Building Relationships

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

What do you think the No. 1 factor is in determining whether or not a customer returns to a restaurant? Most people might say the food. If the food’s great, they’ll be back. But that’s not usually the case.

Service tends to be the leading factor. After all, poor service will drive customers away even if the food is good. And great service will keep them coming back.

This principle applies to your law firm as well. The quality of the service you provide is more important than anything else when it comes to client and customer retention.

So, here are several key strategies to keep your clients happy.

1. Deliver on commitments.

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. If you simply deliver on the commitments you make, you’re going to separate yourself from most businesses out there.

The fact that most people won’t do what they say they are going to do may be depressing, but it represents an opportunity for your law firm. Take deadlines, your communication and your commitments seriously. Do this consistently, and you’ll build a reputation for dependability and reliability. Many clients will remain loyal to you for that reason alone.

This should become a core value for you and for your team. Don’t continue to employ people who can’t or won’t grasp this concept.

2. Create solutions.

It’s very likely clients will ask you for help in areas that are beyond your scope of services. In my internet marketing business, for instance, clients often ask us for help with printed marketing materials, which is something we don’t specialize in.

Rather than just telling them we can’t help, we’ve invested a lot of time into creating a long list of recommended vendors and service providers that can assist our clients. As a result, our clients know they can come to us for solutions. If we’re not the solution, we will point them in the right direction. This is something people legitimately value, and it’s not difficult to do.

This extends beyond vendors and service providers — it includes problem-solving as well. If a client has a problem, whether or not it’s your fault or even related to you, make an effort to help them solve it. If you’re not able to solve the problem, at least point them toward another solution.

3. Be honest.

Prioritize long-term relationships over short-term revenue. Be honest with your clients. Don’t sell them something they don’t need. And don’t up-sell them if the higher-priced package or product doesn’t make sense for them. This approach might take money out of your pocket in the short-term, but it builds goodwill, loyalty and lasting relationships.

For example, I don’t know anything about cars. I can change a flat tire, but that’s about it. So, I depend on a mechanic to help me take good care of my cars. Unfortunately, I’ve had bad experiences — incidents where I knew for a fact that I was overcharged or sold something that wasn’t necessary.

Several years ago, I was finally able to find a mechanic who I trust — a guy who has, on more than one occasion, passed up easy opportunities to sell me services I don’t need. Unless something changes, he’ll be my go-to mechanic for years to come, and the revenue that I’ll continue to bring him will easily offset any short-term gains he missed out on.

Build a reputation for honesty, and do right by your clients. This creates loyalty and long-lasting relationships.

4. Accept responsibility and make things right.

Sooner or later, you’re going to mess up. You’ll make a mistake, you’ll give bad advice or your team will provide poor service. There’s no getting around this — it happens to everyone.

While it’s obviously not something you want to happen, it does present an opportunity. Many people — and businesses — respond to a mistake by trying to wash their hands of the situation and move on as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not the customer feels good about the solution. For that reason, your response when things go wrong is a powerful way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Keep in mind that when something goes wrong, there’s not always a clear way to determine who is at fault. For example, in my business, if we design a website that a client isn’t happy with, is it really our fault? What if the client wasn’t clear about what they wanted, or didn’t communicate with us or sent us mixed signals? If you deal with subcontractors or other vendor-partnerships, they may also drop the ball at some point.

Regardless of whether or not it’s fair or even accurate, your default response needs to be accepting responsibility and creating a solution. This may include offering to coordinate efforts with other providers that are involved in the process or project. I’ve seen it time and time again — people are impressed when you accept responsibility for a mistake and find a way to create a solution. In many cases, you’ll end up with a stronger relationship than you had previously.

5. Address emotions, not just facts.

When something goes wrong and a client is upset, the first response for most of us is to jump straight into the facts and solve the problem. But in many cases, the more pressing threat to your relationship with your client is the emotional fallout, not the logistics of the issue.

Take time to acknowledge the emotions your client is experiencing. Empathize with them. Let them see that you care. Then, once you’ve addressed the emotions, work on the solution. Train your staff to do the same. The feelings your clients have about your practice are more important than anything else, so pay attention.

Creating life-long relationships with your clients is critical to building a sustainable, profitable practice, and these tips will help you make it happen.

