Solo and small law practices need marketing plans — but they can’t waste time. Focus on connection, and find everything you need to consider here.
Lawyers who choose to work in solo and small practices choose to do more than practice law. Solo and small firm lawyers choose to be businesspeople. Developing business and managing the business add unique sets of challenges to the ordinary practice of law — and they offer unique opportunities too. When you’re responsible for the business decisions in your law practice, you can be immediately responsive to opportunities you perceive — without having to generate buy-in and trying to herd the ambivalent cats around you first. But you’re responsible for ALL. THE. BUSINESS. DECISIONS. Sometimes lawyers decide to create a business without doing the research to assess and plan for its viability, and rarely luck works in their favor. When you gamble your income on luck, you also risk burning out as you try to keep an unsustainable model going. You can find our best resources on business planning here, and a thorough marketing planning below.
Within a business plan, the marketing plan focuses on your ability to reach and engage a target market. Creating a business plan is critical to assessing whether a business idea, including a law practice, is viable. You can borrow The Lawyer’s Guide to Creating Your Business Plan: A Step by Step Software Package by Linda Pinson from our lending library, and find a template outline for a business plan along with resources to help you develop yours in this post. Your marketing plan doesn’t assess whether the market you’re planning to serve can pay enough to sustain your operations. Your revenue sources and profit model are part of your financial plan, and your management plan will determine what costs your finances need to cover.
Your marketing plan will need to evolve to survive competition through changing economics. Marketing itself won’t improve your services, you need to start with quality. From there, you’ll improve quality as you focus on your target market and prospective clients’ needs. Your message and brand will help you connect those needs to your evolving services, and you’ll reach your markets with your message by focusing on the right strategies and channels. To know which strategies and channels are effective, you’ll look at objectives on ROI.
Fortunately, strategic planning can be more efficient as a solo or small firm of stakeholders. Actively managing your own operations allows you to feel the pulse of all insight available, but you’ll want trusted advisors for objective reflection. In a solo or small firm, the IDEA Strategy Model will help you find growth opportunities more easily than traditional strategic planning in a larger firm. From productization to partnerships (and not just the traditional law firm kind!), you can expand and contract business as a small operation with better agility than the biggest, baddest competition.
SERVICE + PRODUCT.
Clients need the services you provide as a lawyer to help create, protect, or restore value. Like a lot of services, legal services often can’t always deliver the most desirable outcome — but fortunately marketing allows you to focus on the full customer journey. As a lawyer, specializing in certain journeys can help you offer superior services. Find more on developing your services as a specialty in this post.
You can’t respond to all the needs along a client’s journey through a legal problem — but you can market everything you do to help your clients at each step. Don’t hold back as you highlight each element of your service — but don’t let it be your only focus. Be clear — to your clients and yourself — about related needs you can’t respond to. For example, many lawyers work with clients who also need therapists. Some lawyers actually also become licensed therapists to help more comprehensively, others have working relationships with therapists — and still others are just ignoring the complications and hoping for the best.
You can find opportunities to innovate your services as you shift your perspective to consider your clients’ experiences, particularly as you also consider developing technology. Find the right partners and collaborate to create a workshop or masterclass that responds to a range of potential needs associated with your practice area. Take time to invest in creative thought to identify related needs, connect with the people and groups addressing those related needs, and work with them to build programming for your target market or particular segments. Find 4 steps to innovate your practice by applying design thinking in this blog post.
The management plan within your business plan is where you’ll focus on designing your services more closely. A marketing message can never solve a product/service problem. If your services just don’t compete, your marketing plan can’t help you. Technology can help your services compete — find more on how to start automating and productizing your services in this recent post.
TARGET MARKET + AUDIENCE SEGMENTS.
Choosing who to help with your life is a serious decision. It’s easier said than done to focus on purpose over a paycheck with $100,000+ in student loan debt — so to whatever degree you might need to compromise temporarily, keep your focus on how you can grow to do work you care about. You can find guidance on how to develop work in a practice area that aligns with you here, in our Career Research & Development Workbook Series.
Market research will help you identify whether a narrower target markets you want to work with in your practice area can provide enough business to fuel your practice. The financial plan within your business plan is where you’ll focus on figuring out how much your market can afford to pay, and whether you’ll need to explore alternative funding sources including fee-shifting, or even a nonprofit model to pursue grants and donations.
