Marketing meetings are important. But sometimes they’re just an excuse for inaction. Talk is cheap. Buy-in and action are key. I have attended many a marketing meeting over the years, and unfortunately, many have resulted in inaction.

My friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Communications wrote 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals. Their daily meditations have provided inspiration for many of my blog posts over the years including this week.

March 29: “Discussions are not actions.”

March 30: “Each great idea requires equivalent energy and action. Meetings and discussions aren’t work. They’re preludes to work.”

What I have found is that marketing meetings like many meetings lead to ideas that are never enacted. Don’t have your practice group marketing sessions lead to the same result. You’re just wasting valuable time.

Marketing planning I’ve found in my 31 years in the business is the easy part for lawyers. Implementation is not. Too often it is where the plan falls apart. In coaching, I refer to myself as the CNO (although I retired from the Navy reserve) it has nothing to do with that title. Rather it stands for “chief nagging officer.” It is that role that I am most thanked for.

So, remember that discussions, meetings and planning are only the start. The key is taking ACTION.

In my 30 years in this business, I have found that lawyers are pretty good at planning marketing activities. With guidance, even in the early days, some were enthusiastic about putting a plan together. Maybe it was the challenge, possibly, as time went on, more attorneys recognize the need for developing business, as they realize the marketplace becoming more competitive.

But over the years, I found that even with a simple, straightforward marketing plan, the biggest problem was the failure to implement the plan. Often the excuses range from not having enough time or being overloaded with legal work, or simply procrastination.

Sally Schmidt offered 9 tips relating to marketing organization and discipline last week on Attorney at Work. In a nutshell her tips include:

  • Prepare a list of contacts and prioritize the frequency of contact. Set up Google alerts or case filing notifications to help with reasons for contacting them. (Personally I prefer a quarterly contact list using an Excel spreadsheet containing the names of former clients/potential referral sources, and how and when each will be contacted on a quarterly basis. Comments can be added to the spreadsheet to capture the results of each contact);
  • Develop a marketing and business development plan for the year that includes specific, measurable goals and objectives to raise your profile, and persons you will contact, preferably in person, and for what purpose;
  • Schedule your business development activity like any appointment using whatever technology tools are at your disposal, which should help you set aside a specific amount of time each week for implementing your plan;
  • Break your activities into manageable segments (one time management tool I learned years ago was to limit the segments to 15-20 minutes) which will help keep from being overwhelmed or from procrastinating. The shorter periods will also remove guilt for not working on a file during that period; and
  • Don’t overlook the resources available in your firm to help with your marketing and business development efforts.

When I begin a one-on-one coaching assignment with lawyers, I mention that my responsibilities include being their CNO (Chief Nagging Officer) during our calls and by email. Several clients have said they find that of great value in getting them to actually implement the plan.  So, start nagging yourself today!

Okay, we’re two months into the new year. Do you think it’s too late to do a marketing plan for 2015?  Wrong answer.  It is never too late to plan. To paraphrase the Cheshire cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re going (i.e. no plan), any road will take you there. Unfortunately, it may “take you” to a failed law practice.

Your plan doesn’t have to be lengthy (a page or two is a good start), complicated or difficult to implement. It can be a simple plan. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be specific, challenging, have deadlines, and provide for accountability, as Paula Black suggests in an article on her website. Her straight forward suggestions are:

  • Set specific goals. They must be measurable.  Wanting ‘’more clients” is too vague. Specify X number of new clients to gain or revenue dollars you want to obtain;
  • Leave your comfort zone (at least a little). There should be enough of a challenge to improve your business development activities.  Same ole, same ole won’t do it;
  • Set deadlines. Otherwise it will only lead to procrastination.  For instance, plan to have lunch with two clients and three referral sources (by name) by March 31; and
  • Be accountable to someone. Empower a colleague to ask you about your activities and whether you are following your plan.  It could be a close friend, another lawyer, or a coach (internal or external).

