Archive for the ‘Inspired Marketing Choices’ Category

Mirror Post: Free Webinar From Findlaw: How Consumers Meet Their Legal Needs Online

Remember – we’ve moved! Catch the original post here at The Inspired Solo’s new home!

Think you might want to know any of the following for your marketing planning?

  • Differences in how consumers search for legal answers
  • Methods used by consumers to find an attorney
  • Ways consumers select an attorney

If the answer is yes, you’ll want to sign up for the free webinar sponsored by Findlaw entitled “How Consumers Meet Their Legal Needs Online.” More and more, consumers are turning to the web to find lawyers and legal information. The ways in which they fulfill those needs online will be advantageous information to have for any solo planning a web presence. The webinar is scheduled for June 26, 2007, and has two sessions at 12 and 4 EST, for your convenience.

Did I mention it was free?

Mirror Post: Marketing 101 For Inspired Solos – Designing The Plan

Remember – we’ve moved!  Check out the original post at The Inspired Solo’s new home!

It’s a fact of life, I think, that every new solo (except the ones who’ve been blessed with tons of past entrepreneurial experience) will face the fear of getting clients. You can see these posts every so often in the Solosez and Solomarketing listservs, I’ve found in the past: “Help I Need Clients.” “What NOW?” “Cheap Ads?”

Implicit in these subject lines:

  • fear – the fear of going hungry for failure to secure paying clientele
  • uncertainty – the uncertainty that comes with not having a concrete plan for marketing
  • panic – maybe a tinge of panic that this whole “going solo” thing isn’t as self-evident and self-perpetuating as we maybe thought/dreamed/hoped it was initially

The good news? Marketing is not an innate skill that you’re either born with or pay someone else for – it’s a skill like all others that you have to learn and work at, in order to improve your performance.

So, without further ado, the first installment of Marketing 101 for Inspired Solos!

Designing the Plan

First things always come first, and in marketing, you start with designing your marketing plan. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is your ideal client (IC)? Describe him or her or it as fully as possible. What services does IC use already? What other professionals are “gatekeepers” for that IC? Who can introduce you? What do the ICs do for fun? Where do they bank? The more information you can glean about IC, the better chance you’ll have of crafting the right plan to get IC’s attention.
  • What about you – what are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you think fast on your feet at cocktail parties but hate the tedium of writing notes and letters or, god forbid, articles? Or do social situations make you nuts but you enjoy one-on-one relationship building? This isn’t a self-improvement exercise, so leave the ego at the door. Rather, give yourself an honest assessment of your abilities.
  • What resources do you currently have? Blogs, websites, URLs, time, specific knowledge, specific relationships, eye-catching logo on your business card – all these things can be perceived as resources you could utilize. This list will grow and contract over time, but it’s important that you keep it current and thorough.
  • Answer this question: What do you have more of – time, or money?
  • Answer this question, too, while you’re at it: What means more to you right now – time, or money?

A note about these last two questions: no, I’m not suggesting the marketing world devolves only to time and money spent or saved. But it is a useful construct for thinking about marketing as a whole. When you’re first starting out, you’ll likely have more time than money. Does that always mean you’ll “do it yourself” and avoid spending cash on consultants or design professionals? No. But your business is better served if you know what those parameters are. Good decisions require good information, always. So, these two questions, in conjunction with the question about your strengths and weaknesses (and likes and dislikes) will help you sort out those tasks you can safely assume from those you’d be better off assigning to an outsourced provider.

Finally, we’re going to examine our marketing message. Whole books have been written about this topic, of course, and you’d do well to read a few if you have time. But briefly put: your marketing message is a combination of what used to be called the “USP” (unique selling proposition) and how you best serve IC’s needs. But to do that, you have to know what those needs are, right?

In thinking about that question – what does IC need most that I can provide? – I find it most helpful to think about the old marketing saw “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” What it means is that buyers aren’t really buying a steak when they pick up a sirloin at the grocery store – they’re buying the promise of a delicious meal, a sensory experience. Similarly, my clients aren’t “buying” a bankruptcy petition and schedules – they’re buying a cessation from harassment, a feeling of competence and security that’s heretofore escaped them while they were in financial distress.

What are your ICs really buying from you? Answer that question, and you’ll be at least halfway there to designing your own marketing message. To get the rest of the way, you need to figure out one “simple” thing: how do YOU deliver that need better than anyone else?

