Technology has been a great equalizer for small law firms and other professional services businesses. There are an ever-increasing array of tools to help you with your practice management, marketing and casework. In fact figuring out how to incorporate technology effectively into your practice is really an imperative in 2013. The ABA is even adopting new model rules that are “coming soon to a state near you”.
Integrating new technology into your practice needs to be balanced against the need to do client work and marketing. With technology, it is easy to go overboard reinventing yourself. So I always appreciate it when I get a good technology recommendation from someone I trust. Rather than trying everything out and getting nothing else done, I rely on my network to point me in the right direction when it comes to technology.
One of my latest additions to my technology bag of tricks is called Formstack (www.formstack.com). Formstack is a very inexpensive web-based service that enables you to create an endless variety of form documents. These are forms you can use to collect data from your clients, your employees, or just about anyone on just about any topic. You can use it as a client intake tool. Using Formstack, you can create a client satisfaction survey. You can set up a form to screen potential cases.
Formstack is simple to use, easy to learn and very flexible. It also integrates well with Constant Contact, PayPal and a number of other online tools which you may already be using.
One of the nice things about Formstack is that you can create the form and then “embed” the page on your website so that it has the same look and feel of your website and it uses your website’s domain name.
There are many marketing applications for Formstack. With little effort, you can create your own audit tool to get your foot in the door and begin a conversation with a prospective client.
Of course like any technology, there will be a learning curve. Do not expect to be able to use the tool without investing some time and effort. But Formstack is one of the easier tools to learn and a tool that I hope to use for at least six months or until the next great form creation tool is invented (whichever comes first).
Posted by Stephen Seckler
Offering free consultations is a good way to get a conversation started with potential clients. This is particularly true early in your career when you do not have a long track record of trusted relationships who can refer work to you. When you are a young professional, you need to find ways to build trust and one way to do that is to show potential clients in some limited way what it would be like to work with you.
But free consultations work best when you set limits on your time. If you get in the habit of spending too much time giving free consultations, you may find that you are giving to way too much of your time, and you may also discover that the individuals who are most eager to use your time without paying for it are least likely to become paying clients.
The paradox is that by giving away too much of your time, you devalue your own worth. Setting some limit on the amount of time that you give in your free consultations is a way to send a signal that your time is valuable. So tell a prospect that you are happy to give a free 30 to 60 minute consultation (depending on the nature of your practice-closer to 30 minutes if you do high volume legal work).
You will use up valuable time that could be spent cultivating relationships with referral sources. In other words the opportunity cost is that you may be missing the chance to get a better mix of referrals of the types of clients that you really want to serve (and who are actually willing to pay for your services).
The ability to set these kinds of limits comes with experience. As your confidence as an attorney grows, you will value your own time in a way that you might not when you’re just starting out. But by being aware of any tendency you might have to give away too much free time early in your career, will keep you on the lookout for people who really have no intention of paying you for your services; i.e. individuals who are really just looking for free advice.
Posted by Stephen Seckler
For over 15 years, I have been coaching individual lawyers and other professionals on how to be more successful in generating business. Now, for the first time, I am offering Group Coaching with SLC Jumpstart to small interdisciplinary groups of up to 5 professionals.
One of the key things that you do as a lawyer is to help your clients sleep better at night. You identify legal risks and work with your clients to manage these risks. In doing so, you enable your clients to focus more of their mental energy on their businesses and less on worrying about what might go wrong.
Lawyers also need help in running their law practices. But unlike people who run other types of businesses, lawyers are not very good at asking for help. (“I’m smart. I should be able to figure this out myself.”)
In the complex world that we now live in, failing to get help can be a crucial mistake. As a lawyer, all you have to sell is your time. Do you want to spend your time doing client work and cultivating relationships that can lead to higher value client work? Or would you like to spend hours solving your computer problems, doing your own bookkeeping and preparing your own tax returns.
If you are just starting in practice, paying for help may not be feasible. Until you have generated some cash flow and until you are busy with client work, it may make sense to try a “do-it-yourself” approach for a while. But if that is the case, you can still tap into some of resources that are available to you at little or no cost. In doing so, you won’t spend hours reinventing the wheel.
One source of free help is other lawyers who have been in practice for a while. There are many attorneys who remember what it was like to be starting out. Find someone who is willing to meet with you to discuss how to organize your practice. Find out what technology they use and how they do their billing.
A great resource is Massachusetts LOMAP (Law Office Management Assistance Program), an agency supported by your bar dues. LOMAP provides free technical support to lawyers in the areas of law office management and technology. They will work with any lawyer in Massachusetts and they do a great job.
As your law practice (and your cash flow) continues to grow, make sure that you hire professionals who can help YOU sleep better at night. Hire an accountant and bookkeeper to worry about the books. Get a technology consultant who can work on your firm’s network while you spend time on legal work and marketing.
If you are spinning your wheels about where to focus your marketing energies, consider hiring a marketing coach. A good coach is a sounding board and provides guidance and encouragement to ensure that over time, you are doing the “right” things to help you elevate your reputation and build your referral relationships (and ultimately generate the work you want).
Initially, bringing in help may cause your cash flow to decrease. But hiring consultants is an investment in yourself and in your business. Getting help means giving yourself the time to produce higher quality work and to focus on building your business. You also get the benefit of learning how to run a more efficient and professional practice.
The great American myth is that people who are successful are self made. In truth, behind every successful politician, entrepreneur, athlete, performer or professional services provider is an army of support. So don’t be afraid to get help yourself. It will do wonders for your practice.
