Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Marketing

This column gets published on December 22, when just about the last thing anyone will be doing is reading a column about marketing a law practice. That’s the Friday when everyone who hasn’t already taken off for the holidays is trying frantically to get out of the office by noon for the final frenetic round of shopping. Still, I have to assume that you’ll be back in the cold light of January and looking for something to kick-start the engines for another year. So here are ten New Year’s resolutions to rejuvenate your marketing plan for 2018.

1. Set a SMART goal

I wrote about SMART goals back in the summer. If you haven’t yet set a marketing goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely—do it now. Set the goal before deciding anything else you’re going to do in marketing, because it’s the benchmark by which you will decide every marketing thing worth doing. All marketing initiatives undertaken throughout the year should support the goal. If they don’t, they shouldn’t get done.

2. Decide on your Position

There are six P’s of law firm marketing: Product, Package, Place, Promotion, Price, and Position. Much thought and money gets put into the first five, but seldom is there even any discussion about Position. This refers to where your firm sees itself (or wants to be) in the marketplace. High end, quality work for a few special clients or high volume, commodity work for as many clients as possible? Note: there’s nothing wrong with either end of the spectrum, or any point on it. Some types of law naturally lend themselves to high volume work. If you are already in the position you want to be in, stick to it (sometimes easier said than done—see my column The ABCs of Client Classification). If you’re working towards your desired position, your SMART goal should support that. So let’s say you’re building a niche in estates planning and administration for business owners in a particular industry. Your goal might be to increase your share of that marketplace by a specific amount within the year.

3. Make a plan for the year

There are worse ways to market than the usual random acts of lunch that pass for a marketing plan at many firms. Absolutely the WORST way is to let every lawyer be tempted by all the one-off ‘opportunities’ dangled by savvy sales folks at legal directories, event planners filling tables, and trade show organizers filling exhibit halls. They know how to appeal to lawyers’ egos and they know that the fine print of such arrangements is not where lawyers want to spend their time. So you end up spending half your annual budget on one splurge activity where you miss out on half of the benefits because you A. missed the deadline or B. didn’t know the benefit existed. There are any number of marketing and business development plan templates out there, so there’s no excuse for not using one. Any time you’re tempted by a one-off, see how it could fit into your plan. If it can’t, don’t waste your time and money on it.

4. Use your Marketing Department

There’s an old saying “Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” If your firm has a marketing department, use it! Just as you wouldn’t want them drafting a factum, so they don’t want you being suckered into buying expensive tables and ads for clients’ shindigs while missing out on all the extra benefits that marketing people know about. Let them work out the details with the client’s marketing department so that you get maximum exposure. They also don’t want you buying the firm’s trinkets and trash from your brother-in-law who can get you ‘a great deal’. Yep, that same deal that had red dye from the cheapo ski bags leaching all over clients’ white shirts, while the other giveaways that he promised turned up six weeks after the event was over.

5. Get professional help

If you don’t have a marketing department, don’t waste your time trying to organize marketing initiatives yourself, or overload your already overloaded office administrator with all the marketing tasks. Marketing lends itself to being outsourced, but look for an agency or consultant that specializes in law firms. It’s a niche market; bags of money and time can be wasted if your marketing agency is more familiar with packaged goods than lawyers.

6. If it’s worth doing, do it now

Everything takes three times as long as you think, so get going! This is especially true for anything involving redesign. A decision to redo the logo could involve months of work before the final product is ready. Ditto for revamping the website, rewriting the practice profiles, or redoing the lawyers’ photographs.

7. Automate, automate, automate

Automation has been the great leveller in law firm marketing. Online, six-partner firms can look as good as the multinationals if their websites are easy to navigate, contains useful information, and come up regularly in Google searches. Keeping track of contacts is way easier with customer relationship management (CRM) software. Automated but targeted email messages can get set up once and then send themselves at regular intervals to a defined audience (that has given you permission to send them marketing emails). Whatever you decide to do in pursuit of your SMART goal, there’s a way to automate at least some of it.

8. Build Biz Dev into everything

I’m often asked how much time should be allocated to business development, as though there’s a number that will magically produce results. Legal schedules being what they are, you’ll never be able to set aside every Friday for business development, so build it in to everything that you do. It’s not as hard as that sounds: in the planning, ask yourself who could benefit from being invited or told a piece of news, or asked to partner in the initiative. So long as you’re reaching out in a targeted way, something will come back.

9. Get active in a client organization

One of the six Ps of law firm marketing is Place: where are your prospective clients? Once you find that out, be where they are. Most often, there’s a relevant client organization where your clients and prospects will cluster. Lawyers always cringe at the thought of attending meetings or serving on committees, but active participation can pay off massively when work is being handed out. It’s also a good way to get your juniors networking: send them to most of the events and have them bring you out when it’s worth your time.

10. Pick up the phone

Once a week, pick up the phone and call a client, contact, or classmate whom you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Have a piece of news or information ready to share so that taking your call is of benefit to them, but that’s only for after you’ve asked how and what they’re doing. Listen twice as much as you talk—and follow up on what you hear.

And whichever festival you celebrate at this time of year, spread the joy! Good wishes are good wishes, no matter from which culture they emanate. May the New Year be good to you and yours.

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