That can be anything from specific expertise to particular experience to a method or process you’ve come up with that better serves those in ICs position to even cost (though I caution anyone to think very carefully before competing on price alone in this market – it’s generally not in your best interests to do so). You have to come up with at least one reason why you’re the best lawyer for the job. To get you started, here are a few choice words and phrases that might spark your creative thinking:

  • training
  • experience
  • passion
  • client communication
  • billing structure
  • personal experience (to be distinguished from professional experience – have you been in IC’s shoes, yourself?)
  • responsiveness
  • technology
  • contacts
  • level of service or attention

That’s just a starting list – there are many more aspects of your practice that you can develop into your marketing message. But define it – that’s the key. Know what that unique thing about your practice is – define the sizzle, so you can sell the steak.

Next post, we’ll talk about drafting your plan – putting it all in writing.

What’s Coming Up For This Site

I have some exciting news – looks like our move to the independent URL and hosted domain TheInspiredSolo.com will be happening a lot sooner than I had hoped! I’ve selected a brand new design – something clean, and definitely different.

And … you can see it already right here.

So what’s ahead for this site? Exciting things! I’ll publish posts at both site through the end of this month, just to give regular readers time to change bookmarks and such. After that, I’ll stop posting here (though there will be a permanently placed URL referring newcomers to the new site), and post at the new digs exclusively.

Next steps: There may be some tweaks to the new design (though I’m really quite in love with it as-is), and I’ll be installing some new features (see the list below). For that reason, we might have a slightly less frequent posting schedule over the next few weeks. I hope to resume daily postings no later than July 1.

What else can you expect?

  • Lots more content. I’ll still aim for those daily postings (at least after July 1) but also, you can expect lengthier, e-book-style content from me as well. That format will allow me to cover topics in much more depth, which is a real limitation of the blog format, designed as it was for short and frequent posts. Initially, most of the content will be free; the rest will be priced very reasonably through Paypal. What kind of content? Checklists for opening your new law firm; blogging how-tos and best practices; bootstrapping tips and techniques for marketing; and much more.
  • More diverse content. I’m looking at product reviews, interviews, guest posts, workshop-style events and much more.
  • Advertisements – for others, and for my own services. It’s an inescapable fact of web life – servers cost money. Ads will help me pay for the costs of running it, yes, but also, I am branching out into consulting and coaching, and this site will be my portal for that work. I can promise that the commercial aspects of the site will be discreet, and I’ll do my best to make sure they don’t intrude on the content or interfere with users’ enjoyment of the site, at all.

I hope that this is enough of a taste to get you guys excited about the new digs. You can go ahead and change your feed settings or bookmarks now, if you like, as I’ll be posting there first, then copying and pasting posts over here as time allows.

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Habla Espanol? You Should

ed. note – OK, I know I saw this topic somewhere in the blawgosphere lately, but I’ll be darned if I can find it now. If you were the smart person who blogged about lawyers learning Spanish, please let me know so I can credit you properly! Found it! Evan Schaeffer wrote about it right here

If you don’t speak Spanish, consider learning it. Not only is it valuable intrinsically (learning a new language keeps the brain cells humming at optimal frequency, plus – learning anything new is good, people!) it may someday soon save your practice. According to some sources, almost 13% of the US population speaks Spanish as their first language, and that number is only getting bigger. What are the odds that, one of these days, your clients will include immigrants who don’t speak English – or don’t speak it well enough to assist in their case?

Consider pro bono programs, if you don’t think you’ll have a communication problem with your paying clients. If you participate in such programs at all (and more and more bars are strongly encouraging their members to do just that), you will undoubtedly run up against a language barrier one of these days.

Still not convinced? Then how about those of you (like me) in states that require attorneys to assist in indigent defense? Think you might get called down to the local detention center one of these days to meet your new client who speaks Spanish – and only a little English, not enough to tell you his or her version of the facts?

If I haven’t convinced you yet, then think of it as a marketing tactic. The percentage of Spanish-speaking immigrants in this country is growing – there’s no doubt about that. That’s a huge market that’s being underserved by the legal profession. What would be the ramifications to your practice as an Inspired Solo to be able to say, proudly “Se Habla Espanol” in your radio ads and on your website? Or even have a Spanish version of your website’s materials?

Well, I convinced myself, so I signed up to get the materials from the Missouri Bar’s upcoming teleseminar, Spanish for the Legal Professional. Tip of the hat to Evan Schaeffer for the referral and suggestion!

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TechnoMarketing: Give Your Website or Blog a Checkup

Website Grader is a free tool that will analyze your blog or website for a number of relevant SEO markers for free, giving you a roadmap of improvements you can make to improve your site’s relevance, ranking in search results, and traffic. Did I mention it was free? This is Inspired Solo marketing at its finest!

