Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com How to Build and Strengthen Your Solo/Small Firm 31 days, 31 ways TIPS TO HELP YOU BUILD YOUR BUSINESS IN A MONTH T By Anna Vitale • [email protected] his whitepaper focuses on building your business. You have as many as 31 days in a month, and we have 31 tips we hope you’ll give a whirl. The tips will encourage you: to introduce yourself properly on your Web site so you attract the right clients; to take advantage of a lull in business; to market yourself in ways that make sense for you; to acknowledge you have so much more to offer than, say, reduced rates; and, well, to confront yourself in a full-length mirror. Impressions do matter! So does substance, thankfully. We encourage you to spend time with this whitepaper. Work your way through it step by step, or treat it like a buffet and try ideas that appeal to you. Good luck, and enjoy. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. 1 2 How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm 1 Think about your firm’s name Does it say what it should? It’s tempting to think your firm’s name is a no-brainer. It isn’t. Something like “The Law Office of Smith and Doe” pushes the most important information — your name — to the back of the title, says legal management consultant John Olmstead of Olmstead & Associates in St. Louis. Instead, opt for “Smith and Doe Law Firm.” Additionally, cut the “the.” “The Smith & Doe Law Offices” thus becomes “Smith and Doe Law Offices.” You want a name that can accommodate new partners’ names, if need be, and is as straightforward and concise as possible. After you’ve nailed down a name, you may want to consider developing a tag line. “That becomes the call to walk the talk,” Olmstead says. Set one or two goals you want your tag line to convey and brainstorm from there. For example, Olmstead cites this tag line: “We listen to our clients.” That message, he says, instantly rebuts the notion of lawyers being arrogant and unfeeling. ? 2 Choose your focus Today’s the day to realize that being a jack-of-alltrades in the legal profession can have a negative effect on your marketing — and on attracting new business. If you specialize in everything, how do you direct your networking efforts, read up on industry happenings, or focus your Web site content? If the thought of choosing a practice area seems constricting rather than business-savvy, consider focusing in on the three practice areas you most enjoy and want to do the most of, Olmstead says. “That doesn’t mean you’re not going to take cases in other areas, but that you’ll then begin to write about, speak about, talk about three things,” Olmstead says. By beginning to establish expertise, you’re taking a step toward branding yourself, which ultimately results in more clients calling you. 3 Say hello on your Web site Today, take a look at your Web site. Have you properly introduced yourself? Do you explain to visitors what you and your firm are about? If not, start writing. With the right introduction, you will succeed on two fronts: weeding out individuals who aren’t right for you before spending precious face time with them; and attracting clients who are more likely to commit once you do meet. Web sites offer a popular, low-commitment avenue for interested people to explore a business and the individuals behind it. People use law firms’ Web sites just as they would those of restaurants, doctors’ offices, or other services — to help them choose one. “Most of the people who make an initial appointment with me hire me,” says Kansas City divorce attorney M. Corinne Corley of Corley Law Firm. She attributes this directly to the in-depth bio and explanation of her approach to cases on her Web site. “I have found that people tell me when they get on the Internet and read my pages that they like what they read.” When determining what information to publish, consider and address questions you typically get asked during a first-time consultation. 4 Join an online community How’s your network working? For small, specialized practices, a referral network with other similarly sized practices enhances business. So jump in. Members of forums such as the Small Firm Internet Group on The Missouri Bar’s site share advice and recommendations, post queries for specific expertise and set up real-time social events. “It’s really a community,” Corley says. In addition to being a great vehicle for meeting and conversing with other attorneys, the forum is source of business and a way to build one’s reputation. She considers herself pretty active on the forum but emphasizes you can be as involved as you like. Whether you post once a week or just check in monthly, think of an online community as a sounding board for questions you may have as you build your business and as a potential source for new work. