Law firm marketing is hard at the best of times but when budgets are squeezed ever tighter because of the recession it can seem almost impossible.
So what can you do to make the most of the limited resources you may have?
Many successful firms answer the question by focusing their efforts on the area most likely to bring success – their existing client list.
This may sound obvious but it’s surprising how many firms spend most of their time and budget on attracting new clients and forget about the ones they already have.
Yet there are several reasons why it can be better to focus more on the people who have already used your services. It’s much cheaper and you are likely to have far more success with existing clients than with people who have never heard of you before. Your current clients already know you and have started to build up a relationship with you. You already have a reservoir of goodwill with them whereas with new clients you start with nothing and have everything to prove.
It also helps that you already have a lot of valuable information about your existing clients. If they are commercial clients then you know who the decision makers are in the firm, you know about their business and the services they might need. You have their contact details and an established relationship which means they are likely to look at any new information you send them. The same applies to private clients.
Other firms would love to have this kind of information about your clients so they could start marketing to them. Well, you already have the information so why not start marketing yourself.
It’s a good idea to build up a database of clients you have worked with in the past few years and who you would like to work with again. You can categorise them in various ways depending on the services your firm offers. It is probably better to keep separate lists for business and private clients and you may want to sub-divide them even further.
The chances are that each person on the list is going to need more legal advice before too long, even if they don’t realise it yet. But remember, your clients don’t walk around trying to think of more things your law firm can do for them. It’s your job to make them aware of what they are missing.
For example, you may have acted for a firm in an employment tribunal case. If so, take a little time to think about their business, how it might be affected by current circumstances. Perhaps like many other firms they may have to start making people redundant. If so, perhaps you should be contacting them to alert them to how your employment services can help them ensure that redundancies are handled in a way that will avoid any complicated claims from staff.
Perhaps you could broaden it. Like many firms, your clients may be suffering from a number of their customers delaying payments or even defaulting. If so your firm’s debt collection services might be useful. It could be that the owner of the firm is thinking of retiring and could benefit from your advice on succession planning.
The same applies to your private clients. Perhaps the person you helped with a personal injury case may now want to sell a house, or perhaps they feel they have been selected unfairly for redundancy and need legal advice.
The possibilities are endless so try to give the needs of your clients as much thought as you can.
It’s important to ensure that all your clients know the full range of your services and are reminded of it constantly. This enables you to cross sell effectively. You never want to find yourself in a position whereby, for example, a person whose divorce you handle then goes to another firm to deal with his house sale because he didn’t realise that you also cover residential property.
This would be a double blow because not only do you lose the client’s business on the house sale, you have also effectively handed him over to a rival firm which may go on to sell other services to him in future. You may never get him back.
It’s a hard lesson to learn but the message is clear: clients are hard to come by so make sure you hold on to them once you have them.
There are lots of ways you can communicate with clients without having to spend prohibitive amounts on advertising. You could try organising more seminars and surgeries, for example, but one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways is to use email and print newsletters. If they are sent out regularly they can perform several valuable functions. They start working for you before the client even starts to read them.
As soon as the client sees the newsletter he is reminded about your firm, reinforcing your name in his mind and reminding him of the quality of the service you provided before. The fact that you have taken the trouble to send him a newsletter with articles about legal developments reminds him that he is important to you. It makes him feel valued and people who feel valued are less likely to stray to a rival firm.
All this happens before the client has read a word of the newsletter. The positive image of your firm is then reinforced as the client skims the headlines, the photos etc and absorbs the impact of a professionally produced piece of work. This reflects well on the professionalism of your firm. The same applies if you use email newsletters, which have the added advantage of providing links back to your website.
The client may read all the articles or perhaps just one or two of particular interest to him. He may not read any at all but he will still have been made aware that you value him and that you are a professional outfit that takes the trouble to remain in contact with valuable clients.
It may be that the client reads an article about a particular subject and it reminds him to contact you about something he’s been meaning to do for years: make a will perhaps. Or it could alert him to a service he didn’t know existed but now wants to use as quickly as possible: registering an LPA perhaps.
This sudden enlightenment can and does happen but generally the effect is more subtle. The newsletters have a more cumulative effect, rather like advertising.
We tend to place our trust and our money in the hands of businesses we have heard about and with whom we have built up a longstanding relationship. The more you can familiarise people with your firm and its services, the more likely they are to turn to you each time they need legal advice.
Marketing doesn’t always get the funding it needs at many law firms so when budgets are tight it makes sense to concentrate on the areas where you are most likely to be successful. More often than not, that means targeting clients who’ve used your services before and know they can rely on you.
This article has also been published by the Law Gazette
Nick Kehoe is a former television and newspaper journalist. He is now managing director at law marketing firm Media Coverage.