Information is power in the Information Age, and that’s what Website Grader delivers. Start by entering your website URL – ex.: http://www.schelinlaw.com, or inspiredsolo.wordpress.com – and the URL for one of your competitor’s websites. Choose one that is, in fact, comparable – blog to blog, SC bankruptcy lawyer to SC bankruptcy lawyer, Georgia estate planning firm static website to Georgia estate planning firm static website. (This is optional but it’s good info to have, although I would never recommend positioning your marketing solely in response to a competitor.) Type in some relevant keywords – what do you expect your site’s visitors to type into a search engine to find your site? Use some different options; for instance, for my bankruptcy practice blog, I used “bankruptcy, SC bankruptcy lawyer, debt relief.”

Then just provide your email address and click “Generate Report” – it only takes seconds, and it will show in the browser window, as well as in your email inbox as a link.

My bankruptcy practice blog received a surprisingly low score. I was a little surprised, honestly, with over 50 inbound Google links (though it’s showing as 43), steadily increasing traffic, and a page rank of 4 (not awesome, but at the higher end for most practice blogs). But looking at the evaluation the website provided, it makes more sense: my designer didn’t put in meta keywords or page description plugins for my WordPress blog. Clearly I have some SEO work to do!

Another interesting development – this site’s report showed a pretty good score – 73 out of 100. I truly expected those two scores to be reversed, given that this is a WordPress.com hosted blog, it’s newer by several months than the other, it’s not a unique domain (yet!), and I’ve done precious little in the way of SEO work here. The main difference I see is 3 del.icio.us bookmarks for this site, none for the bankruptcy blog. I wouldn’t have thought that alone would mean such a significant difference, especially since the other blog gets about twice the traffic this one does.

Thanks to Deb Ng from About Web Logs for the tip.

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MySpace: A Marketing Tool Whose Time Has Come? Or a Lame Idea?

I’ve got to vote the former – definitely an interesting tool whose time has come! You might feel the same way after reading Brenda Sapino Jeffreys’ article for Law.com Legal Technology, “MySpace Helps Attorneys Find Clients.”  The article features Texas entertainment lawyer Leslie Warren Cross, who found his MySpace profile page not just a unique branding opportunity but a great way to stay in touch with his nomadic music clients.

As Susan Cartier Liebel suggests (whose post here first alerted me to the story – thanks SCL!), the efficacy of a MySpace project as part of your larger marketing program might well depend on a couple of things:

  • The kinds of clients you’re going after. If they don’t know what MySpace is, you’re probably wasting time.

  • The kind of practice you have. Certain practice areas – Susan suggests bankruptcy, divorce, estate planning, and criminal – might be better suited than others.

I’m a new convert to MySpace – haven’t even set up my profile yet! – but I am definitely intrigued by the possibilities. In my bankruptcy practice, I can see a further niche developing in the future as the “bankruptcy lawyer for Generation Y.” Perhaps even a subniche for advocacy and pro bono work in our schools, helping to teach young people (middle and high school age) about personal finance and credit. In that kind of work, I can see a MySpace profile playing a huge, beneficial part.

What do you think? Is your practice ready for MySpace?

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Getting (slightly) Famous by Narrowing Your Niche

Niche_1I (probably) don’t know you, dear reader, at all. Yet if you’re thinking about going solo, or have recently done so, I can predict two things about you with great certitude:

  1. You’ve read ad nauseam in various media the single biggest “marketing message” the so-called experts have to offer: Niche Your Practice. You get it, intellectually. You understand why niche practices are more successful than those with broad scatter-shot approaches.And ….
  2. You won’t do it.

At least, you won’t do it at first, and not to an optimally narrow point.

How do I know this for sure? Because it’s true about me, and every solo I know (so far)! When you first start out, unless you are the rarest of breeds, you are first and foremost scared. You’re afraid you won’t succeed. You’re afraid clients won’t walk in the door, or if they do, they won’t bring a checkbook, or if they do, the check will bounce.

And all that’s actually true for awhile, to some degree; of course, with hard and smart work and laser-like focus it will turn around. But until it does, you’re going to resist narrowing your niche because it looks, feels, and smells like turning down money.

The problem with this thinking? It rests on a fallacy: that the more people you approach, the likelier you are to win a few of them over to your side. That’s a fallacy for two reasons:

  • Your law practice (or other professional service firm) is not an off-track betting parlor, and you’re not gambling. Your client conversion ratio (the percentage of people who sign up versus all those who inquire) doesn’t depend on odds. Simply put: luck’s got nothing to do with it. Neither do odds.
  • Your clients aren’t going to make their decision based on odds. They’re not going to choose a lawyer simply because s/he pitches wide, or lots of other people pick him or her.

To get more clients, you have to understand how clients think – why they choose the lawyers they choose. And what they respond to (among other factors) is the perceived expertise of the professional. That’s why niche marketing is so important!

To help you with your niche marketing, you might want to check out this free resource from attorney Stephen Yoder, author of a wonderful book I’m in the midst of reading and will review here on The Inspired Solo titled Get Slightly Famous.