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com 3 5 Tap into a lawyer referral service Referral services such as The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service screen potential clients and refer them to area attorneys. Besides agreeing to a free 30-minute consultation with clients that have been referred to you, there is no cost to attorneys to be part of the service. Plus, you can designate what type of cases you’d be interested in taking on. Think of it as a way to spice things up in your practice while gaining experience in an area you might be interested in. “It gives you the opportunity to take cases you may not have taken,” says Jefferson City’s Tina Crow Halcomb, chair of the Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service Committee. “You can sign up for specific cases, and they usually have really interesting fact patterns.” Since 2005, The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service has connected more than 900 clients with attorneys in areas outside of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield. If you’re in one of those cities, however, you’re not left out. Each has referral services through local bar associations. 6 Identify organizations you are passionate about Today, get real about where you invest your time away from the office. Multiple empty or lackluster commitments have a tendency of speaking for themselves. It’s important to dig deep and recognize organizations about which you can be genuinely passionate. Belonging to organizations and doing community service ideally meets two needs: your desire to serve the public and your desire to put yourself in the position to attract new business. “Just joining the organization and being one of the throngs” isn’t going to cut it, says Kansas City Bryan Cave veteran attorney Herb Kohn. “Choose what you like doing and get very involved.” 8 7 Get feedback Start laying the groundwork today for receiving regular, honest feedback from your clients. You may decide to hire a marketing company to conduct phone surveys for you, or you may come up with your own strategy. Either way, it’s important to know that feedback is critical to improving the way you interact with and serve your clients. “You’ll get more candor with an outside person,” Olmstead advises. If hiring out is not an option, however, consider swapping client calls with another attorney in your practice. Objectivity is the goal here. You want to know things such as how your fees compare, how many law firms your client currently uses, if your client has referred you to other individuals and if they would in the future. Olmstead says it also helps to score the feedback you receive on some sort of scale. Say 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. “What gets measured is what gets done,” he says. Don’t rule out the person across the table OK, so maybe you won’t sit across from anyone at a table today. Work with us here. The point: Although attorney/client relationships can be very personal, at the end of the day clients also want an attorney who achieves favorable outcomes. With that in mind, never write off the person on the other side of the transaction at hand as a potential client. Kohn has been known to receive calls from individuals who were on the other side of a transaction and been told they were impressed by how he handled the matter and wanted to hire him. By keeping your composure and executing a standout strategy, you might win over a seemingly unlikely person for future legal needs. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. 4 How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm 9 Identify the right people Sit down today and really consider what type of people might offer you potential referrals. Then have a think on who those people talk to, where they work and play, what they read. Finally, come up with a plan to put yourself in those individuals’ paths. “If I want an estate planning business, I talk with bankers, financial planners, CPAs — people who talk to people who have money to take care of,” says Dustin Cole, founder of the Longwood, Fla., legal business consulting company Attorneys Master Class. 10 Your clients’ problems are your problems Focus on your clients’ needs today. It’s important. If a client gets the sense that you’re distracted or don’t take him or her seriously, it can irreparably damage your business relationship. It’s critical to show those you’re representing that what’s happening in their lives or business takes top priority. “Treat each client as if their problems are the most important ones you are facing, because to the client they are,” says St. Louis attorney Steven Goldstein of Goldstein & Pressman. This means when you’re with a client, you don’t take phone calls, you close the door, your desk is clear, Goldstein says. And when you’re on the phone with a client, you’re not interrupted by visitors or distracted by incoming e-mails. 11 Study up on industries of your specialty areas Take some time today to learn more about your clients’ industries. What difference does it make if you understand medical jargon or technology speak? A lot — to your client. “Even if that industry doesn’t have anything unique about their legal issues, it makes them understand that you’re one of them,” says Kansas City construction attorney Susan McGreevy. So read articles in industry publications, and think about writing for those publications. Basically, start becoming an expert. The payoff will be clients who trust you and know that you’re committed to their cause. 