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A person could very quickly lose his mind trying out this or that marketing idea du jour. Is social media really the ultimate answer it’s chalked up to be? If you hire a public relations firm to toot your horn for you, can you avoid actually having to sell yourself … yourself? If you’ve been blogging doggedly for ages, will you reap the rewards of the blogosphere—eventually? All the other lawyers are sponsoring public radio, so maybe that’s the answer.
Well, any marketing expert worth her lengthy contact list will tell you there is no one answer. They will also tell you that the answer—a complex combination of multiple tactics—must necessarily be a unique construct for each practice. But there is a surefire, uncomplicated way of framing your marketing thinking so that you can create a plan that works—for you.
It starts with the fundamental question, “What kind of work do you want to do?”
Step one. Figure out what sort of legal work makes you happiest. Is it high net worth estate planning? Family law, particularly relationships between fathers and children? Perhaps you like complex real estate deals because of the leg up your pre-law school job gives you. Maybe it’s as an outsourced general counsel for small businesses because you’re hooked on being part of a team, or complex biofuels litigation because of the intellectual puzzle? Think long and hard about this. You don’t want to make the mistake of marketing yourself to do work you dislike. Right?
Step two. Identify the category of people likely to be interested in hiring and paying people to do that sort of work for them. Small business? It’s the owner. Fathers? Well, dads, right? Most likely divorced or divorcing ones. Biofuels? Probably in-house counsel, unless it’s a company without one. Then it’s their outside counsel or the company’s CEO. Municipality? City manager. You see where this is going?
Step three. Discover where those people get their information about which professionals can serve them in this field. Is it through connections they make at an American Medical Association conference? Speakers they hear at Chamber of Commerce luncheons? (Hint: Think small businesses.) The lawyer they hear won a big case for their competitor? A trade publication like Plumbing Standards for sanitary engineers or a website like HOWdesign.com for graphic designers? (Now there’s small business!) Yes, there are random opportunities—your kid’s soccer game, for example—but your time is best spent in a space, actual or virtual, where the folks from step two hang out.
Step four. Be there. And be visible. In a good way. In other words, there’s no point in becoming a National Allied Individual Member of the American Institute of Architecture unless you get active. That means write, speak, contribute and participate—in a positive and visible way. And you don’t always have to be demonstrating your lawyerly chops. Showing how you conduct an effective meeting and get difficult stuff done communicates a unique capability that will draw clients to you as well.
Step five. Connect with those people in a two-way fashion. Make friends. Join working groups and identify decision-makers. Write for an online publication and then ask for comments. Better yet, interview people you’d like to have as clients for your article. Get business cards. Encourage followers if one of your venues is Twitter. You know … identify the people you want to know you and get to know them.
Step six. Help these new friends and connections find solutions to their problems. Yep. The best kept sales secret is this: It’s not about telling and telling them about yourself, or convincing them you are so wonderful they can’t afford not to hire you. (Yucky concept, right?) It’s about listening and listening until you find out what’s making them itch (maybe asking a question or two to draw them out), and then helping them find the solution. You might be the best solution. Or maybe not. Maybe their problem is getting an introduction to the new mayor. You can help with that, too. Perhaps they are looking for a new school for their 12-year-old, or a contractor that specializes in sustainable design. Connect them with someone who can help them. It’s impressive when you are the source of solutions and you demonstrate that you care. And it’s wonderful when they hire you.
Okay. It may not be quite that simple. But it’s pretty darn close if you just think it through. After all, that is what they trained you to do in law school: Think. And once you’ve thought things through in this way, you will no longer need be a victim of the next ad salesman, lawyer directory marketer or today’s headline story. You’ll know what you want—and how to get at it.
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee.
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