Posted by Stephen Seckler
The foundation of a strong law practice is a strong referral network. Even your best clients probably don’t need you all the time. This is particularly true for litigators. But what is a strong referral network and how do you build it?
Fundamentally, a good referral network starts with a focused marketing message. It is difficult to generate referrals if you do not have a clear idea of who you want to serve and what services you want to provide. (Who are you, who do you do, who do you serve, what have you done and how do you differentiate yourself from other lawyers?)
Having a well defined niche is important because it helps you communicate what you do in a way that is memorable (so that it is easy for happy clients and other professionals to pass your name along at the right moment). Having a niche also helps you think more strategically about who you might want to cultivate (e.g. other service providers who serve the same clients).
Beyond this, understand that not all referral sources are created equal. Some individuals are more apt to make referrals by nature. Look for the people in your network who are always trying to be helpful and have the ability to think outwardly (and don’t forget to be someone who is always on the lookout to make your own referrals).
The other day, I was playing squash with a retired doctor who happens to be the “helping type”. We play pretty regularly and have lots to talk about. But on this particular day, he started asking me questions about what I do. I told him that I consult with lawyers and other professionals on marketing and he immediately began telling me about some of his family members who he thought could use my services. He volunteered to introduce me and I graciously accepted. While this has not yet turned into an engagement, I did end up speaking to one of his relatives who may hire me to coach his daughter. The key here is that my squash partner wanted to help and was able to introduce me to a potential client.
It helps to identify happy clients who are willing to make referrals. When I conduct client interviews for law firms that have institutional clients, I ask the question, “What is the likelihood that you would refer Smith and Smith’s services to someone else?” If the answer is a 9 or 10, then I know this is an individual that the firm should further cultivate.
If a lot of your clients are individuals (or unlikely to use your services more than once), send them a survey at the end of your engagement. Ask them how happy they were with the services you provided and on a scale of one to ten, how likely are they to refer your services to someone else. If anyone gives you a 9 or a 10, see if they would be willing to write a testimonial for your website or mention your name to others.
Blizzard of 2013 is a good reminder of the importance of being prepared. Things would have been much worse here in Massachusetts, if the Governor had not queued up all the necessary road clearing resources and banned all cars from the road so that the cleanup work could be done.
While a networking meeting is not a blizzard, going unprepared to meet a potential client or referral source is a missed opportunity. The best rainmakers know this. It doesn’t have to take long; but it is not a step you should skip. Click here to read more.
Storytelling is key to selling professional services. And you don’t have to be a great story teller. If you take the time to come up with a few anecdotes that illustrate what you do, you are more likely to be memorable. Our brains are wired for stories. If a story is “good”, it will illustrate to the potential client or referral source, that you can handle the kind of problem they have or are likely to encounter.
In deciding how to market your services, remember that less is more. Understand that having a niche will make you more memorable. It will help you differentiate yourself from other lawyers. If you are known for doing a certain kind of work, you are much more likely to get referrals.
Being known for something does not preclude you from taking other kinds of work if it happens to come your way. But take the time to define your ideal client and build all of your messaging around that niche.
The diagram below illustrates the concept of focused marketing. Talk about the clients you serve in the red circle. Accept matters that are in the brown circle; but do not invest marketing time and energy into trying to get that work. Finally, make sure to reject or refer out work that falls into the green circle.
My latest LPM tip in the MBA’s Lawyer’s eJournal.
If you are willing to take a more objective look at how Obama and Romney have conducted themselves during the first two debates (to the extent that this is possible), there is a lot that is worth emulating. There are also more than one or two cautionary notes. Here are my top 6:
1. Your level of enthusiasm matters a lot when you are trying to sell yourself. In the first debate, Obama looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looked down at his notes and he did not project good energy. In the second debate, he seemed much more engaged and interested in getting reelected. When you are out speaking with prospective clients and referral sources, project interest in what you do.
2. Resilience is key in selling. Being able to recover from your marketing mistakes is the difference between ultimate success and failure. Prior to the first debate, most pundits were already writing Mitt Romney’s political obituary. But his performance in the first debate clearly had a big impact on the polls. It is too early to know how the second debate will effect the polls; but after his first debate drubbing, Obama demonstrated a lot of resilience and came back with a much stronger performance.
3. Getting lost in the weeds does not help your messaging. If you want a prospect to understand what you do (and more importantly, if you want to be memorable), distill your message down to shorter phrases and stay away from intricate detail. Several times during the second debate, Mitt Romney’s message became much weaker when he started getting too deep into the details.
4. Preparation is critical. The lawyers who are best at marketing their services spend a lot of time preparing before they meet with prospects, give a presentation, etc. Both candidates did a lot of preparation for the second debate. They knew what questions might come up and they had well prepared answers that they could adapt to the actual questions. It showed.
5. Listening is just as important as speaking. If you want to learn how you can be helpful to your clients, let them do more of the talking. It is only by listening that we learn what really matters to our clients and referral sources. If your body language says that you are formulating your next thought rather than listening to what the other person has to say, you will lose some credibility. In the second debate, both Obama and Romney talked over each other and at times, seemed to be bursting at the seams to say something. While the Democrats were looking for a more engaged and forceful President, I don’t think either Obama or Romney were at their best when they were trying to interrupt.
6. Don’t be afraid to tout your successes. Many lawyers consider it bad form to brag about their accomplishments. But if you have an accomplishment that illustrates why a client should hire you, you should make sure to bring it up. Obama failed to do that in the first debate. But clearly, his advisers explained to him the importance of touting his accomplishments and in the second debate, we heard much more about what Obama had done.