 

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Using Your Blog to “Sell” Your Services

Take a look at this blog post from Chris Garrett on New Media, then think about these points for a bit:

  • How can you generate interest in your legal services through your blog? Consistent with your ethical rules, can you offer case studies? Examples of problems you can solve with your services?
  • Are your blog posts focused on the reader’s needs, or are you still engaged in ego-driven posting? (Hint: count the number of “I”s versus the number of “you”s.)
  • What can you give away for free? A report or an article that offers valuable advice? If it grates against your capitalist tendencies, you need to consider the long run, and this quote from Chris:

True, blogs are all about giving free information. Bridging the gap
between free and paid is often an intimidating challenge. Don’t think
of it as a difference between $0 and $N, consider it more as a
challenge to show value and more value. I give away an ebook, I write articles and don’t charge for them.
People ask me questions, I answer their questions. If everything I did
was free then I would soon be broke. Still I get training, coaching,
consultancy and writing work.

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Inspired Client Relations: Tiered Service Levels?

Michelle Golden of Golden Practices, the blog for her Golden Marketing, Inc., company, gives us all some timely and sorely-needed permission to treat our very best clients better than the rest of our clients. That might rub you the wrong way – I admit I had a little difficulty typing that last sentence. But just wait a bit – read on:

Your firm or company should have base-line service standards that are applied to all customers across the board. All customers should be able to rely on treatment that is prompt, fair, respectful, and pleasant–even if the ‘news’ or ‘deliverable’ is unpleasant. This is reputation insurance if nothing else. The base-line standards should hold true no matter who is communicating with the client or who is responsible for them–whether the “lead” partner or manager, an assisting partner, a first year associate, a file clerk or the janitor. … But it might surprise you to that now I’m going to state that not all customers should be treated equally. Above your base-line standards (about which many firms don’t even have documentation or training, much less accountability…) it’s just not physically possible to treat all customers the same (silly little barriers like ‘not enough time in the day’ seem to prohibit this). It’s actually okay to give super-deluxe service to your very best customers, to give some extras to good customers, and to give your base-line (which I’d hope is still at least slightly above average) to all the rest.

(Emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second – if you reward your top-level clients with top-level service, what do you think will happen to your percentage of top-level clients? Don’t you think it will increase, thanks to the inevitability of word-of-mouth? Wouldn’t you prefer more of those kinds of clients? And if your baseline service is “at least slightly above average” you can let go of that guilt trip with a pure conscience.

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Direct Mail – No Direct Benefits?

Tom Kane of the Legal Marketing Blog posits today that direct mail could work, in the right campaign and directed at the right targets – but why would you bother, when there are faster and more (pardon the pun) direct methods of garnering more clients?

I have to say that I agree with Tom. I’ve heard all the arguments about direct mail, even bought the KoolAid (though I never drank it) from some colleagues who claimed direct mail was all that and a bag of extra-tasty kettle chips (sea salt and cracked pepper, of course). But through it all, in the back of my mind, there’s this still, small voice saying something like “Now, really. Would you buy a lawyer’s services from a direct marketing piece? Would you even send in for the free report?”

The answer: maybe. Maybe. But … then again, maybe not.

The truth is, there’s still something off-putting about direct marketing from the consumer’s perspective – be it a consumer of those kettle chips or of legal services. It’s a stigma that perhaps ought not to be there. But arguing that it shouldn’t be there is like arguing that the sun ought to rise in the west, because those Californians have been cheated all these years. Sure, it might make sense (though as an Atlantic Ocean beach resident I’d argue otherwise), but it just isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

But Tom’s point is even stronger than my little voice’s – and that’s this: you have just so many hours in the day to do your job, even fewer to market. Make wise use of the time you’ve got to maximize your benefits. And setting up and executing a direct mail campaign, even one that’s automated, takes a lot of time and effort. First, you have to design the plan. You have to draft the copy (or hire someone to do it for you). You have to create whatever freebie you’re offering. You have to figure out how you’re going to acquire the addresses for your targets, assuming you already can define your targets to begin with (if not, that’s more time), and you have to either outsource the mail merge or do it yourself. Then you have to track results. Lather, rinse, make changes, repeat as needed.

Could it work? I think I agree with Tom. Maybe. But frankly, I choose to spend my marketing time elsewhere, and in other ways. As an adherent of the Inspired Solo philosophy (that I totally am making up as I go along but I secretly think most good philosophies are created in exactly the same way – I digress, though), I want a rich practice, not a high volume one. I want a practice that rests on solid relationships, not only with my clients but also with the sources of my referrals. I want to spend my time reaching out and making connections, as well as helping people in deep and, yes, maybe even profound ways.

I might be asking a lot, but in my experience, that’s the only way one ever achieves “a lot.”

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