12 Reduce price uncertainty Today, reflect on this fact: Money is tight right now for many people, and many are hesitant to pay traditional per-hour fees. If you want to get someone off the fence, consider moving to flat rates, commercial contingence or success fees on some of your services. Most businesses have to have more than a rough estimate of what legal fees will cost so they can fit them into the budget, Cole says. And attorneys who insist on per-hour billing may inadvertently tap into a potential client’s fear of being taken advantage of. People are more likely to go with an attorney who can quote them a price even if there’s a chance it would have been cheaper somewhere else, Cole says. “Certainty is a powerful closer,” he says. 13 Practice being realistic Miracle worker you are not. And nothing will sour a client faster than a promise made that you couldn’t keep. Most people — if you are honest upfront about what you believe is or isn’t attainable in a particular case —will understand if the outcome isn’t exactly what they hope, Goldstein says. The key is outlining a game plan of sorts and then following through on each step of the plan. “If you gave them a realistic assessment of their situation before you implement and agree upon a game plan, they will accept the lessthan-stellar result because you’ve been open and honest,” he says. Most understanding people will also understand that an attorney on the other side of the case is working just as hard to obtain a decision that will please his or her client. 14 Market yourself in ways you enjoy Today, think about what you like to do. Maybe you find you excel at writing articles, or you enjoy your local chamber of commerce meetings. Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s something that brings you energy and makes you feel good about spending your time on it. “You’ve got to do something that you enjoy,” McGreevy says. Attending networking events and doing community service might be well and good for some attorneys, but if you dread business luncheons or just can’t spend another hour at the local animal shelter, there’s no point in pressing on. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com 5 15 Be prompt Check in with yourself today about how prompt you are to respond to clients. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but in the legal profession promptness trumps all. Say it’s another run-of-the-mill divorce case for you; for your client, it can be the one of life’s greatest trials. Returning phone calls and e-mails within a reasonable timeframe shows clients your concern for their case and person. If you don’t have time at the moment you receive a call or an e-mail to adequately address the issue at hand, take a moment to find and establish a better time to reconnect, Goldstein says. “Give the client an estimate as to when you can respond,” he says. “Of course, meet your own self-imposed deadline, or you will be deemed unreliable.” 16 Check out the competition Study the way other lawyers market themselves and start planning to borrow some of their ideas. Look at lawyers who practice in areas beyond your specialization. Chances are a marketing technique that works in one realm of law will work in another. Forge Communications strategist Daryl Clemmens of Pittsburgh says to ask some basic questions when evaluating another firm’s marketing strategies: What seems to be working for them? Is it their logo? Do they have a comprehensive and user-friendly Web site? Are their attorneys regularly published? “Take lessons from people who are already successful,” Clemmens says. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel — or the business card, whichever the case may be. 17 Get to know your chamber Contact your chamber today to learn about networking events and decide what interests you. If you go to an event, you’re sure to meet someone who knows someone who at some point might just need an attorney. For Kansas City, St. Louis City and County and Springfield, the contact information is as follows: Greater Kansas City Chamber-Commerce (816) 221-2424 www.kcchamber.com St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association (RCGA) (314) 231-5555 www.stlrcga.org Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce (417) 862-5567 www.springfieldchamber.com Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. 6 How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm 18 Go gender neutral OK, so you’re not one of the guys. Or you’re not one of the gals, perhaps. Today, think about gender-neutral ways to expand your client base. McGreevy remembers the days when lawyers won clients by taking them golfing, fishing, or camping — all arenas in which she wasn’t quite comfortable or interested. Her success in representing members of the male-dominated construction industry came with successfully marketing herself in gender-neutral ways. “I am certain that I have never gotten a client because I am a woman,” McGreevy says, “and I am certain there are many clients who have had to get over the fact that I am a woman.” She markets herself by belonging to organizations within her practice area, such as the Construction Finance Management Association, and by writing for publications, such as Building Profits, which is published by the Construction Finance Management Association. 