The important point is to prepare a plan.  It is NOT too late for 2015. It doesn’t have to be a big undertaking.  A simple one will be a good start.

P.S.  CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Legal Marketing Blog, I have decided to ask my readers for suggestions on marketing and business development tips that they would like me to cover. So, SUGGEST AWAY!

 

Read a post on the Cordell Parvin Blog about the reasons your client development efforts may not be working. I’ve heard lawyers complain over the years how they are doing “stuff,”, but nothing seems to happen.

I’ll put a different twist on Parvin’s post by suggesting ten tips (using his thoughts) you can use to improve your business development efforts:

  1. Do more than good work. Clients may not fully appreciate what the value of your work product is (most didn’t go to law school afterall).  So, you need to let clients and potential clients know about you and your firm, and what you could do for them;
  2. Prepare a plan. You need to prepare your very own personal, focused business development plan;
  3. Implement the plan.  Maybe it isn’t fair you have to both sell and produce the work product. Well, that’s life in the personal services business. Keep the pipeline fed, using the tools at your disposal or the work eventually will not be there (ask many partners let go by law firms).  Look at Kane’s Top Ten Markting Tips for some ideas in getting started;
  4. Educate clients vs. selling them. Nobody likes to be sold anyway.  Personally, I sell myself, after being educated about the product or service, and why I should be interested in it. So, educate clients and prospects about the reasons and benefits of hiring you;
  5. You need to be very focused.  That is the reason for having a thoughtout plan you will implement.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take work that comes over the transom, or change it.  But, don’t lose sight of the plan.  You can change it as long as part of a thoughtful refocusing process;
  6. Be client-centric vs. self centered. That begins with understanding the client’s business, industry, and goals of the organization/client contacts. Clients have told me how frustrating it is to have to educate lawyers all the time about their business, and the context within which the legal issues come into play;
  7. You need to raise your profile.  Work on being more visible to your target audience through writing, speaking, and networking with trade groups, associations, or community organizations where your desired clients hang out;
  8. Leave your comfort zone.  It’s easier to eat lunch at your desk rather than to implement your plan, particularly when you have billing pressures.  But avoid taking the comfortable out.  You need to stretch yourself and not forget the importance of the other half of your job;
  9. Be a team player. Within your firm and with client contacts with whom you deal, look at your job as a joint team effort; and
  10. Provide extraordinary service.  Go above and beyond just good work.  That is the minimum in today’s competitive marketplace. which is vital today in the highly competitive market. Clients want more value so consider ways to give it to them.

Be positive, and look for ways that your business development efforts will work for you.  Remember, rainmakers don’t get fired.

This is the time of year to especially enjoy family and friends.  However, set aside some time over the holidays to plan some goals for your law practice in 2014. Don’t wait until January.

Sally Schmidt has an article on today’s Attorney at Work that outlines some 2014 goals and strategies that may just help you and your firm in the coming year. She talks about four areas to focus on, and I wholeheartedly endorse her marketing and business development suggestions:

  • Increase your personal interaction. This is vital to any practice. Visit clients (off the clock) particularly your key or “crown jewel” clients. I wouldn’t limit the number of visits, however.  Rather, I would visit as many as possible, since such visits often lead to immediate new work.  Nor would I limit my visits to clients only.  Include important referral sources as well.  Further, I would plan to have coffee or lunch with at least one client and/or referral source every week.  I very much like Schmidt’s suggestion to “send at least one personal note a week,” but make sure it is handwritten, including the envelope.  Finally, email interactions (other than for communicating about a client matter, especially if it is a client’s preference) should be a last choice.  Better to communicate by phone or in-person;
  • Provide better client service.  In today’s competitive environment, this is a no brainer. Not only does it lead to more work from happy clients, but valuable referrals to new clients. Unhappy clients do not come back or make referrals; in fact, they’re more likely to say bad things about your services and their experience with your firm.  Better service means keeping clients informed about their matter and returning calls almost immediately, if not sooner.  If you can’t do so, empower someone else to call the client back and inform them of when you will personally be in touch;
  • Look for opportunities to raise your profile. This might include more writing and speaking, and responding to blog posts and social media discussions, particularly on LinkedIn; and
  • Work on your credentials.  Polish your elevator speech(es) – short, succinct explanation(s) of what you do to “help” clients achieve their goals. It shouldn’t begin with “I’m a lawyer….” but rather that you “try to resolve (fill in the blank) problems on behalf of (types of clients/businesses/industries)”; and revise your bio to include up-to-date information about your experience on transactional matters or cases (without identifying clients names without their permission).

