While both can benefit a practice, lawyers often get marketing and business development confused. In this episode of On Balance, hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent talk to John Reed about essential marketing strategies for lawyers and how marketing differs from business development. They discuss important marketing and business development activities that are important depending on your practice areas. Stay tuned for tips on using social media like Linkedin, building a blog, and whether or not TV commercials are a viable investment.
John F. Reed is the founder of Rain BDM, a consultancy that helps law firms of all sizes build outstanding client relationships.
State Bar of Michigan On Balance Podcast
Must-Do Business Development and Marketing Activities
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice, with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away ladies.
JoAnn Hathaway: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am JoAnn Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I am Tish Vincent.
JoAnn Hathaway: We are very pleased to have John Reed join us today as our podcast guest to talk about Must-Do Business Development and Marketing Activities.
So John, would you share some information about yourself with our listeners?
John Reed: Sure. And I am so happy to be here. I am a recovering attorney. I have moved away from the practice, but not too far away, I now help attorneys build outstanding business development relationships and assist firms with their legal marketing efforts. And my team and I, we work with law firms across the country an law firms of all sizes and help them with all different kinds of their business development and marketing needs.
JoAnn Hathaway: Lawyers often confuse the terms marketing and business development, how are they different?
John Reed: It’s a great question and I think you are absolutely right it is — they are two terms that attorneys often confuse. Marketing, at least in my mind, is promoting your brand. So it’s communicating what it is that you do, your strengths, your practice skills in the hopes that for the prospective client, that message will resonate and they will want to make contact with you. Marketing is also something you do in between those personal touches to reinforce existing relationships.
Business development is the relationship building. And I often tell attorneys that if they are 100% committed to business development, they really don’t need to do any marketing. And if you are out there meeting people and promoting your brand face-to-face and having conversations and learning about other people and their needs, you can build a pretty healthy practice.
But in reality, the practice of law takes time. People can’t commit that 100% to business development, so that’s where marketing, the idea of communicating your brand in different ways really comes into play.
Marketing, there is law firm marketing and those are all of kind of the big-ticket items, so websites and advertising and mass communications.
When it comes down to personal marketing, what the individual attorney does, it’s really just three things in my mind; it’s writing, speaking and social media, and social media is kind of a strange hybrid between marketing and business development, so kind of a distinction there too.
And so I think it takes a lot of pressure off of individual attorneys when they think well, what can I do for my own marketing, to really push my brand out. And I think when you say it’s as easy as writing articles or blog posts, it’s as easy as giving presentations, it’s using social media to leverage your thought leadership, that’s kind of doable for a lot of people.
Tish Vincent: So John, do you feel that the balance between business development and personal marketing, does that change depending on an attorney’s years of experience and also their practice area or areas?
John Reed: I think it does. I think it does. For newer attorneys I often say sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. And you can be a prolific writer through a lot of different channels to promote the practice that you want to have. And so that’s where personal marketing comes into play.
Now, that’s not to say that newer attorneys shouldn’t be spending time networking, building relationships, you never know, that person you sat next to in first year contracts can end up being a general counsel or direct client some day, so you have to sow the seeds early.
But I think when attorneys become more seasoned and they develop those relationships and they have experience under their belts, then sometimes they move away from those personal marketing activities and that’s completely fine.
I think the other thing to take into account, as you mentioned, is what your practice is like. For what I call volume-based practices, so where you are relying on a lot of new clients; personal injury, family law, consumer bankruptcy, criminal defense, where hopefully people only have need for you one time in the course of their lives, but you need a lot of clients, that’s where you need to start looking at more mass marketing activities. So digital marketing, email marketing, certainly SEO, and maybe even paid social media, those types of campaigns are things that a volume-based practice might want to consider more heavily.
Tish Vincent: What are the marketing activities that every lawyer should do?
John Reed: It’s a great question. These are my two cents’ worth here, but I will throw these in here. I think first and foremost we live in the digital age. Gone are the days when I would see somebody and they ask me for a referral to a lawyer and I might say well, JoAnn and Tish are all that and a bag of chips and you need to call them, gone are the days when they would pick up the phone and call you. Instead, people go to Google the lawyer that they are going to hire, no matter how ringing the endorsement may be.
So you really have to go and Google yourself. You have to take an audit of your online presence and make sure those things are up-to-date. We know through statistics that when people go online, they pay the most attention to attorney bios on their websites, as well as LinkedIn.
So LinkedIn, as far as social media is concerned, is completely non-negotiable. You have to be on LinkedIn and you have to have a complete profile.
