It’s a word that trips off the tongue without stopping to visit the brain on the way out. We use it all the time—and then ignore it as we go about the business of marketing our practices. That word, that concept, is “competition.” When somebody wants what you’ve got, that’s “coveting.” When someone is working to get what you’ve got or want, that’s “competing.” It’s pursuing business—the prospective client—even as other lawyers are pursuing them. And it’s protecting your clients from being successfully wooed by other lawyers. It’s not performed by the mere mechanics of marketing—but by strategy.
We do all those seminars and blogs and websites and media releases—those marketing things that are supposed to help practice development. Even the strategies we devise seem to lose sight of not just the word competition, but the act of it. The mechanical steps are performed as if for their own sake alone.
But do the standard marketing mechanics really help if they merely copy what everybody else is doing? Well, yes. But only if those things are done competitively, and not just by rote because “that’s what everybody else is doing.” They become competitive when they’re done in the context of market needs, and to escape the bonds of the mundane.
How, Then, Do You Compete?
First, by understanding that your role is to serve a public—a public you must take great pains to understand in every respect. There is rarely one general public. Is the public for labor law the same as the public for maritime law? Without understanding the market for your specialty, your skills and your experience, any marketing you do is hobbled in a competitive environment.
Next, you have to think about your ability to serve each market in which you compete. In a dynamic and rapidly changing world, the nature of the prospective clientele is changing constantly. If you don’t read the trade press for your clients’ industries, if you don’t keep in constant touch with your markets and your clients’ businesses, you can’t compete. If you don’t follow industry and economic trends, you live a life of unprofitable surprises. These days, once-dominant industries can be in decline, as emerging industries become dominant. And with surprising speed.
The Tools of Competition
If you want to survive, you have to learn to compete, to do what you do better than anyone else, and to project that capability. Here is your toolset:
- Objectives. Clearly define objectives to focus on your competitive aims. Obviously, the overall objective is to generate firm growth, but to achieve it, you must compete with other firms.
- Focused marketing programs. Design a specific marketing program for each practice, and then for each target industry or common problem.
- Competitive intelligence. Learn as much as you can about who your competitors are, and how they’re competing. With the Internet, this is not difficult to do.
- Innovation. A superb competitive tool. The first to market an idea can quickly own the market.
- Industry competence. If you have specific unique experience and expertise in an industry or a practice, that expertise is a powerful competitive weapon. Build your campaign on it, if possible.
- Productivity. The more efficient your firm is in its practice, the greater your competitive strength.
- Skills. Your skills are not an abstraction, they are competitive weapons. Keep them honed, keep them relevant to the needs of the market, and be prepared to demonstrate them.
Finally, if you are not a trained or experienced marketer, you had better understand that marketing is now an integral part of any practice. Remember at all times, in everything you do, you are competing for growth and success against a growing body of lawyers who are competing against you.
Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing and author of Professional Services Marketing 3.0 (Bay Street Group, 2011), from which this article is adapted. Contact Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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