Your marketing strategy is the key to growing your law firm. If your marketing strategy is stale (or non-existent) you’re not going to fuel the growth you’re hoping for. On the other hand, an effective marketing strategy will help you bring in new clients, generate more referrals, and even help you justify higher rates. In this report, I suggest some possible “new additions” to help you take your law firm marketing to the next level.

How can you attract the clients and the work that you legitimately enjoy – and free yourself from the economic pressure to take any matter that shows up at your door?

Here are ten ideas to get your wheels turning. Don’t try to implement all of these at once – I recommend focusing on just one or two initiatives at a time. Which ideas resonate with you and make sense for your firm?

1) Launch a podcast. Podcasting has exploded as a media source – iTunes reports over one billion subscriptions, and hundreds of millions of plays per month. Launching a podcast geared towards your target market is an effective strategy that you can use to educate potential clients, keep them engaged, and build your credibility at the same time. The key is to come up with a theme and a direction that provides genuinely valuable information to your market. As a business attorney, you could focus your podcast on legal pitfalls that entrepreneurs should be aware of. A family attorney could focus on preparing for and navigating the divorce process, including how to protect and care for the children involved. The possibilities are endless. What are the most common questions and misunderstandings that your clients have? Chances are, addressing those issues would make a great podcast.

2) Host events. Creating and hosting in-person events for potential clients and referral sources can generate momentum and enthusiasm for your practice. We’ve seen clients take this strategy in many different directions – from hosting monthly informational sessions for individuals contemplating divorce, to holding quarterly VIP parties for top referral sources, to organizing seminars featuring expert speakers on topics of interest to business owners. Get creative and find an angle to host in-person events and build a community around your law firm.

3) Sharpen your referral strategy. Referrals are a primary source of new business for most law firms, and clients who are referred to you are typically among the most pleasant and profitable to work with. Are you doing everything can to maximize these referrals? Start by identifying your top referral sources and invest time and energy into deepening those relationships. Identify other individuals who are strategically positioned to send a high volume of work your way and create relationships with them as well. The potential payoff makes it worth your personal investment in this relatively short list of individuals. But, don’t neglect your current clients, your past clients, and your larger network. Ensure that you’re creating top-of-mind awareness and continually educating them on what a good referral looks like. Consider creating referral incentives or even holding regular referral competitions to keep your entire network engaged.

4) Targeted sponsorships. Sponsorships can be a big waste of money if you take the wrong approach. Do NOT jump on every opportunity that comes your way. I’ve seen firms spend large sums of money sponsoring organizations, events, or publications that have little-to-no relevance to their target market. On the other hand, if you can identify groups, events, websites, or magazines that your clients are engaged with, sponsorship can make a great deal of sense. The best approach is generally to identify a small number of organizations or publications to sponsor, and to engage with them as deeply as possible. Sponsor their events and ask for speaking opportunities or other visibility. Sponsor newsletters and ask if you can also contribute content. Do your best to create repeated touch-points for members or subscribers – repetition and consistency is key.

5) Offer an audit or check-in to past and current clients. Oftentimes there is more work to be done for your past and even current clients. They just don’t know they need it yet, or they don’t know that you can provide the solution. Solve both problems by creating an “audit” or evaluation for your clients. This could be a worksheet they complete on their own, or it may be a sit-down with you or (even better) someone on your team. The goal is simple: ask them questions about their business, their estate plan, their family life, whatever it may be, and help them to see that they need your help in these areas. Be prepared to explain how you can help them address these challenges or take advantage of the opportunities that you have uncovered together. This simple strategy could result in a massive influx of new work.

6)  Publish a book. There’s arguably no greater tool to establish your credibility and your expertise in your area of practice than publishing a book. While it might sound overwhelming, chances are that you have a good amount of content that you have created over the years which could be re-purposed into a book. If you have a marketing person on your team, assign them to organize this content into an outline. Then, create new content as needed to fill holes and create cohesion. There are a variety of companies out there that can help you lay out and publish your book, and some of them can even help you with the content as well.

Once you’ve had your book printed, the marketing opportunities are endless. Give it away at consultations. Offer it as a gift to past clients. Use it as a door prize at events. It’s a powerful tool that will enhance your credibility and build your brand as an authority in your practice area in a very big way.

7) Network smarter. Networking is a valuable strategy for drumming up referrals and new business, particularly when you’re in the “more-time-than-money” phase of your firm. But it’s important to manage your investment well. Don’t simply attend every event in your area. Instead, identify a small handful of targeted organizations that have great potential and get heavily involved. Don’t just attend, get involved in leadership. Speak at events. You’ll get a much better return from deep involvement in a few carefully selected organizations than you will from surface-level involvement in a large number of groups.