If you really want to go to the next level, you make sure that your website bio is not the same as your LinkedIn bio. You want to have them read a little bit differently because they are different formats, but you should also pay attention to the other directory listings. You may have a FindLaw profile or a Justia profile or a Super Lawyers or lawyers.com or martindale.com, so making sure that those things are current is really, really important.
You want to present yourself in the best possible light, and if somebody is seeing that you are not consistent across your directory profiles, that you are not on LinkedIn, that could be a red flag, and maybe that’s the difference between somebody picking up the phone to call you and not picking up the phone.
When it comes to website bios in particular, they should be inviting. They should be engaging. People want to see what you are like and sometimes it’s a way to let people know, prospective clients know what it’s like to work with you before they talk with you.
So being able to convey what it is you do, the types of clients that you work with, how you help them, so maybe even succinct statements of representative cases, representative matters, sanitize them if you need to maintain confidentiality, but make it so that somebody can really get a feel for who you are as an attorney and that they are more comfortable in picking up the phone and calling you or referring you.
A lot of times attorneys will make referrals and want to go to your LinkedIn profile first to make sure that everything is in order. So it’s really helpful for all your connections.
I think another thing to really pay attention to is social media. And I am not necessarily a social media evangelist. I don’t think everybody has to be on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, and I am even working with clients now on Instagram. As I did say, LinkedIn is non-negotiable; I think you have to be on it, in terms of a profile.
But I think you have to understand it and understanding social media from the perspective of your prospective client. If you have a consumer-oriented practice, you are going to have to consider Facebook a little more seriously, because so many people are using Facebook as a search engine now. They are looking for businesses and people and resources on Facebook. And so if it makes sense that that’s where people would look for you as an attorney, you need to consider it.
Also, I want to make sure when I say social media, I am also talking about blogs, because blogging is a way for you to not only promote your brand, but people can comment on your blogs and it’s also an anchor. A blog post is something that you can share on social media. You can take that thing that you wrote and then leverage it across different social networks to get the biggest bang for your buck.
So I think, as I say, understanding social media, not only the benefits, but also the potential pitfalls. We certainly have to worry about legal ethics, giving the appearance of having created an attorney-client relationship on social media when we don’t need to. I think a lot of attorneys are gun-shy about social media for that reason, and while they should be concerned, I don’t think it’s something that would completely deter any attorney from considering leveraging that channel.
Tish Vincent: A question I have heard from people as I go around other attorneys, I have heard people discussing and wondering if they should spend any of their marketing budget on things like television commercials. As you are talking about social media, I keep thinking of that question being asked and wonder what your thoughts are about that kind of outreach.
John Reed: Sure. Television is very expensive and it’s very competitive. I think one of the advantages that cable television has over the air regular broadcast television is how surgical it can be. You can define a geographic audience down to a particular city and you can also choose particular stations.
So if you are trying to reach a particular audience, Comcast is very helpful in figuring out what the demographics are for the viewership of those channels and putting something together. So it used to be when there were just three basic channels in town, you were either on TV or you were off TV and now with the opportunities that digital television offers, it’s pretty interesting.
But it’s expensive. It’s certainly more expensive than other things, and I think one of the most exciting areas for advertising right now is paid social media. Facebook in particular can be extremely cost-effective, extremely surgical when you are trying to identify your audience, and viral.
So you can post something that appears on the feeds of your target audience on Facebook and if somebody likes it and comments and shares it, it goes out to all their followers, so you go beyond what your intended reach was, sometimes with really powerful results.
And I think what’s also great about that is you have some different options. You can take a blog post, for example, so something that’s informational and you can boost that as a form of paid social media advertising, or you can create an ad that directs people back to your website or a landing page. But I think, as I say, the cost-effectiveness, it’s a pay-per-click model, you can set your daily budgets, you can say your overall budget, and you can tweak things on the fly and do different testing to make sure you are getting the best opportunity.
Tish Vincent: Interesting. Very interesting.
JoAnn Hathaway: So John, question for you on targeting your market activities, how important is it, for instance, to target based upon the age of your clients and your practice areas?
For instance, I would think if someone is, for instance, dabbling and practicing in several different areas of law, it would be harder to target those, because there might be so many different types of entities and individuals that they are trying to push their information out to. Can you address that?
John Reed: Targeting by client is critical. Gone are the days when build your practice and they will come. And I think lawyers are getting better at switching hats, taking off their lawyer hats and putting on their client hats and really finding where their clients and prospective clients live.