Be prepared for the new year. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as say: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

It always amazed me when I was in-house in the 90’s and 2000’s that most firms did not involve marketing when engaged in discussions relating to mergers and/or hiring laterals. It seemed to most marketers I knew that it was only logical to at least be involved in the interview process of key players. The purpose being to help the firm assess the marketing capabilities/likelihood involving those who would be joining the firm. As many of my longtime colleagues know, the firm often did not take full advantage of the marketing capabilities that existed within their own staff. But that’s a story for another day.

I expect that many firms do so today, but I’m not aware of any statistical data that would confirm that. This general topic came to me as I was reading tomorrow’s meditation from my old standby 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons for Marketing & Communications Professionals (free download) bymy old friend Larry Smith and Richard Levick with Levick Strategic Communications.

The meditation for August 3 states:

“Bring new partners and groups into your marketing plans. Not only will marketing support their business development plans, it will be one more way to fully integrate them.”

That presumes of course that the firm has marketing plans, and the new attorneys buy into those plans. I can assure you there is no guarantee of that. All the more reason to involve your marketers in the process of acquiring other firms, lawyers or groups of lawyers.

Although there is a tendency to jump right into it new matter as soon as the client gives the go-ahead, that is the wrong thing to do. Not only from the standpoint of adequately serving the client and meeting client expectations, but it could end up being a financial disaster for the law firm (Read: client imposed discount/lower realization rate).

Patrick Lamb had a post on Legal Rebels this month that talks about a two-day program at which in-house and outside counsel addressed what each interprets their job to be in a legal relationship.  He then provides a number of bullets on what “some of the notes on the ideal future state from the inside counsel group” viewpoint included.

It struck me that the highlights of the two-day program covered by Lamb in his post were really all about project management. My colleague Jim Hassett, founder and president of LegalBizDev, has written the definitive book (3rd edition will be out next month) on the eight key issues that comprise legal project management.

So, what does the future look like?  Some of the points mentioned by Lamb are in quotes (with Hassett’s relevant key issues in parentheses):

  • “Detailed, succinct quality communications” (7. Manage client communication and expectations);
  • “Never having to review a bill/agreed fee and terms” (1. Set objectives and define scope, 4. Plan and manage the budget);
  • “Managing to a number” (3. Assign tasks and manage the team, 4. Plan and manage the budget));
  • “Both sides have skin in the game” (5. Assess risks [to client and firm] to budget and schedule);
  • “Outside lawyers understand what risks client is willing to except” (5. Assess risks to budget and schedule);
  • “Syncing legal approach with business perspective” (1. Set objectives and define scope).

The inside and outside counsel discussion mentioned by Lamb emphasized the importance of better planning, budgeting, execution and communications in their relationship. Legal project management clearly can do just that to improve the attorney-client relationship.

Food for thought.

Recently, I receive an RFP to provide marketing services to a large regional firm with a deadline of today.  I declined.  The request included strategic planning, advertising plan, pitch training, part-time consulting, and more.  Nothing sought in the RFP I had not done in some fashion in my 27-plus years as a legal marketer.  It was a large project that was going to be very expensive.  A consultant’s dream.  Nevertheless, I decided not to bid as I thought in the end the client law firm would not be happy.

