business, or it just may not have occurred to them to refer business to you. Sometimes, it’s as easy as simply asking them to refer others. Once you have the conversation, the client is more likely to think about referrals. But you can make it even easier by asking them specifically if they know anyone else in their industry who could use your help. You can also request referrals when the client expresses appreciation for the work you’ve done or the service you’ve performed.
Statistics show that repeat clients spend more and refer more, so start thinking of each client as a lifetime relationship, rather than a single engagement!