Be honest. Do you have a written marketing plan? Well, join the other 95% of lawyers who don’t – at least that is the percentage of business people that don’t have one according to Drew McLellan over at Small Business Branding. And I agree. Further, I concur with Drew that a “To Do List” doesn’t count.

His excellent post “What is your lack of planning costing you?” is short and sweet. First, he cites a number of anonymous sayings we can all agree with, which is why his point about the costs of failing to plan is right on target. Specifically:

  • “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  • “Measure twice, cut once.”
  • “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
  • “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

What I liked most was his five reasons why a lack of planning is so costly:

  1. Spend more money
  2. Reach fewer of the right people
  3. Be swayed by persuasive sales people rather than staying the course
  4. Be less efficient
  5. Grow your business more slowly, if at all

Finally, I couldn’t resist adding a couple of my favorite adages (authors unknown) when it comes to planning:

  • “When all’s said and done, a lot more is said than done.”
  • “Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.”

Lawyers are happier when they are doing the work they like for the clients they like working for. As my long time readers know, I have sung and preached that mantra many times (herehere, here, here, here, and here). Furthermore, your law firm marketing will be more efficient and cost effective, if you focus your business development efforts on narrow market niche(s) that set you apart from the competition.

But, if you are having trouble identifying the “ideal” clients for your law firm, think about this for a minute. Try using the reverse approach. By that I mean determine your ideal clients by deciding the clients you DON’T want. Some may say that is a negative approach, but what the heck if it works for you.

I can thank my friend (actually I’ve never met him, only spoke with him once or twice, but I really like his stuff, so maybe he’ll be my friend) John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing for the idea on this approach.  He explains in his post “Who don’t you want as a customer?”:

“ It’s just human nature I guess, but we seem to have a much better grasp of what we don’t want in our life than what we do. So by first categorizing things like the types of customers that you can’t serve well, the kinds of people you don’t work well with, or the size of projects that don’t fit you may be on your way to better understanding your ideal customer.”

And…

“Now, while you are at this exercise you may discover that you are currently working some of these customers you now admit you don’t want. Do what you can to move them to someone who can serve them better and begin the process of narrowing your focus only to your ideal customer profile.”

Thanks, John.

Does anyone really think that the downturn in the nation’s economy is or will not impact law firms? Of course not, we have already seen that it is having a profound effect on large firms. A few include: Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft (35 lawyers), Thacher Proffitt (“about 50 associates”), Dechert (13 associates), and Thelen (26 associates and 85 staff – I’ll bet there are a few marketers in that number). If BigLaw is impacted, certainly smaller firms are also feeling the pinch, even though they (happily) are not making the headlines their larger brethren are.

The result: cutting where cutting shouldn’t occur. In my more than two decades of experience in this business, when the belt tightens one of the first areas to feel it is the marketing budget. That’s a BAD. My point is that now is the wrong time to be cutting back. Rather, now is the time to increase marketing and business development efforts.

Bruce Marcus of The Marcus Perspective agrees. He addresses the competitive advantages that a firm could have during a recession (yeah, sorry but that’s what we are in IMHO), if a firm first recognizes that marketing is integral to the practice of law. As Bruce puts it in his article “6 Steps For Being A Tougher Competitor In A Weak Economy” that appears on RainToday.com “now is not the time to save money – it’s the time to spend money wisely.”

His six steps to being a tougher competitor in a weak economy are:

  1. Service the right market – you can’t be “all things to all clients,” so narrow your marketing focus to the firm’s more profitable emerging (not declining) markets;
  2. Target your business development efforts – rather than aiming at a broad marketplace. I’d personally recommend focusing on existing clients over prospects, but if you do target prospects at least pick individual targets;
  3. Look at your infrastructure – in order to become more productive. Your assessment should include management processes, technology, and skill sets, as well as the most effective (on an individual basis) business development techniques;
  4. Modernize your firm – by sharpening your skills, particularly as it relates to: assessing your market, planning, communicating internally (and with clients), and selling (oops, I mean developing business);
  5. Don’t market on the cheap – Bruce is right in saying that “do-it-yourself-marketing is expensive.” You can do it effectively if your lawyers have the skill sets, but “it is still not a game for amateurs.” Invest in help where you need it; and
  6. Don’t wait – do it now. Learning to compete may be your firm’s best protection, especially in today’s market and economy.