So we talked before about advertising. When I say where do they live, what organizations they belong to; civic, charitable, what publications do they read. If it’s business clients, what professional groups do they belong to, what circles do they move in, that can really help you define your marketing efforts and avoid accidental marketing or ad hoc marketing.
So age becomes important. Sometimes it’s important to target by specific gender, educational level, household income, whatever the right demographic may be. And I think that’s where you have to rely on the various media outlets to give you that information, and I think that because it’s so competitive out there for advertising, I do think the media outlets are getting better at breaking down their audiences and conveying that information to potential advertisers.
JoAnn Hathaway: Thank you. I have another question. I would like to know what must do business activities are most important. Can you speak a little bit about that?
John Reed: Absolutely. Absolutely. Everybody has contacts and some people have more contacts than others, and the more contacts you have, sometimes the more daunting it is to say well, where do I start when I am trying to develop relationships or maybe even restart some relationships? You can’t just start with A and work your way to Z.
I am going to date myself when I refer back to the Rolodex, where that was the central place we used to keep all of our contacts and our business cards. Now we could have contacts on our phones, on our computers; I know people that still maintain stacks of business cards.
So finding first a place to organize your contacts and it’s whatever works for you. So if you want to have a shoebox full of business cards, that’s fantastic, if that’s your system. If you want to use some Excel spreadsheet, that’s great. If you want to use your Outlook address book, fine. If you want to go with a more expensive CRM tool for your firm where you are housing all of those relationships and making notes, that’s fantastic. But whatever works.
I often hear the worst thing you can tell an attorney is you need to learn another piece of software. So every attorney needs to find the system that works best for them.
Frankly, I even have a client that uses sticky notes and just moves them across the wall in terms of how he moves his contacts around.
So in terms of organizing, that’s important. And when we say organize, it’s not just alphabetical, it’s also what buckets they fall in. So there are clients, there are prospective clients and targets, there are referral sources, there are business partners, maybe those are experts or other folks.
And even within the client bucket, is it a very needy, active client or is it a dormant client. And once you start organizing by these buckets, then you can start prioritizing. So what contact in the active client bucket requires a lot of handholding and who doesn’t, and depending on the urgency of that relationship or the amount of attention it needs, that’s when you can start organizing your activity.
So somebody who is a very remote connection who may be a possible business or some day, maybe they are only worthy of a twice a year email or a newsletter campaign or something like that; whereas that very, very demanding client, they need to be top of the ranks, they need to have your attention.
So, if the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, going through and organizing your contacts and prioritizing them according to urgency is a way for you on a regular basis, let’s say monthly, print out your list and say, okay, these are my clients that I need to talk to this month and these people deserve a phone call, these people I got to take out to lunch or play golf or whatever.
These people maybe I can leave them a voicemail at 7 in the morning or 8 at night, knowing that I’m not going to talk to them but at least they feel like I’ve touched them and then other people maybe I can just get away with something like a MailChimp campaign or an email after hours or something like that.
JoAnn Hathaway: So you’re very active with that. You have to keep going back to it and keep up with it, right?
John Reed: It’s true. It’s true. So, I coach attorneys on business development and one of the things that I’m particularly adamant about is I don’t coach to dollars. I don’t start an engagement with an attorney and say, we’re going to achieve a certain increase in billings or ramp up your book of business by the end of our relationship, nor do I make it necessarily a goal that they should have. Instead, the only real metrics that I coach to are activity levels.
So, I think it’s helpful for any attorney to say, what can I commit to in a given week? I can’t have 10 lunches a week, I can’t go out for drinks eight nights a week, and maybe I’ve got a family, maybe I’ve got other commitments, so what can I commit to in terms of out of the office activity?
But beyond that, what can I commit to in terms of in office activity? Can I carve out a certain number of minutes every day to have phone calls or emails or send LinkedIn invitations to folks? What is my business development activity? What’s my regimen look like on a given basis? And, that’s where the discipline comes in.
And so, once you have your contacts organized, and then you have your go-to list of activities, you can marry the two and be able to stick with that discipline and be committed to your plan.
Another thing that I think is an important business development activity is, who’s on your team and it doesn’t matter whether you have a solo practice or you’re in a firm of hundreds of attorneys, you have clients with needs beyond what you can provide.
So, if you are a general corporate attorney and you don’t do litigation, who is your go-to commercial litigator contact down the hall across the street, who is your immigration contact, labor and employment, tax, intellectual property, who is on your team?