I extended the courtesy of telling the managing partner of the firm why I declined.  A combination of too general an approach, and the amount of time it would consume to the detriment of other clients.  Mainly, I saw a lot of planning effort but not a lot of focus on individual lawyer efforts.  The one thing I have learned in my quarter century in legal marketing is that lawyers are pretty good at planning, but when it comes to implementation, not so much.  There is a lot of money in planning.  I once saw a national consulting firm rip off hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning efforts that wouldn’t likely (and didn’t) go very far.  All C-level staff was opposed to the effort, but attorney management was in favor.

So, how can marketing and business development work? By ensuring that the individual lawyers plan and implement individual action plans – whether part of a larger group or firm plan.  It could happen with the firm in question, but the RFP didn’t point in that direction.  But, it isn’t just individual plans that are needed but a structure that actually ensures the plans are implemented.  Honestly, the only way I see that happening is for the lawyers to have an internal or external coach (aka nag and motivator) to assist with and ensure the each lawyer implements his/her plan. And further, there needs to be assurances that regular coaching progress reports are submitted to management so it can see and evaluate the success of the firm’s overall business development efforts.

It seems like a really nice firm.  I merely think they are trying to do too much all at once, which can result in wasting time and money.

I’m reminded during this busy time of the year how important it is for lawyers and firms to start organizing their marketing planning for next year. The same theme is covered by Trey Ryder in an article in his current newsletter.

Then I realized that both of us covered the same topic over 15 months ago when I reference his advice in a post at that time. After rereading my post, I decided that an encore was in order so here it is:

September 4, 2008 
Too Busy For Marketing? Or Just Unfocused?

Often one hears from lawyers “I’m just to busy to be marketing.” Maybe they are just focusing on the wrong stuff? Reasons might include they’re too busy with:

  • Administrative tasks best left to others, or
  • Working on files they wish they didn’t have, or
  • Representing clients they don’t like working for.

Marketing is not only healthy for one’s law practice (as in keeping the family fed), but can also lead to doing the kind of work one enjoys doing for clients the lawyer enjoys working for. Granted it takes focus, planning and perseverance to ensure that business development efforts get the results that will bring enjoyment to one’s legal practice.

My friend Trey Ryder has a great article in his current newsletter (sign up for free) that endorses the points raised above. He states:

“When I ask busy lawyers what they’re busy doing, they often grumble about handling cases they don’t want, dealing with the hassles of running an office, and so on."

Trey goes on to tell the story about a client, who almost hired him a couple of years earlier. When he asked why he was hiring him now, the lawyer said that he never got a marketing program going and "is no further ahead than he was then."

I have the same questions that Trey asked in his article:

  • "Are you bringing in the cases you want?
  • "Are you spending time in ways you find enjoyable?
  • "Are you investing your time in the most profitable ways?
  • "Are you delegating or referring out cases you don’t want?"

Most lawyers have the best intentions when it comes to undertaking a marketing and business development program. But many lawyers are too busy doing things that keep them from undertaking those activities that will produce desirable results.

So, don’t let two years pass before you realize that although you’re busy, you may be too "busy" on the wrong stuff.

———
Making a New Year’s resolution to work harder at getting more focused and organized will definitely help your marketing and business development efforts in 2010.

It is very tempting to take whatever legal business comes over the transom in a down economy. Heck, if the firm’s normal business is slow, some lawyers might be tempted to take whatever work comes along. Wrong!

It is the worst time to start diluting your brand. Better to crank up the marketing to get more visibility in the industry or practice area you are known for. Otherwise, it will take longer and cost more to restore your niche when things start turning around.

Sara Holtz agrees in her post “Don’t be tempted to abandon your niche” on her Women Rainmakers bLAWg. According to Sara, if you broaden your marketing efforts because times are tough, it will hurt you in several ways:

  • Diffuses your message
  • Spreads your resources thinner, and
  • Just creates more competition in the broader marketplace.

It is smarter to stick with your niche strategy, rather than diluting it just because the economy is down.