Segment your target market into distinct audiences to understand how to reach them more effectively and craft messages that resonate with their individual needs. Be as brief or detailed as you like to start, and continue to refine your understandings from there. Creating full “client personas” can help you understand their needs and preferences better and you can find more on how here — and create as inclusive a range as possible to help prevent unconscious biases from interfering with your marketing.
MESSAGE + BRAND.
It might not be planned, and it might not be effective, but you already have a brand. Your brand is how others perceive the sum of your impressions. We’re living in the noisiest time yet and very few people remember inconsistent brands. Patterns are easier for our brains to remember than individual instances.
Accordingly, a consistent brand needs to communicate more than just what you do — but also the deeper pattern, i.e. why you do it. As a human, a big part of your “Why” might also be your “Who”. While your audience segments help point your attention to individualized needs, your brand communicates a bigger picture. You won’t be able to communicate the full picture of your work with every impression, but you’ll want to identify important components of your work and plan how to fit them in your masterpiece brand.
Effective messaging is more than just consistent — it’s responsive to real needs. Of all consumer needs, solutions to legal problems are among the most elusive for consumers to conceive solutions to. To trust you can deliver, prospective clients — and referral sources — need to understand how you will get from problem to solution. You need to share specific information about the methods and tools you use at each stage of work to real client needs. You can use our free workbook to get to work on your brand.
Planning your messaging is the first step in creating a consistent, memorable brand. Messaging takes many forms at many touch points in a legal consumer’s journey through a legal problem. When an individual first recognizes their legal problem with a blank slate, they often start with an internet search — unless they’ve already met a lawyer who they remember. Before we get to strategies and channels — both digital and in-person — recognize that everyone you meet is a potential referral source if not prospective client, so make every new conversation count. Get the essentials in this post — and don’t call it an elevator speech!
STRATEGIES + CHANNELS.
Proximity to your target markets helps tremendously as you identify strategies to package your message and the channels (both digital and in person) where you’ll distribute your message. You need to target places where your audience segments are paying attention already. You know how AOC delivered the biggest primary upset of the 2018 election season, right? “Meet them where they are.”
Beyond meeting prospective clients where they are, you can also meet referral sources where they are. Your networking strategy needs to identify touch points for distinct networks: one for potential clients and another for referral sources, many of whom are likely to be other lawyers. Nurturing relationships with clients and colleagues require different input. Outside the marketing scope, strategic growth objectives help deliver networking results.
As you network, don’t spread yourself too thin to gain traction. Some might be obvious choices, but you will need to be selective about which major bar sections, affinity bar associations, and other organizations (whether within or outside of the legal industry) to invest your time in initially. You also need to determine how much time you can commit to collaborating with your connections. Find more on how to network effectively at events here.
You can only be in one physical place at a time, but you can also meet potential clients where they’re already paying attention. Depending on your practice area, you might consider advertising (both paid and “organically”) in particular locations, including publications — both digital and print. Any advertisement needs a call-to-action to generate worthwhile ROI, and for to manage volume over time best, you’ll want to call them to digital action — other than for the segments who do not take digital action.
Your website is the foundation for whatever digital strategies you pursue. Find tips to maximize your law firm’s digital marketing in this blog post. Email marketing can still deliver effective campaigns with minimal cost, so make email signup easy and clear on the value you can deliver — but only if you actually can deliver helpful information. Your email signature is a great place to encourage individuals to sign up for to receive your email marketing, or to book a consultation, or to connect on other digital channels, like a social network. Keep options to a maximum of three to avoid inaction from option overload.
Meeting clients where they are with email messages is is just one way to spark connection through digital marketing. Content marketing is designed for the top of the proverbial marketing funnel — a metaphor for the process of nurturing client leads closer and closer to eventually converting a lead to a buyer. At the wide top of the funnel are far more leads than will ever convert at the narrow bottom. By attracting the many who are interested in the content you create, you can find the few who will buy your related services — through an involved shedding process that can be effective, but also not necessarily the most effective, despite its continued general popularity.
