Creating a legal marketing plan requires taking a critical look at your firm’s current status and evaluating it in light of your strengths and weaknesses, your clients’ needs, your competitors, and the market you practice in. Many people tend to skip this initial planning because they don’t see any tangible outcomes from the process – you end up with strategy, but that by itself doesn’t bring clients knocking. However, this initial planning defines the very foundations for how you should market your firm.
As with most other decisions you make, the first step to creating a legal marketing plan is to conduct an overall analysis of your current situation. Planning requires collecting as much data as you need to make an informed guess about where you should be focusing.
Notice I say ‘guess’ here. That’s because no matter how much data you collect, you’ll never be 100% sure what will happen in the future. However, you can make an educated guess about what is most probable to happen.
Below are a number of questions to ask yourself before you embark on any marketing campaign. The questions are designed to get you to analyze where you are and where you want to go, and to give you an idea of what to do to get from point A to point B.
Step 1 – Analyze Your Law Firm
Setting clear goals for your firm is key to measuring the results of your marketing. However, goals should be well founded in reality – can you really do what you hope to accomplish, and are you willing to put in the time and resources necessary to get there?
Let’s start with the basics:
- What is your current firm like? How big is it? How many partners do you have? Do you work well with them? How many offices do you have? What is your annual revenue? Net profits? Average salary for each of the partners?
- What services do you offer? Which are most popular? Most profitable? Which do you have the most expertise in? Which are you most passionate about and wish you had more cases? Which do you have the least expertise in? Which do you dislike doing the most? Which cases are you the most proud of and why?
- How many clients do you have? Are most of your clients repeat business or do they need a one time service? Do your clients value your services, or do they give you a hard time when the bill comes? Which clients do you like best working with and why? What characteristics do they have in common?
Each question can lead to other questions to explore, so really analyze where your firm is right now. Take the time to note which services you like best and which types of clients you enjoy working with. Answers to these questions will give you a starting point for setting future goals.
Now that you have a good understanding of where your firm is, how do you see it changing in 5 years? In 10 years? Why do you want it to change in those ways? Do you want to grow your firm, or focus on strengthening your expertise in key practice areas? If you’re looking to grow, how big would you like to be?
Step 2 – Conduct a Market Analysis
Once you have a good idea of your firm’s goals and expertise, it’s time to look at the overall marketplace.
- What is the current market like? How big is it? How has it changed in the last 5-10 years?
- Are you focused on a specific industry or niche? Which types of companies would most benefit from your expertise? Has there been any new legislation that has come out recently that has made a big impact in the way companies do business? (Trade magazines are a great way to find out what problems specific industries face, and therefore give you ideas for the types of services the current market wants!)
- Who is your target market? Do your ideal clients tend to have internal legal departments or use outside firms? Are they looking to hire a firm in the near future, have they just hired one, or are they looking to consolidate their legal services?
- What is the competition like? How big are they? What have they done recently (in terms of new cases, new practice areas, specializations, hiring)? Why might companies hire them over your firm? What are their strengths and areas of expertise? In what areas is your firm better than theirs? (Lexis Nexis is a great source for looking up news articles and press releases about competing firms! Start a file for your main competitors and start following what they’ve been doing recently. You may get some great ideas for your firm, or see opportunities they’ve missed.)
Ideally, what you’d like to do is match those services that your firm has the greatest expertise in with the demand in the market. Your firm can only be profitable if there is enough demand for your services to offset the cost of offering them. And ideally, you want your offer to be stronger than your competitors.
Ultimately, your clients and prospects want to know what you can do for them, and why they should choose you. Your objective in this step is piece together your firm’s strengths with what the market wants to find something that says “this is why you should hire us to solve your problem.”
Step 3 – Create Your Legal Marketing Plan
Finally, once you have an understanding of the types of services you want to offer and what types of prospects you should be trying to acquire, you must look internally at your firm’s resources. A marketing initiative takes time and commitment from the partners as well as a marketing budget to reach those prospects.
- What is your firm willing to commit (time/money) to marketing? Marketing is not a one time ordeal, and usually takes consistent and frequent contacts with prospects to work. Are you willing to devote the time and money necessary to reach your goals?
- What tasks need to be done – and by whom? Do you have the marketing expertise in house, or should you bring in outside help?
- Does your firm have all the necessary resources? Will partners need training in business development?
Now that you’ve conquered the foundations for what your marketing should accomplish, you can start considering the tactics (advertising, brochures, newsletters, articles, seminars, web, etc) that will help you get there.