Afraid you're too shy to get up and do what needs to be done to market your practice? Fear not. Good marketing is more about listening than talking.
A love of networking and selling oneself seldom tops the list of reasons why attorneys get into the business. But however much they might want to spend all of their time using their legal skills and tackling challenges on behalf of clients, solo and small firm attorneys in particular need to make business development a daily activity, according to Steve Hughes, founder and president of Hit Your Stride, a St. Louis-based organizational consulting firm.
And the process of building your contact list, bringing in new clients, and expanding your professional sphere can be more enjoyable - and less mysterious - than you might think, says Hughes, who will be the plenary speaker for the ISBA's Solo and Small Firm Practice Institute session Sept. 19 in Fairview Heights, the first of five planned for the 2014-15 year (see sidebar on page 382). The session will be titled, "Rainmaking 1-2-3: Making Business Development a Natural Part of Your Everyday Life."
"[A]ttorneys [need] to make business development a natural part of their day-in and day-out work life as much as possible," Hughes says. "Recognizing that it's not something that people default to, and recognizing that it's not something that a lot of people enjoy." In his session, Hughes will weave together scientific research on the psychology of how people want to be engaged and how to persuade and change people's minds, he said, as well as including interactive exercises.
For example, he says, networking and selling need to be a daily activity, not a once-in-a-while, all-at-once rush. "Do a little bit each day and be consistent, rather than big, crazy efforts out of nowhere," he says. "Don't go crazy for a few days and then say, 'OK, I've done that for a while, now I don't have to do it again.'"
Talking about what they do is something "most attorneys do poorly," Hughes says. "I'm anti-elevator pitch unless you're trying to secure venture capital money in a venture capital setting. It's never appropriate to talk about your firm or your practice in 60 or 90 seconds."
Instead, Hughes says, attorneys should try to impress upon potential clients what solutions they bring to the table. "I do recommend a tell-me-more statement - a short, pithy statement about how you help your clients," he says. "Not what you do, but how the world is a better place" because of your influence on your region and your profession.
The power of listening
Then attorneys need to be quiet and listen, Hughes says. "There's the misnomer out there that to be a really good rainmaker and bring in a lot of business you have to be the extroverted salesman type and slap people on the back," he says. "Introverts, and 'ambiverts' - people in the middle [of the spectrum] - can be better at it [than extroverts] because one thing they do is listen. And ask the right questions and show people how smart they are by their questions."
That's to say, you have "permission - it sounds silly - to be who you would be, anyway. That's OK," Hughes says. "You don't have to become a different person in the business process."
Extroverts sometimes turn off potential clients by being just a touch too gregarious, he says. "Let me be the life of the party - nothing could be further from the truth," he says. "They need to watch it. I think of the expression used in football, 'time of possession.' In networking conversations, you want time of possession to be clearly in favor of the other person.
"That's where the extrovert has to do his work. The introvert's work is going to the event in the first place. The extrovert is happy to go to the event, but they [might overdo it] once they're there. They each have strengths and weaknesses." And each benefits by doing more networking and getting into the right groove, he adds.
Talking too much during the client intake process can turn people away - while listening and asking the right questions not only can bring in that client but also lead to referrals from those who feel like an attorney is in their corner, both professionally and emotionally, Hughes says. "Get them talking about you," he says, recalling a naturally extroverted attorney who attended one of his previous ISBA sessions, then returned six months later to thank Hughes for "revolutionizing my practice."
"I didn't know who he was," Hughes says. The attorney told him: "I used to have this mindset, when a prospect came through the door, I did a lot of DUIs, and they would briefly describe their needs. But I couldn't wait to start talking and show how smart I was. Now I ask, 'How can I help you?' Then it takes every fiber of my being to not talk and instantly want to prescribe a remedy. They open up, they talk, they often emote - they give me everything. I have a better conversation, and I have less fee resistance, and then finally more referrals. Because they feel like, 'This attorney has my back.'"
Those who find it intimidating to approach people face-to-face at events now have plenty of other networking tools at their disposal, Hughes says. "There's so much that can be done without talking to other human beings - blogging, writing, social media-wise," he says. "If you're not a people person and you don't want to talk to them, write your head off. Become known among the experts in your specific field and in your specific market."
Whatever you do to network, make sure it's purposeful, Hughes says, recalling a pithy statement he once heard someone else say that sums it up: "Attorneys need to stop practicing random acts of lunch." Instead, he says, they should have an agenda, even if it's not necessarily obvious, or set in stone. "You go out to lunch, you have to have a purpose in mind, and then at the end be able to decide, 'That was helpful,'" he says. "Otherwise, you might have had a nice meal but wasted that person's time - or wasted your own."
Ed Finkel is an Evanston-based freelance writer.
Marketing for solo and small firm attorneys requires diversification and is not a one-approach-fits-all proposition, says Stephen Fairley, CEO of the Rainmaker Institute and a speaker at last year's ISBA Solo and Small Firm Conference.