8) Speak. Speaking positions you as an expert and an authority. It’s a great way to attract new clients. Look for opportunities to speak in front of your target market – whether that’s a networking group, a trade association, a seminar or conference, or whatever the case may be. Look for opportunities to educate your audience while building your expertise at the same time. This can include presentations on changing laws and regulations that impact your industry, tips and strategies for your market, best practices for avoiding legal disputes, and more. Just be sure that you’re targeting speaking opportunities that make strategic sense for you – opportunities to reach potential clients in a way that enhances your expertise and your position in the marketplace.

9) Launch a joint venture. Who can you partner with and what can you create to reach a new audience? I know a business lawyer that partnered with a banker and a graphic designer to create a “one stop start-up shop” for entrepreneurs – helping them to address the legal, financial, and marketing needs of their new business all in one place. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box here – who can you join forces with to provide a uniquely valuable product or service for your clients? The advantages to this approach are significant – it represents an opportunity to earn additional income from your existing clients, but more importantly it also gives you access to the clients and customers of your partners in this venture. If you’re creative, you may also tap into a whole “new market” by creating a product or service that didn’t exist previously. Many of these people will expand the relationship over time, engaging you beyond the scope of the initial joint venture.

10) Train your staff to recognize and capitalize on opportunities for new business. Finally, get the team involved. Your staff likely knows people that could use your services or will encounter them in their daily life – and they’ve seen firsthand how your firm creates value for your clients. Teach them how to recognize potential clients, how to engage them, and how to connect them with you (or whoever handles the intake process for your firm.) This doesn’t have to be a complicated process and it frankly shouldn’t be hard for your team to execute. They just need to understand who’s a good fit and be able to briefly articulate the value that your firm provides to those clients. You never know who your team knows, so tap into their network as well as your own. You can consider offering some sort of incentive for your team members, if appropriate. Make it a team effort!

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and hopefully you’ve gleaned a few ideas that could work for your firm. But it’s important to be realistic about this – don’t bite off more than you can chew. I suggest that you identify one (or two at most) new initiatives to start with. Invest the time to get them up and running and carefully track your results. When you find something that works well, make it a part of your ongoing marketing system and then move on to the next new idea.

 

Relationships are critical when it comes to business development. That’s why so many lawyers spend time networking and building relationships.

But there’s something that a lot of lawyers don’t seem to pick up on… which is that creating a great first impression isn’t enough! 

We’ve all been there – a great conversation with a potential referral source at a networking event. There’s great synergy, you really hit it off, and you leave excited by the connection that you just created.

But then… nothing happens.

Why? Because your first impression, no matter how good it is, is still just a first impression. It takes more than a first impression to create a relationship. It takes repeated interactions to reinforce that first impression and lay the foundation for a mutually-beneficial relationship.

The good news is that many of those touch-points can be systematized and scaled so that you don’t have to spend every waking hour staying in touch with your network.

The best way to make this happen is through an email newsletter that goes out once per month at minimum. It’s easy and inexpensive to get your newsletter set up. And then, it takes a few hours per month to create content, build the newsletter, and send it out. (Or you can hire a professional firm to handle this for you.) With the push of a button, you reach your entire network with a powerful reminder of who you are and what you do.

Social media is another great tool to accomplish this. Connect with everyone in your network on LinkedIn. I highly recommend a Twitter profile and a Facebook Business Page as well. Create and publish content on a daily basis, or at least a few times per week. This is another powerful and scalable channel that you can use to create repeated touch-points and create top-of-mind awareness.

Finally, it’s important that you have a website that positions you as a credible expert and thought leader within your niche. Many times, the first thing that someone does after they’ve met you is look you up online. If you don’t have a website, or if it’s not impressive, that good first impression you made loses some of its power. On the other hand, if your website makes you look good, it further reinforces their perception of you. Think of your website as your “wingman” when you’re out networking. It’s got your back, day or night, and it’s always making you look good!

A great first impression isn’t enough. It’s important to create a marketing system that keeps you top-of-mind with your network and positions you as a credible expert. That’s how you build a steady flow of referrals and repeat business for your law practice!

Want to learn more? Click here for instant access to our Special Report which offers practical tips you can apply immediately.

