Effective marketing allows you to create a pipeline of prospects who become aware of and interested in what you have to say and offer. For most of these prospects, the need to engage a lawyer’s services at any given point in time will not be urgent. But for some, the need will be acute. If you lavish your personalized business development efforts on these highly qualified prospects you will experience success.
The key to this process, however, is keeping the prospect-pipeline flowing through effective marketing, and the most effective and scalable form of marketing for legal services is content marketing.
Content Marketing in the Digital Age
The purpose of content marketing is to establish oneself as a thought leader. It involves creating and sharing valuable content in the marketplace of ideas. A lawyer who is a thought leader freely shares his or her expertise with a targeted audience for the purpose of educating, inspiring, and adding value in order to help those competing in the industry become more successful. Thought leaders don’t merely dabble — they fully immerse themselves in the inner-workings of industries and understand how legal issues impact business performance. They know who the decision-makers are, what they read, what is keeping them up at night, and where things are headed.
Cultivating a reputation as a thought leader through content marketing allows a lawyer to create credible, authentic relationships with prospects as they search for solutions to the challenges they face.
While many lawyers appreciate the benefits of content marketing, few harness its power to full effect. Lack of time (or at least the perception thereof) often stands in their way. As a lawyer who practiced at a big, busy firm, then founded a firm of my own, I can empathize with the feelings of being overwhelmed that prevent lawyers from consistently engaging in content creation. The challenge is real. But there are ways to systemize the content marketing process so that even the busiest of lawyers can get their ideas in front of the right audience to fuel business development efforts.
There are a number of techniques and practices that allow busy lawyers to find — and optimize — the time necessary to engage in content marketing. Here are five ways to integrate effective content marketing into your busy schedule.
Five Strategies for Effective Content Marketing
1. Apply Creative Constraints
Creative thinking is often described as “outside the box” thinking, but when it comes to content marketing, it’s important to apply some constraints. You can create content about virtually anything, but that content should narrowly focus on a niche audience.
Indeed, thought leaders who engage in content marketing understand that they can’t serve everyone — both in terms of the services they offer and content they create. Instead, experts dive deep in narrow domains. They don’t spread themselves thin and water down their message. By immersing themselves in a single industry, they’re not always trying to get up to speed on the issues — rather, they’re able to see what’s coming next, and others look to them for guidance. By focusing on a narrow niche, a lawyer can contextualize his legal advice for the industry he’s focused on. And in the noisy and cluttered marketplace of ideas, a lawyer can only stand out by communicating directly to a narrowly defined audience.
2. Record Ideas From Your Work and Your Reading
Many lawyers struggle to consistently create content because they wait until they’re sitting in front of the keyboard to determine what they’ll write about. That is a recipe for failure. Good ideas are found in the ether, not in the moment.
Generating ideas for new content should be a purposeful practice that you engage in throughout your day. Jot down ideas that come to you in the context of your work. Every interaction you have, matter you work on, podcast you listen to and article you read contains nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that can inform your content. The best content addresses the needs of your niche audience. Listen to the questions being asked in your industry. Better yet, take it upon yourself to ask your clients and prospects what they want to learn more about.
3. Block Out Time to Write
The demands on your time are great. You have information flying at you faster than you can digest it. Your to-do list keeps growing. So how the heck are you supposed to find time to consistently write thought leadership content that may or may not pay off for years to come? You probably can’t find time — after all, we all have 24, not 25, hours in the day. Instead, you need to prioritize time to write, which likely means you need to eliminate something else. Most importantly, you need to block out time on your calendar to write.
If you don’t schedule blocks for it, then writing time will always play second fiddle to other people’s priorities. Here’s a tip: Block time to write first thing in the morning, before the rest of the day inevitably gets out of control. Don’t spend the day wondering when you’re going to write and battling to “fit it in” among your daily responsibilities.
At the same time, be flexible and find gaps to fit in writing. As E.B. White put it, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
4. Create a Minimum Viable Product
It takes time to create insightful, inspiring, valuable content. It’s disheartening to write 1,500 well-reasoned words, launch it to the world, and have it go over like a lead balloon. Rather than laboring over 1,500 words, write up 1,300 characters and let it fly.
Assuming you have a niche focus to your practice (see point one, above), you should be building a niche network on LinkedIn consisting of those who work in and around your area of focus. To test your ideas, create and publish short Status Updates on LinkedIn that “market test” your ideas within the 1,300-character limit that LinkedIn enforces. If your idea resonates, as judged by the likes, shares and comments your Status Update generates, there’s a good chance it will resonate further when you build it into a longer-form piece.
In the startup world, founders are encouraged to create “minimum viable products,” or “MVPs,” to test market demand. Consider doing the same with your content ideas by leveraging the marketplace of ideas that LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks offer.
5. Publish Off-Site
Many lawyers publish most of their content marketing pieces on their firm’s website or blog. This occurs for several reasons. First, it’s easy. Second, they believe there is an SEO benefit to having more content on their own platforms (which is true but shortsighted). Third, they don’t take the time to explore the alternatives.
A better approach is to publish most content on third-party platforms. Executives, entrepreneurs and other consumers of legal services are busy. When they spend time online, they’re visiting sites they know and trust — platforms that aggregate the best of what’s available online in one place. By understanding where members of their niche audience consume their information, lawyers can seek to publish their thought leadership there.
By having their byline appear on a platform that their target audience already trusts, a lawyer can leverage the credibility that those platforms already have with their audience, thus helping the lawyer to build trust with new audience members. The content that is shared on those platforms creates a digital breadcrumb trail back to the lawyer’s own website, offering additional opportunity to deepen the level of engagement with the prospect.
The Consistency of Your Effort Will Pay Off
Becoming a thought leader is not easy. If it was, there would be more of them. But it’s certainly not impossible. By being smart and strategic about content creation and distribution, you can build influence and authority, make a bigger impact online and, consequently, develop more business. Putting in the effort is worthwhile because in the competitive world in which lawyers compete, the best form of legal marketing is positioning oneself as the undeniable expert in the marketplace of ideas.