20 19 Take advantage of a lull What’s more depressing for a solo practitioner or a partner at a small firm than a lull in business? You can, however, make free time work for you. “If I only have 20 billable hours of work this week, how do I use the other 20 hours?” Cole urges you to ask yourself. His company consults with attorneys to streamline work habits and increase revenue. “If I don’t have billable work to do, my next priority is marketing.” It’s easy to let the billable work you have to do creep in and expand to fit a full week’s worth of hours, Cole says. If you can fight that urge and redirect your energy into productive client-gaining activities, however, you’re likely to prevent future lulls in business. Be conscious in your dress Take a good look at yourself in a full-length mirror today. Think no one notices that pasta stain on your blouse or that your trousers are just a bit too short? Well, they just might, and they probably do. How you present yourself while at the office, in trial or at marketing events counts for a lot in the message you’re sending about your capabilities. “Clothing is much more than just vanity,” says San Diego-area attorney and Puris Image & Style strategist Katy Goshtasbi. “It’s being at the optimal level of performance.” Goshtasbi says that creating an image goes beyond wearing well-fitting, clean clothes. It means taking time to consider which clients you’ll be meeting with and dressing in a way that will make them comfortable and will mesh with their impression of how an attorney should dress. A couple of tips from Goshtasbi: Harsh lines, angles and patterns say unapproachable; soft colors downplay the lawyer intimidation factor. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com 21 Carry yourself with care Today, think about what kind of impression you make and whether you can do better. Everything from your stance to the tone in your voice has the ability to make or break a first impression with a potential client. Even if a client is assigned to you from the get-go, winning him or her over can be an important first step in winning a case or gaining a recommendation from them in the future. By leaning forward, putting your elbows on the table and maintaining eye contact, you’re saying in a nonverbal way that what the person in front of you is communicating is your top priority in the moment, Goshtasbi says. Knowing when to raise or lower the tone of your voice softly communicates empathy. “It’s not just how you look,” she says. “How I perceive you as a lawyer and a person is in how you act.” 22 23 7 Pursue hot topics Spend more time today than usual reading and thinking about cases in the news. It could pay off. Oftentimes a major national case will spawn a series of smaller-scale cases in the same vein. Clemmens says to look at cases such as the Bernie Madoff scheme. In the wake of his massive investment fraud, public attention has been focused more critically on Ponzi schemes in general. “There is no reason that an issue on the level of national magnitude isn’t of issue to a local attorney,” Clemmens says. And if you can present yourself as a competent attorney on a hot-button issue and put it on top of your must-market list, you have positioned yourself to gain both media attention and clients. Know you are more than your rates Do you know what makes your practice different from your competitors’? Make time today to clarify what your practice is. This will help shape your marketing tools and help you promote a cohesive message. Marla McCutcheon, president of Synergy Media & Consulting Inc. in Irvine, Calif., says many firms believe that rates and rates alone will set them apart. “Oftentimes I hear things like, ‘We have lower rates than the big firms,’” McCutcheon says. “This is not a marketing program. Everyone in this economy is dropping rates — from the big firms to the small ones.” A better option, she says, is to focus on your actual work for inspiration. Focus on cases with which you’ve had particular success, whether you helped two big local companies write up a contract or won an exceptionally high personal injury suit. Bring attention to recent books — consumer or industry — you’ve published or contributed to. Promote a case that is within a hot news area. McCutcheon stresses the importance of getting this information to the media. 24 Plan a planning session Sit back with your calendar and take a deep breath. Today, set a date to spend a day with a large client or one with ongoing issues. It’s important to check in at least yearly with such clients to make sure you’re on the right track to helping them achieve their legal and business goals. “You’re a lawyer, but you’re also a business adviser and business partner,” says Jennifer Manton, of New York, president of the Legal Marketing Association. “Through the information you’re gaining you can help them achieve their goals or overcome challenges.” At your meeting, make sure to ask them about current challenges, future business dealings and what’s worked in the past 12 months. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. 