Small Firm Marketing: Common Questions Answered

Running a small business successfully is tough – in any industry. In British Columbia approximately 98% of businesses are classified as small business, so those of us in B.C., and several other provinces actually, we’re in good company. The challenge, though, is producing high quality work while positioning yourself, and your business, for long term success.

You want to make smart business decisions and invest your time and financial resources wisely. Some firms will ponder marketing for a while before they begin, while others take a “let’s throw everything at them” approach.

Here are some of the most common questions I get from small law firms:

1. Why aren’t we getting any business from our current efforts?

Many small firms spread themselves too thin and try to actively market too many areas of law at once. Often a firm will put on a seminar, but not follow up with attendees or no-shows. If following up isn’t part of your initial plan, don’t execute until you can. It’s that important.

Same goes for advertising. If you’re going to run ads, commit to a budget that will allow you to run regular ads with the same message to the same audience.

If you’re looking to develop work in your estate planning, for instance, you’d probably want to run a few ads about this practice area, but include a call to action that encourages readers to register to attend your seminar. Send invitations to all your current clients and contacts who may have an interest in this area. Ensure you have some helpful information for estate planning clients on your website. Many people will check and you want your credibility in this practice area to be clearly displayed.

Think like a client and know that it takes several attempts to get the attention of your audience before they respond.

Plan, layer and target your marketing efforts. Repeat over time and the efforts will be rewarded.

2. Should we advertise?

It depends. If you’re trying to reach individual legal services clients such as personal injury, family or criminal law, advertising can be very effective, especially if your ads are impactful and run regularly in targeted publications. Depending on advertising alone, though, can be a mistake. It can generate interest, but you need other marketing support to get prospects to make contact with you.

Advertising business-related legal services can also work well, but requires careful placement in appropriate publications, coupled with compatible editorial in order to reach decision-makers.

If you’re going to run an ad campaign, though, do consider a campaign that will reach your market regularly and over a long period of time – perhaps several months, or even a year. It’s a good idea to get some advice from someone other than your friendly advertising sale rep. Do get help in designing your ad and ensuring your message is as impactful as possible. That investment can also help in your other communications, so look at how you can leverage that advice and apply it your other marketing initiatives.

Think carefully about directory advertising. Some directories can dominate your ad budget, so do consider what a strong online presence might do instead for you.

Advertising can also work well for dominating a geographic market such as a smaller community with image-based messages. Most importantly, know your market, their needs and attitudes and what they’ll respond to best.

3. How do we get our lawyers to help develop business?

If you want your lawyers to contribute to the marketing of the firm and to bring in business, make these expectations clear up front, then give them the training or tools to get underway. Lawyers are not typically schooled or trained in marketing and many don’t understand what it takes to run a business, so provide the training or coaching as needed.

Starting where your lawyers have interest or demonstrated strengths will help. Get your writers to write, get your social lawyers out into the community and attending business events and joining boards. Again, just as with your advertising plans, engage in these activities with a long term commitment.

4. Where should we spend and where can we scrimp?

Leverage your material whenever possible – write an article, create a client bulletin with an invitation to a seminar, and then post it to your blog. Get everything to go the distance for you.

Spending on “foundational items” that are investments in your business will help you produce and distribute communication materials that are essential for efficient long term success. You’ll need a hard working website that can scale up to include a future blog or include your social media posts. A solid brand look and feel will enable you to establish an image for your future newsletter, alerts or other communications material including a website or blog page.

Invest the time in good website content that‘s rich in keywords and is helpful and relevant to your clients and prospects. Keep adding online content to build your profile and credibility. Good news is that you can do this at your leisure and outside of typical office hours (if there is such a thing any longer).

Your online presence is critical. If your practice is busy, here’s where you can get your juniors or even a legal marketing consultant to draft content for your website, blog or social media sites. Stick to a regular routine of updating your content and leverage existing material as much as possible.

5. Should we outsource marketing?

Your non-billable time is best spent with current clients with the greatest potential and your best referral sources. Not only will you bullet-proof these clients from competitors, it will often lead to additional work.

An external advisor – in any area of business – can really help direct your efforts to the greatest value and do some of the heavy lifting for you more economically than if you did so yourself.

Consider the cost of doing some things yourself and whether or not you have the interest and skill in implementing. Your highest value is in producing legal work, connecting in person with current and prospective clients, and producing materials that relate to your area of law.


  1. I run a small law office in Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve been fairly successful in marketing the firm over the years and have a simple piece of advice.

    “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be”

    Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do what everyone else should be doing. In this day and age the answer has to be social networking. Create a basic Facebook page and Twitter account, and start making connections from there. Build win-win relationships and the business will come in from there. It doesn’t cost money – but it does take time.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bryan. I love that quote too. Here’s another hockey-inspired quote you might have seen and one that I use regularly with over-thinking lawyers: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” ~ Wayne Gretzky