Cross-selling these days I think is broken. When it comes to referring a client to another attorney, a lot of times it sounds like, I have this client, he has this need, give them a call, let me know how it turns out. If you are captaining your team, if you are managing that account, which I think is a better way to approach cross-selling, then that means you’re drafting the players on your team, you’re setting up the rules, it’s your relationship and they have to play by your rules.
And I think that I’ve seen some very, very healthy share of client increases when attorneys look at a client for across all their needs and think about the people they’d like to work with and have worked with that client as well. But, I think what’s also really important is, think about the needs that aren’t just legal needs that your clients may have.
So, if you are an estate planning attorney, do you know financial advisers, do you know real estate brokers, if you’re a corporate attorney, do you know the Cintas rep, because maybe it’s a retail client that you have and they have need for uniforms and lobby rugs. And the only way you’re going to know that is to ask your clients to find out what needs they have and then you can go and build your team. And you can create a great referral system that way, especially if it’s business partners who are outside the law. If you become their go-to lawyer referral, you may corner the market with that person.
And I think underlying all of this when it comes to business development is be curious. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin said ABC always be closing. I don’t think so. I think it’s always be curious, always be conversing.
If you are finding out what other people are thinking or what their needs are, you can act on those things.
Dale Carnegie said, it is far better to be interested than interesting, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
The other thing that’s really powerful is your clients look to you as an attorney to dispense sage advice and wise counsel, and if you can turn around to them and say, I could really use your help, I could really use your guidance or your advice on something, that tends to build a lot of trust and rapport, you are kind of evening the scales, you are taking your pedestal down a notch and lifting up theirs, and that is something that we all want when we’re trying to be trusted advisors to our clients.
And that curiosity, it goes so far, I mean, we talked about earlier, where your clients live? Well, you have to ask them what professional circles they move in. You have to find out what publications they read or what groups they belong to, and then you can take what’s a marketing activity, publishing, speaking, and turn it into a business development opportunity because you can say as you are trying to find that organization to join by talking to a prospect or a client, would you host me at the next meeting? Do you think it would be valuable for me? I’d like to meet some other members, and you are establishing relationships that way and even expanding your audience to.
JoAnn Hathaway: John, I know I have heard you mentioned before that sometimes following up and checking back in with clients or individuals that you are dealing with can actually be ineffective. Can you speak to that?
John F. Reed: Yeah, there’s this kind of hunt and pursue that happens in business development. An opportunity presents itself, the lawyer proposes his or her services, and then you don’t hear back. And then it becomes just checking in, I thought I’d follow up or did you get a chance to read or what are your thoughts now, and after multiple times of that it becomes annoying for the client, you are reminding them that they are not being effective. It’s nagging. I think it’s really important to look at business development as a series of conversations.
Very rarely does an attorney get their next best client in a single conversation. You build that trust and rapport over time, and if you apply that same thinking to following up instead of harping back on the same thing which is, hey, can I have a decision? Can I have a decision? Find other things to reach back with. So maybe it is, hey, I know I read about this and I’d like to get your thoughts and I am sharing this article with you or gosh, I am working on a matter for another client. I am wondering if you know anybody who does X or Y, or maybe it’s inviting somebody to go play golf or entertain a prospective client that’s not focused on getting an answer to the decision on closing the business or getting the work.
Tish Vincent: Yes. Well, we are nearing the end of our program today. We are not at the end yet and I would like to know if you have any parting thoughts, you’d like to share with our listeners to kind of wrap it all up?
John F. Reed: I think that attorneys place a lot of pressure on themselves and law firms place pressure on attorneys to close business, to get out there and build your book, and I think that that’s a pretty heavy burden. It’s a tough expectation.
Business development is a long game. As I said, it’s a series of conversations. So, sowing the seeds, reconnecting with the person you sat next to in first year contracts, making new acquaintances, building on those things, building your team, committing to your activity, it takes time and it takes discipline but it gets easier, and frankly it becomes habitual. And I think also it becomes enjoyable and fulfilling as you meet people and find out what they need and what you can do and how they can help you as well.
So, I would say, give yourself a break as an attorney when it comes to business development, understand that it’s a marathon but it can be fun, but you have to be disciplined about it.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, it looks like we have come to the end of our show. We’d like to thank our guests today, John Reed, for a wonderful program.
John, if our guests would like to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
John F. Reed: That would be great, you can find us online at www.rainbdm.com or you can give us a call, 855-790-7246, and we’ll be happy to chat with you and what you are doing to be more successful in business development and marketing.
Tish Vincent: Thank you, John. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I am JoAnn Hathaway.
Tish Vincent: And I’m Tish Vincent. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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