Smart marketing starts by focusing on your existing assets and resources. What do you already have in place that you can do a better job of leveraging?

For most lawyers, the first item on that list is their network – their relationships. Your network of current clients, past clients, colleagues, supportive family and friends, and others is a valuable asset that holds the potential for significant growth.

But when you talk to most marketing companies – especially internet marketers – you won’t hear a word about leveraging relationships. Instead the focus is on “cold” lead generation – often through SEO or Pay-Per-Click advertising.

And don’t get me wrong, there can be a time and place for that type of advertising. But it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on a new, speculative campaign when you have existing resources at your disposal that aren’t being leveraged to the fullest.

Start with the low-hanging fruit. Start by maximizing your existing network to drive referrals and repeat business. 

Referred clients are almost always superior to new clients from other sources for several reasons. So it just makes sense to focus your marketing on referrals first. Here are five reasons why this is the case:

1 – Low Cost of Acquisition. Referrals are far less expensive to generate than any other type of client. There’s often no direct cost, and even when you factor in referral-generating tools such as an email newsletter and social media marketing, the cost-per-client for referrals is typically much less than a client generated through other forms of advertising. This is true in my business, at Spotlight Branding, and if you’d like me to share some of our internal marketing data illustrating this, just shoot me an email. Daniel@SpotlightBranding.com.

2 – Instant Trust. One of the hardest tasks for every business is persuading the client or customer to take the leap of faith – pull out their wallet, sign on the dotted line, and move forward. It’s particularly difficult in the legal field because the stakes are higher and the dollar amounts are significant. Building your practice through referrals helps you to circumvent this – because when a trusted friend or colleague makes a referral to you, their trust and credibility is transferred to you. You don’t have to start from scratch because someone has already vouched for you! This shows up in higher conversion rates. I was talking to a lawyer here in Charlotte last month and he told me that his conversion rate for referrals is approximately 70% – compared to about 25% for all other sources of business.

3 – Avoid “Sticker Shock.” There’s nothing more frustrating than having a great conversation with a prospective client, feeling like you’re aligned and that there’s great chemistry, only to have them freak out when they find out how much your services are going to cost. Referred clients generally know what to expect with regard to your rates, and they typically won’t reach out to you if they can’t afford you.

4 – Mutual Respect. We’ve all dealt with nightmare clients. Clients who abuse our time and abuse our staff. Or who simply have unrealistic expectations and become frustrated when the engagement doesn’t play out the way they expected it to. A client who is referred to you is less likely to go in this direction. There’s a preexisting relationship because of the mutual relationship you have with the individual who made the referral. If you look back at it, I bet you’ll find that most of the time, referred clients are easier to work with than clients who came to you through other sources.

5 –  More Likely to Refer in the Future. Finally, clients who have been referred to you are statistically more likely to make referrals in the future, creating the possibility for an endless chain of referrals. There have been a variety of studies on this topic, but the best breakdown I’ve seen comes from this book. I highly recommend that you check it out.

I could keep going, but hopefully you see the point. Referrals are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to your law firm marketing. Focus on maximizing your referrals before you spend money on speculative marketing and advertising to the outside world.

If you want some practical ideas, click here for free access to our infographic entitled “Four Ways to Generate More Referrals.

Chances are this is how you’re networking, collecting business cards that will remain in your pocket until you wear that jacket again. Instead, you could be building relationships that really matter?

Let me ask you. Do you look at an event on your calendar and think… I would give my right arm to just go home rather than this event? I hate smiling and acting as though I’m interested in what anyone is saying. Actually I don’t even like those people. Then you snap out of it. You grab a cup of coffee that gives you a little jolt and vow… I’m going and I will be the most charming person in the room!

Tell me which YOU really shows up at that event? Chances are its someone in between. And I guarantee you that whomever you meet recognizes the insincerity, forced smile and faked interest. I’m telling you now, instead go home because the event will be a big waste of time… yours and everyone you meet.

There is a better way.

Instead go home and think about what you really want in your practice. Who is your ideal client? Where do they go? What is important to them? How could you help them? What circles would you like to be a part of? NOW… how can you act on the answers to these questions? This process is strategic and it’s the foundation to building relationships that matter.

How can you build trust with these new people? There is one question that Inc. Magazine writer John Hall asserts will be a game changer.

How can I be helpful to you?

Yes, it’s a simple question that could change the trajectory of your practice and your life. Hall points out:

  • It allows you to help others better.
  • It cuts through any potential awkwardness of a new relationship.
  • It enables you to be proactive.