8 How to build and strengthen your solo/small firm 25 Gain credibility through the media Granted, this isn’t something you can do in a day. But you can devote some energy today toward devising a plan to increase your visibility. Whether it’s being quoted for a larger article or writing an article on a specific topic, gaining a positive media presence achieves two goals, Clemmens says. First, it gives you credibility. Say your name is not part of your firm’s name. Being quoted in an article with your firm’s name in the local business journal or bar association publication attaches you in the reader’s eye to the larger organization. Second, it presents you with a piece of marketing material you can post on your Web site, send out in mailers or hang in your office. Getting the article to a larger audience is key, Clemmens says. “You need to do more than just have the article there,” she says. “You need to repurpose it.” 26 Be smart about direct mail Ask yourself if you could benefit from launching a direct mail campaign. While advertising remains a controversial topic in the legal world, attorney Nader Anise, president of Nader Anise Lawyer Marketing in Boca Raton, Fla., swears by highly targeted direct mail. “Direct mail is hands down the best marketing method because it is the most targeted, one-on-one marketing avenue you will ever get,” Anise says. Direct mail works best for bankruptcy, personal injury and criminal defense lawyers — those with access to lists provided by the courts, he says. The trick is in not sounding like a lawyer and in throwing the whole “less is more” mentality out the window. Instead, keep it conversational and give details about exactly what you can do for the person to whom it’s directed. 27 Think broadly Most attorneys want to know exactly how they need to put themselves out there in order to get a certain result (like more business). But gaining referrals often requires less linear thinking, says Heinz Marketing principal Matt Heinz of Kirkland, Wash. “If you’re a lawyer and you think about the areas of opportunities and areas of expertise you offer, think about the broader context of what you represent,” he says. For example, say you’re a family law attorney who wants to begin compiling a monthly or bimonthly newsletter to send to past clients. Instead of focusing on trends in family law or recent case highlights, consider writing more broadly about families in general, varying life stages or seasonal family events. “It’s most important to stay in front of them [your clients],” Heinz says. “What you send them has to be relevant, but it may not be directly what you do.” Infuse your correspondence with value outside of what’s going on at your practice, and it will build trust and familiarity while avoiding becoming spam or junk mail. Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent. 28 Missouri Lawyers Weekly | SUBSCRIBE AT www.molawyersmedia.com If you can’t, know who can Today, treat other attorneys the way you’d like to be treated. If you want referrals, you must learn how to give referrals. Brush up on who’s a pro at particular cases both inside and outside of your office. Being able to make a smart recommendation can speak volumes about your self-awareness. “We don’t know all things,” Manton says. “You need to know what partner to go down the hall to and have a conversation with.” If you’re the type of attorney who’s known for giving good recommendations, chances are others will want to be in touch with you and feel inclined to return the favor. 29 Make a no-risk offer Today, compose an offer. It could be a free 15-minute phone call or free answers to basic questions by e-mail. Such offers can go a long way in gaining new clientele. And not necessarily because the client commits then and there. “If someone doesn’t know you, taking the leap from unknown to buying is often too high,” Heinz says. By providing no-risk ways to get to know you better, you’re helping bridge that gap by building familiarity with a potential client or referral. 30 9 Start your own networking group It’s a common occurrence: You show up to an industry networking function only to find that everyone is looking for the exact same opportunities as you. Well, today you can take the lead and start building your very own networking group. “Come up with a name for the group and look to recruit one professional in each specialty,” Anise says. “It could be other attorneys in fields he doesn’t practice in. So let’s say he’s a divorce lawyer: Pick up one business attorney, one bankruptcy attorney, one CPA, one financial planner, one printer, one florist, any number of different noncompeting businesses.” Being the organizer of the group, Anise says, offers you exposure and ensures your interaction with every member. 31 Practice patience Today’s the day to ponder this virtue. As you grow your business, keep in mind that building relationships with clients often takes longer than you might expect. And because not every potential client needs your services at any given time, it’s often hard to tell when or how the investments you’ve made will pay off, says Kansas City Bryan Cave attorney Kohn. Trust that they will, and be patient. Seasoned attorneys will tell you that individuals sometimes call long after meeting them because of the good impression they’d made. While you may not remember the particular conversation, potential clients will if you seemed trustworthy and competent. Kohn says his favorite client gains are just this type, when someone calls him years down the road and says: “You talked to me several years ago about something. I realized that’s what I needed and that’s why I’m calling you.” MO Copyright 2010, Missouri Lawyers Media, Inc. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce without publisher’s written consent.
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