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Marketing can be rather like house renovation… you start out convinced that you’ll make money and then watch things spiral into costing you twice the agreed budget and taking twice as much of your time as you’d planned.

You will have read many articles, by now, about the foolishness of restricting marketing during a recession… that now is the time to invest… to steal a march on those firms cutting back.  You find it hard to disagree in theory…  But how are you meant to even consider spending time (and money) on something non-chargeable when it’s all you can do to see the light at the end of the WIP tunnel?  Do these articles really help when your reality is a pinched cash flow and scrabbling to keep clients happy?

Of course not.  One might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just marketing consultants getting paid to write glossy reports that sit on the shelf.  Most of them are geared towards big commercial firms that have an army of marketing specialists.  In fact… does any of this apply to you… the small, partner-led firm with little or no marketing team?  Are you actually best off doing what you do best (the Law) and just keeping your head down until the “up-turn”?

The basic theory of “now is the time to market yourself” stands just as true for small firms as for the Magic Circle.  Indeed, one could argue that it is those firms with healthy Private Client practices that really stand to benefit from the recession.  Of course, you’ll have taken a hit in the conveyancing field but there’s nothing like a recession for bringing out employment, family and probate disputes as well as, of course, a healthy crop of debt recovery work… and that’s without being in the least bit imaginative about the other opportunities out there for the grasping.

Unfortunately, the downside of this “opportunity” is that it probably comes hand in hand with your operating on a skeleton staff and coming under daily pressure from clients to provide the lowest fees possible.  There are probably more complaints and people haggling for a free lunch and you’re spending most of your time fighting fires, rather than thinking about development for the future.

So, with all that in mind, how about some common-sense advice that will actually be of help?  Perhaps a short list of easy marketing tasks that won’t take a marketing team to implement, but might push things in the right direction?

10 things to do… if you do nothing else…

Getting started:

  1. Know your limits – work out how much time you’ve to spend on marketing.  Block time in your diary and keep it sacrosanct.
  2. Know where you’re going – there are two sorts of goals: outcome (the end destination eg. £100k turnover) & process (the steps to take to reach the destination eg. 10 new clients per quarter).  Start by writing these down and thinking hard about whether they are measurable (y/n answer) and realistic.
  3. Plan each step – once you have your goals, make a list of the tasks needed to complete each process goal and set timescales against them.
  4. Start small – don’t go in with the full list if you can only spare an hour a week.  Pick one task and do it well… before moving on to the next one.
  5. Play to your strengths – if you’re short on time then concentrate on the tasks that you know you’re good at.  Get those done first and see how effective they are. This might give you confidence for more challenging tasks.

Actual marketing:

  1. Make cross selling a reality – make a list of ways that you can sell different areas of the firm to existing clients. You’ll be amazed at how many you can come up with. Then circulate it around the firm and keep a record of successful cross selling.
  2. Understand your enquiries – if you took a record of all your enquiries you would probably be surprised to see how few were actually converted to instruction.  Try doing this for 3 months (recording who took the enquiry, what they did with it, what it was about and the outcome) and then identify areas for improvement.
  3. Review the website – don’t panic, this doesn’t mean redesign it (or indeed spend any money on it).  What it does mean is make sure it’s up to date, relevant, personable, clearly written and contains some useful information.  Always apply the “so what” test to your website.  If you can’t think of a good reason to have all that waffle up there then cut it out!
  4. Get out there – unfortunately you’re in a relationships business and that means that there isn’t any way out of talking to people and building those relationships.  Now is the time to join networking groups, attend seminars and organise drinks with local referrers.  Be selective and start by picking one good-value event each month.  If, after 6 months that’s been a success then increase it to two events per month.  If not then change your events around and try some more.
  5. Review your advertising – start by making a list of all your adverts, and related costs, to highlight any areas of overspend or crossover.  You can then identify any gaps and find ways to plug them.  It might be that you can move some of them online or replace them with more productive advertorials.

Of course there are endless lists of ideas that you can make. You need to remember, though, that not everything needs to be a success first time.  You will have to try a few things and fail before you can establish those that work for you.  Every firm is different and whilst there are some basic principles that don’t change, anyone that says there is a “one size fits all” approach to marketing for law firms has kind of missed the point.  Good marketing and business development takes time and perseverance.  There are no quick wins or tips for delivering a bunch of new clients straight onto your desk. The beauty about successful marketing is that it’s based on imagination combined with real effort… and that means that the sky is the limit for both the outcomes and the processes.

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