Try it! You will be building relationships that matter, and that IS a game changer!

Are you having marketing meetings? Talk is cheap. Buy-in and action is key. Thinking and planning is the easy part for lawyers. Implementation is not. Too often it is where the plan falls apart. Remember that discussions, meetings, and planning are only the start. The key is taking ACTION. The big question… What actions should be taken? Here are our Top Six Marketing Tips:

No. 6 – Be Active in Organization(s)

Over the years we have heard lawyers say that they belong to several organizations, but that it’s a waste of time and doesn’t lead to additional business. However, when examined further, one finds that although they are “joiners,” they are not “doers.” Being active in organizations requires just that – activity.

If you want this form of marketing to help you develop business you must:

• Be more than a joiner –make a meaningful contribution

• Seek leadership position – volunteer often

• Join business or trade groups that your clients and prospects belong to

• Believe in the organization’s mission so you will remain interested and active

There are other marketing activities that may produce quicker results, but being active and involved in organizations that your clients and prospective clients belong to can produce meaningful results in getting new clients.

No. 5 – Write Articles of Interest

While authoring articles isn’t a new technique, writing to demonstrate your expertise is still an effective marketing tool, if it is:

• Topical and interesting (to your target audience)

• Easy to read (not legalese, unless you’re marketing to other lawyers)

• Not too lengthy (short, succinct articles are better)

• Published in a publication that your audience reads (whether general public or business/trade specific)

Obviously, the purpose is to show that you know your topic and, accordingly, are perceived as having the expertise to assist the reader with those legal issues.

No.4 –Talk it Up

Speaking engagements are some of the best marketing activities. Like writing articles, speaking adds the additional advantage of putting you in the same room with potential clients where you can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise AND develop an emotional bond with your audience. These opportunities have led to immediate work when a potential client in the audience has an immediate problem relating to the same issues raised in the speech. Moreover, if the seminar or speech is sponsored by a respected organization, you receive instant credibility.

No. 3 – Communicate Often

James C. Turner, executive director of HALT, a national legal reform advocacy group in Washington, DC points out: One of the most frequent complaints his organization gets is that…

the basic communication between lawyers and clients is terrible.”

He cites one case where a client tried 13 times in a two-week period to contact the attorney. That’s the type of situation that leads to mistrust and, ultimately, to a consumer fraud complaint.

Poor communication between attorney and client is also the most common reason clients file complaints with state bars. A failure of communication is not only unwise, it’s just dumb marketing. Even if the client may not need your services again, the client is likely to tell a number of people, who could be potential clients, about their unhappiness.

There are scores of opportunities (in addition to keeping the client informed about their matter) to contact clients, referral sources, and even prospects; and the more contacts made the better. The best way to communicate would be with phone calls, handwritten notes, next letters, emails, and lastly texts. Obviously, they are in reverse order of ease of accomplishing, but think about what impresses you the most. The important thing, however, is constant communication.

No. 2 – Entertain Your Client

Okay, we can hear all the “duhs” from here. If it is so obvious, why don’t more lawyers do it? Clients are people too. In fact, entertainment is still one of the most effective one-on-one marketing techniques. It not only allows quality time with a client, prospect, or referral source, but also allows one to enhance a relationship on a highly personal level.

Clients want to be loved and appreciated. So, building on the emotional bond between lawyer and client is very important for long-term relationships, and for what is even more effective from a business development viewpoint – a lasting friendship.

No. 1 – Visit Your Client

The single most effective marketing technique, which leads to immediate business in the vast majority of cases, is to visit your client at their place of business.

This visit is not for the purpose of discussing a current matter you may be working on (unless client wants to, of course). The client should know that they are not being billed for the visit.

Your purpose is multifaceted: relationship building, listening, learning, meeting others, and uncovering issues of concern. The main point is to get into the client’s workspace where their day-to-day problems are found, and for which you may be able to assist them.

Such visits will not only enhance your relationship, but it will almost certainly lead to IMMEDIATE work. This has been validated many times over the years. Many of the lawyers we have worked with confirm that such visits result in immediate new business. So, starting today schedule a client visit or two. You will fast become a believer.

In 2018 get into action! These six tips are not complicated or overly time consuming. Start with two, then add one or two a month. We promise you that you will be pleased with the results. We have seen it over and over again… they work!