I particularly like Bruce’s concluding paragraph:

“It’s true that when times are tough, it’s easier to cut costs – including marketing costs – and to hunker down until it’s over. But that’s like drilling a hole in the bottom of a flooded boat to let the water out. For a professional firm in an economic crisis, there’s no place to hide, so learn to fight back."

It’s a good time, as we begin a new year, to consider some basics when addressing legal marketing.  I was asked this week by a freelance writer for CPAmerica International’s newsletter to respond to five questions for an article about “marketing for law firms.” Rather than present my answers in a lengthy post (which I really try to avoid – but don’t always succeed), I will present the 5 questions and answers in three posts in order to keep each short. First, I’ll take up some basic suggestions and the most common mistakes:

1.       “What concrete suggestions do you have for law firms concerning their marketing?”

  • Plan (set goals and measurable objectives for firm/practice, identify targets, and specify action items to reach those targets);
  • Budget;
  • Implement the plan, by:
  • Visiting key clients (firms will find that it is the most effectively concrete thing they can do to obtain more work),
  • Getting to know the client’s business,
  • Writing (articles, book, blog, column) and speaking to target audiences,
  • Making friends in the media,
  • Getting involved in organizations relating to target audiences, and network,
  • Seeking feedback on the firm,
  • Treating the client like a human being and partner,
  • Don’t surprise the client – about anything,
  • Returning clients calls ASAP, if not sooner,
  • Developing a personal relationship (not just a business one) with clients – or finding clients that the firm wants to develop personal relationships with,
  • Entertaining clients and referral sources,
  • Referring potential customers/clients to others,
  • Offering advice at no charge, and
  • Suggesting fixed fees, whenever possible.

2.      “What are some of the common mistakes to avoid in legal marketing?”

  • Failure to plan,
  • Failure to implement plan, and
  • Failure to get a professional to help the firm do both (since lawyers are not trained in the areas of marketing and business development – certainly not in law school).

Next: Budgeting

You are late, if you haven’t already budgeted for marketing and business development for 2008. Most large law firms start their budgeting process in early fall for the following calendar year. 

Of course, there are firms that still do not prepare a formal marketing budget at all, so anything I say here would be a waste of time for those firms. Unfortunately, for some firms, budgeting is still done on the “Gee, can I take my client to lunch today on the firm?” basis. Planning ahead, ain’t part of the program.

For the others, (those not opposed to budgeting, but possibly have been procrastinating) there is some guidance from Michelle Golden of Golden Practices that may prove helpful in deciding as the new year approaches as to “What’s in a (your) Plan?”

I not only like her simple spreadsheet, I particularly like her focus and the priority order in which she lists her budget categories (with my usual editorial comments):

  • Existing Clients – (clearly, this is the most critical area in which to budget dollars. As Michelle points out, this is the most important area to focus, but “usually, little is allocated in this area”);
  • Influential People/Referral Sources – (likewise, very important, since the vast majority of new work comes from clients and referrals);
  • New Business – (more long-term, so put less business development money in this category);
  • Marketing Infrastructure –  (the “bottomless pit” indeed, and should only be financed to the extent it supports the categories above); and
  • Research & Development – (in the sense that a firm needs to constantly assess its position in the market and that of its competitors – to be honest, I don’t see this as a high priority for many firms, so don’t get hung up here).

Take a look and see if there isn’t some helpful stuff for your budgeting process.

Thanks to Dan Hull for the lead to Michelle’s post.