When solo and small firm lawyers ask how they can gin up their business development, I start by asking them where they already get their business.
That answer is almost always “referrals.” It could be referrals from other lawyers and professional colleagues, clients and former clients, or any number of sources. So then I ask, “What are you doing to stay on your referral network’s radar?”
Those answers can run the gamut and include holiday cards, social media and personal networking at bar association and professional events, among other methods. All those are great and I encourage them to keep it up. But holiday cards are typically an annual affair, social media can become overwhelming, and personal networking — though undoubtedly effective — can be exceedingly time-consuming, expensive and calorie-laden.
One answer lawyers almost never give? Email.
Of course, we all spend our day on email, but those are almost uniformly transactional emails, to and from clients and colleagues, getting things done. And we’re all accustomed to getting marketing emails from potential vendors, news sources, and online stores we bought something from in 2013. So why send another one to your network’s already bulging inboxes?
Simple: Email remains one of the most cost- and time-effective ways to make regular, nonintrusive contact with people you may not see all the time but who you want to remember you the next time someone asks them, “Do you know a bankruptcy lawyer?”
Benefits of Email Marketing
According to one digital marketing guru, every $1 spent on email marketing returns $40 in revenue. Admittedly, those stats likely came from retail companies with easier-to-track ROI, but given how inexpensive email is and how profitable even a single referral can be, lawyers can see a significant upside by investing in email marketing, especially when it targets your referral network.
According to Greentarget, a public relations firm that conducts an annual survey on the state of digital marketing in the legal profession, in-house counsel and C-suite executives consider email newsletters to be their third and fourth (respectively) most preferred way to receive content from law firms — above video, podcasts, website content and research reports. The firm didn’t survey referral sources, such as other lawyers, on their preferred way to receive such content, but it stands to reason that a well-designed, informative email is a solid way to get in front of your desired audience.
Email service providers offer many inexpensive (even free) ways to create great-looking, branded emails. MailChimp offers a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers, and Campaign Monitor’s plans start at $9 per month. Those are just two providers (and the ones we use most frequently); there are many others. Just do a search for “email service providers” and you should easily find one that works for you, aesthetically and financially.
Compare that cost with rigorous website optimization, pay-per-click campaigns, print advertising, digital advertising and event sponsorship — any one of which can cost several to tens of thousands of dollars a month. It’s easy to see that email is a marketing bargain.
Particularly if you have some news to share — you received professional recognition, your boutique firm added a new lawyer, you’re speaking at a conference, or even if you just changed firms – a regular email “touch” accomplishes two things:
- It reminds your network that you’re still out there, doing great work and, oh, by the way, here’s the kind of work I do.
- It directs them to your website (or your website bio), where they can learn even more about what you’ve been up to.
Don’t People Just Ignore Their Inbox?
Of course. Nobody opens every email. But a well-crafted email can expect a 25% to 30% open rate. Among those who open the email, on average, another 5% to 10% will click on one of the items in it.
If you’re emailing 100 people (most people’s lists are much larger), that’s 25 to 30 people who took the time to at least glance at your email, and another handful who clicked through to read more about the conference you’re speaking at or the “best lawyer” honor you received.
Those are now people who have been reminded of your expertise, that you’re recognized by your peers as a thought leader, or just know how to contact you now that you’ve moved firms. And even those people who didn’t open it will at least have seen your email in your inbox and been reminded of your existence. When staying top-of-mind is the name of the game, reminding people who you are and what you do is a win.
Tips to Boost Your List-Based Email Marketing
To give your email a better chance of getting opened and read, here are a few tactics solo and small firms have used effectively:
Go easy on the text. Nobody wants to read a 1,000-word email, so keep your text to a minimum. If you’re sharing a blog post, don’t publish the whole thing in your email. Just publish a short summary and link to your blog for the rest.
Be choosy when creating your referral network email list. Nobody who receives an email from you should wonder who the heck you are. Limit it to people who actually know you and would be happy to hear from you. If you’re not sure whether to include them but you think they might be interested in what you have to share, consider sending them a personal email with a link to your subscription form. (Your email service provider can generate it for you in a few clicks.)
Don’t flood their inboxes, but do be consistent. Create a publication schedule and stick to it. Many lawyers seem to prefer a quarterly schedule, but your readers probably aren’t paying close attention to how often they get something from you, so I recommend a monthly schedule if you can sustain it.
Include a subscription link in your email. Obviously, the people who receive your emails don’t need to subscribe to it, but if your subscribers forward the email to a friend, you’ll want that friend to be able to subscribe. I’m always surprised when it happens, but our clients regularly get new subscribers that way. And those subscribers are pure gold. (Ed. note: It’s always a good idea to get people to subscribe or opt in to your list to avoid being marked as spam; most, if not all, email service providers require it.)
Work as hard on your subject line and preview text as you do your email content. The very first thing you see in your inbox is the subject line and preview text, so make it count. It shouldn’t say “Our spring newsletter” or “News from our firm.” It should make people want to open your email, so give them a glimpse of the news inside.
For a deeper dive into email marketing, see:
- “Secrets of Online Legal Marketing: The Basics” by Andrew Cabasso
- “Five Ways Email Marketing for Lawyers Truly Works” by Karin Conroy
- “Five Steps to Starting an Email Newsletter for Your Firm” by Laura Ernde