Fewer referrals. Attorneys of all types of client bases rely too much on one or two types of marketing, and they need to diversify, Fairley says. "People say, 'I get a lot of business through referrals.' Well, how's that working for you? Probably not as well as it used to be," he says, in part because the changing legal landscape over the past seven years has led attorneys to hold onto cases.
"Cases they used to not touch with a 100-foot pole, now they're taking," he says. "The family lawyer who wouldn't touch a personal injury case, now they're keeping the personal injury case. The business attorney who would never handle a litigation matter is now taking them on because they need the money. Referrals are more random and not coming as frequently."
Fairley recalls meeting an attorney at a state bar event who told him: "My practice is crumbling because the person who used to send 80 percent of my referrals stopped sending them." He says, "His business had gone from $600,000 to $60,000 [on an annual basis] in the last 120 days. When you put all your eggs in one basket, and somebody steps on that basket-it's the equivalent to a financial adviser who says, 'Invest all your money in this one stock.' You would say, 'Get out of my house.'"
Picking the right social medium. When it comes to online marketing, solos and small firms need to consider what makes the most sense in their practice areas, Fairley says. Attorneys who mainly concentrate on business-to-business practice areas need marketing that's "much more polished, much more professional, and you use different kinds of networks," he says. "You can use LinkedIn much more effectively to connect to B-to-B."
For business-to-consumer practice areas, like personal injury, medical malpractice, bankruptcy, or family law, Fairley figures that Facebook can connect them more effectively. "Many attorneys, when they have a good plan, they're getting a lot of business off Facebook and LinkedIn - but different types of business and different connections," he says.
Web presence - necessary but not sufficient. Solos and small firms need to have a website, Fairley says. "In this day and age, if you neglect the Internet you're foolish," he says. "You can't just ignore it and hope it goes away. People expect you to have an Internet presence, and it's got to be a robust one. It can't be a plain, Jane, vanilla one. What does that mean? You need to be involved in social media; you need to have something that looks professional and classy. Half of law firms have websites that look like they were created by a high school student. It's just ridiculous that they don't take more pride and professionalism. It's not that you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars."
In addition to online marketing, Fairley recommends a combination of press releases, presentations, seminars, workshops, and face-to-face networking. "I'd like to see diversification in marketing. I don't want my clients to be held captive to one or two forms of marketing," he says. "I'm not saying you have to do everything. But you need more than just word of mouth." ■
How can solo and small firm attorneys integrate rainmaking into their daily activities? Lawyer and law firm consultant Karen Kaplowitz, founder and president of The New Ellis Group, laid out a schedule in her newsletter, Monday Monday, which captures opportunities throughout the typical attorney's day to think about and execute around client development.
"Are you letting your business development goals go by the wayside this summer because you are otherwise crunched and no one is pressing you - short term - on the business development front?" she writes. "Now is a good time to commit to a minimum level of activity and to consider more ways to integrate business development into the fabric of your workday."
For example, early in the morning, perhaps you have clients who would want to meet you for a run or at your local gym, Kaplowitz says. And as you're reading the paper at breakfast, or listening to news on the radio, are you paying attention to stories about your clients and their competitors, and following up with news of potential interest?
During your morning commute, you could call a client just to say hello - not to get into serious subjects, of course, since you can't take notes, Kaplowitz writes. And if a client or prospect lives in your area, perhaps you could carpool once in a while.
Once you reach the office and are planning out your day, do you figure in time for business development on a routine basis? When you're talking to clients about existing matters, Kaplowitz writes, do you ask them about their families, check their websites for any new developments, and think about opportunities to discuss new legal business?
When you're taking a coffee break or having lunch, do you get together with a colleague in a similar area of expertise and talk about developments that affect clients? These can lead to useful learning opportunities in either direction, Kaplowitz writes. And similarly, during firm meetings, you can report on recent successes, follow up on business development initiatives, and listen for information from other lawyers that your clients might be interested to hear, as well.
Lastly, if you leave early - or if you're just tied up during the day - does your assistant have a way to reach you if there's a critical situation with a critical client? Do your clients know you have made such an arrangement?
"Instead of waiting until you have more time and less pressure, are you willing to do the planning necessary to integrate business development more routinely into the fabric of your workday?" Kaplowitz concludes. "The fish are jumpin'.…Ready to reel some in?"
FIND OUT MORE ›› EARN CLE CREDIT AT THE Solo & Small Firm Practice Institute Series
Learn more about marketing from Steve Hughes at the first all-day ISBA Solo and Small Firm Practice Institute presentation on September 19 in Fairview Heights near St. Louis. As the featured speaker, he will present "Rainmaking 1-2-3: Making Business Development a Natural Part of Your Everyday Life." Attendees will also learn which iPad and tablet apps can help the most with running a practice, how to get the most out of the software they already have, and much more. Find out about all five day-long institute programs, three of which will be in metro Chicago and two downstate, at www.isba.org/soloinstitute.