Content marketing extends naturally from services most lawyers provide — but if it isn’t designed for connection, it’s one of the biggest time-sucks you can find among marketing strategies. As you may have noticed, the internet is a noisy place and it’s getting noisier daily. Keyword planning will help you optimize your content for search, but strategic keyword planning is time consuming — and organic keyword planning, if you will, can be very effective when you’re in touch with your market segments’ needs.
Writing for publications can help you reach audiences without having to focus on search optimization to drive traffic to your site — and can still help you drive traffic as you republish all the articles you write for other publications on your own website. Whether you’re providing tips to help legal consumers act in their own best interest or deconstructing confusing requirements, find opportunities to focus your writing on substance that will help you make connections. Including information unique to your specific audience segments or local service area can help — and hopefully you’re engaged with your clients enough to learn insights you can weave into content to spark genuine connection.
Importantly, a funnel is not the only to connect with the right clients digitally. Beyond using marketing personas to find the right clients by attracting them en masse to the top of your funnel, you can use them as maps. Rather than creating volumes of content to broadcast, devote time to find where people you help are discussing their needs and engage those digital conversations, as mindful of your ethics requirements as ever. You can pretty quickly survey a range of online conversations on social media networks and news media discussion sections both by hashtag searches (on most) and toggling through relevant categories as their structured on the sites.
Social networking platforms host innumerable conversations to engage — from Reddit and Buzzfeed, to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, to LinkedIn and niche interest platforms (and some obscure ones at that). While you might make a couple profiles to create for reference, set and forget, actual actionable engagement will drive ROI. Engagement takes time, so spend time researching which if any social networking channels it makes sense for you spend your time on. From there, you can make paid advertisements, and might want to particularly on larger networks that limit organic reach. The bright side of paid advertisement on social networking platforms is that they’re robustly designed to report ROI, so you can evaluate and revise your strategies effectively — provided you review the reports, and maybe even A/B test alternatives and modifications.
OBJECTIVES + ROI.
Your ultimate marketing objective is to convert more actual clients — unless your firm is a nonprofit that also seeks donations or grants for which you need distinct marketing strategies. More preliminary marketing objectives include increasing your reach, improving your mapping or funneling processes, and anything else that might contribute to getting clients.
How you measure your ROI on any strategy depends on your objective. Don’t jump to client conversion to measure the effectiveness of your efforts in any strategy — because conversion depends on distinct sales skills. Without the right communication skills specific to sales conversion, a great marketing strategy could return zero clients. Find how to start improving your sales skills in this blog post.
Your financial plan identifies how fast you need to meet financial objectives, and how many clients the monetary objectives require — and your marketing strategies need to deliver them. The only way to know which efforts among your marketing strategies (or “campaigns” in marketing jargon) are effective at delivering is to measure how much they deliver.
Setting up tracking is easy to do with digital tools as most are built-in — many are even designed for you to easily run A/B tests to improve efforts incrementally. With so many free and cost-effective technologies, remember that the time any given marketing strategy or composite effort takes is a cost you need to weigh in the cost-benefit analysis, so track how much time you spend on your efforts. You can track your time using technology designed for billable hours if you’re already using it.
Marketing experts — especially those at agencies and those selling measurement tools — insist you measure everything. But you can never measure everything. Marketing efforts don’t always and only deliver immediate results, they also exist in context together over time and impressions to deliver cumulative and delayed value.
Way back in the day the first print ad was run in a newspaper, the guy who placed the ad claimed something to the effect of, “Half of my marketing dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.” The quote is still legendary in its representation of the marketing struggle even though technology helps us measure more effectively than that guy who said it ever could have imagined. Your brain has the ability to process cumulative and delayed value that measurement misses — but it happens in the unconscious parts, and therefore might not feel reliable. Stay mindful of your happiness, avoid numbing pain, explore your instincts, and trust the right ones. Get the essentials on mindfulness for lawyers in this post.
And finally, understand that templates are lies. Whatever you do, don’t look for a marketing plan “template”. Connect with your target markets, learn, and think creatively. If you hope to customize a template marketing plan, you’re likely creating a less effective plan than if you started with a blank slate — and it might be diagnostic that you really don’t understand your market, or even want to. By staying focused on your market’s specific needs and how your services connect to meet them, your strategies will evolve with agility in a way that templates hinder.
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All our previous posts on marketing planning under various titles now redirect to this post.