Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is a collection of essays that demonstrate that the basic rules we all learned in kindergarten are all that is necessary to successfully navigate the adult world. The same can be said for legal marketing. The following legal marketing rules are adapted from some of the lessons contained in Fulghum’s “Kindergarten Credo”:
Share. What’s happening in your firm? What is the latest news in your area of practice, or in your clients’ industry? What current events could impact your client’s bottom line? It’s a world of content marketing, and that means you’ve got to not only generate content, but share it generously, both online (on social media, websites, blogs, and forums) and offline (in print publications, by sending information to clients and referral sources or calling them to talk about how the latest changes might affect their business). Share your knowledge with others on list-serves, mentor other lawyers, answer questions on Avvo or in other forums.
Sharing also means sharing content generated by others in addition to content generated by your own firm. The biggest part of marketing and business development is not pushing out your message; it’s building relationships – with clients, potential clients, colleagues and referral sources. When you focus on others and your participation in social media in other marketing activities is mostly about others, people will be more receptive to the messages you do send about you and your firm. By helping others, you make yourself more memorable.
Play fair. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t accept the word of the first marketing consultant or SEO professional who tells you they can get you on the ‘first page of Google.’ Ask questions. Follow the ethical rules of your jurisdiction. Make sure that you and those you employ to help you with your marketing are playing by the rules, too. Instead of working on exchanging links, leaving spam comments on others’ blogs, or stuffing your online content with keywords (common tactics used in SEO that are now frowned upon – and penalized – by Google), create original, quality content that differentiates you from others.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Just because a particular marketing tactic or strategy works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. And if you can’t come up with content for your website, brochure, articles, or other marketing pieces that shows why clients should hire you and what value you bring to the table, don’t think stealing someone else’s content is going to win you any friends. When you do use something that originated with someone else, provide attribution and (if it’s online) links.
Cookies and milk are good for you. Take time to take clients out for a meal or a cup of coffee. In a more relaxed atmosphere, away from the office, clients may be more willing to open up about the challenges they are facing. Having periodic meetings with clients simply to check in, with no particular agenda and no fee can go a long way to ensuring your clients feel you really care about them, and that you see them as people and not just files. You can also use those informal meetings to ask the client for feedback about how to improve your services, and to find out more about the client’s business.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. In today’s online, fast-paced world, it is sometimes easy to offend without even realizing it. A quick email may come off as curt, a failure to respond to an instant message or a request on social media may make others feel neglected. Lawyers are pulled in so many different directions that sometimes even legal work falls through the cracks. As soon as you find out there’s a problem, address it.
All lawyers want to be seen as trusted advisors. A failure to apologize when mistakes are made or when someone else’s feelings are hurt erodes that trust. By contrast, saying you’re sorry and taking action to make amends can strengthen the relationship.
Live a balanced life. Your marketing plan needs some balance. Not all clients, potential clients and referral sources are using social media. At the same time, lawyers can no longer rely on referrals just walking in the door as a result of doing good work for existing clients. Law firms need to create a balanced marketing plan with multiple avenues for reaching clients and referral sources.
Lawyers also need to ensure that they’re not falling victim to the roller-coaster mentality, and instead are balancing getting work done with marketing and developing business. Too often, when the work is piling up, lawyers neglect the marketing and relationship-building activities that brought them the work in the first place. Suddenly they find themselves with no active work and nothing in the pipeline. Even when you’re busy, you need to keep marketing; don’t neglect your relationships.
Wonder. Innovation is far too scarce in the legal marketplace. Lawyers who are trained to follow precedent rarely want to take risks, preferring to wait until ‘everyone else is doing it’ before putting something new into place. Instead, consider how you can create a truly wonderful experience for your clients. Be a leader. Re-imagine the way you provide services to clients. Do something different.
Hold hands and stick together. Law is a relationship business. You can’t go it alone. In this content and community-based, social media marketing world, you need friends to help you spread the word and refer business.
It’s tempting as a solo or small firm lawyer to try to do everything yourself. While I’m not a fan of outsourcing content creation or participation in either online or offline networking because you can’t delegate rapport or relationships, there certainly are aspects of your marketing that you, as the lawyer, should not be doing yourself. For example, you can create the content and have someone else edit or post it for you. You can make the connections and create a system to automate your follow up. If you have a team, use them. If you don’t, create one, or outsource administrative tasks so you can focus on serving clients and developing relationships.
Take a nap every afternoon. Everybody needs a break. Lawyers who pride themselves on working day and night and attending every networking event in sight aren’t doing themselves or their clients any favors. When your energy is depleted, so is your enthusiasm for your work and your clients. When you’re burned out, you can’t possibly give your clients the attention they need. Not getting enough sleep leads to irritability and mistakes – not exactly the message you want to send about your ‘superior client service.’
And remember …the biggest word of all: LOOK. Studies show that clients find client focus and knowledge of their business to be two of the most important and least prevalent traits in the legal marketplace. Look around. Set up Google Alerts, read industry publications, follow your clients and their companies on social networks. Do your homework. Don’t become so focused on your practice that you forget to keep tabs on what is happening in the marketplace. Stay attuned so you can identify emerging needs and new areas of practice. Keep your eyes open to identify what is no longer working and which practice areas are no longer serving you or your clients well.
Sometimes we all need a reminder that the basics are still important. The rules are simple. But just because they are simple doesn’t always mean they are easy to follow. At its core, marketing is about building and tending relationships, and relationships are hard, even if we’ve known the rules all along.