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  Marketing

15 Ideas for Growing Your Practice

September 2009
Some ideas that are easy to execute are often overlooked ways to help your practice prosper.

Sometimes, when we have our heads down just ploughing away through the fires on our desk, we often lose sight of the fundamental things that we should be doing to grow our practices. We’re not talking about huge, expensive or complex marketing strategies here. We are just reminding you of the basics. Several of you probably already do many of these things; several of you plan to do many of these things. Our hope is that this list will remind you of what it takes to expand your practice and spur you on to turn your best intentions into best practices. We also hope that you will gain some new ideas and insights.

The following, in no particular order, is provided to be a checklist for what you might want to do to become more profitable.

1. Get out of the office. Every great Rain Maker will tell you that you must meet with your current and potential clients often, either on their turf or on neutral ground

2. The old 80/20 rule still applies. Yes, eighty percent of your new work will probably come from twenty percent of your current clients. Do you know which of your clients provide you with the most work? If you do, how are you building on that relationship? We see too many firms and lawyers spending gobs of time and money trying to attract an elusive, new, big client. Your best target for success is the client you already know and who already knows you.

3. Just say “No”. Being fearful of where our next file will come from makes us want to accept every possible bit of work that might come in the door, whether or not the work is profitable, whether we have good prospects for getting paid, whether it is an area of law in which we are comfortable or whether our time could be better spent attempting to land the work that we really want at rates that will help us to succeed. It seems to be the credo for many lawyers that “they have never met a dollar they didn’t like.” Focus on the good stuff”, as David Maister would say.

4. Budget your time and money. Typically, a lawyer works about 2500 hours each year; roughly 1400 billable hours and 1100 non-billable hours. The non-billable time is broken down into segments for management, associate training, personal education, research and marketing. We suggest that every lawyer allows for about 600 hours per year for marketing their practice with a marketing budget of between 2% and 5% of their gross revenues that would include advertising, website creation and maintenance, marketing skills training, and client promotion—among other things.

5. Get involved. We have a moral duty to give back to our communities. Choose a charity, community group, political organization or business association that you enjoy and that is important to you. Many of these groups are looking to add a lawyer or two to their boards. In addition to contributing to a greater common good, you will also network with other successful business people.

6. Market internally. Ensure that everyone in your firm knows the all of the facets of the work you are capable of handling, the areas in which you are looking to expand and your availability to handle the work. Ask your partners about possible cross-selling opportunities. Since cross-selling is a two-way street, look at your own client list for possible situations to offer your partners. For younger lawyers, internal marketing is possibly the only marketing that they can do as their peer group has not risen to positions or situations where they can direct legal files to their friends. Every young lawyer should ask the more senior members of their firm for work on a weekly basis. A lot of work will transfer down to them if they prove that they can handle it.

7. Go to school. Many lawyers can benefit greatly from marketing training or personal coaching. In the old days, a senior partner would grab an associate by the scruff of their neck and drag them to client lunches with the warning that they are to just sit there, keep their mouth shut and learn. And they did learn. Similarly; we need to develop ways to share the marketing skills that already reside within our firms, especially for our younger members.

8. Create a “Dream List”. In a perfect world, who would your clients be and what type of work would they send you? Once you have the list, start strategizing on how you can get an introduction and what you would say when you finally meet them. Why should they hire you? What will set up apart from your competition? After all, many clients feel that most lawyers are the same – they point to law firm websites and brochures where you will see that most of them attempt to sell “Better, Faster & Cheaper” Differentiate yourself. Innovate.

9. Research. Do you truly understand your clients’ core needs? What issues keep them awake at night and what can you do to help them? Use the Internet to gather information about your current and potential clients. Use that data to customize your proposal to them. This demonstrates an understanding of their business and a commitment to help them enhance it.

10. CRM. Institute a Customer Relationship Management program that will track who, when, how and the next steps in your marketing strategy. A simple and inexpensive option like Microsoft Outlook or a more legal-specific option like Amicus Attorney will get your started.

11. Write, write and write some more. Create a perception of expertise by writing topical articles and getting them published in relevant print or online magazines, newsletters and blogs.

12. Leverage your writing. Create a mailing or, even better, an e-mailing list of clients and potential clients and send them copies of the articles that you write. The goal is to have them say, “This guy/gal sure seems to know their stuff.” Then, have the article placed in a strategic location on your website so that visitors will also see that you have expertise. Take it one step further and create a seminar, presentation or speech using the article as the basis.

13. Leverage your people. How many times have we heard, “Push the work down and free your time to do the more important stuff”? Why do many of us still resist that strategy? Whether you are in a large firm with associates or a sole practitioner with paralegals, use junior practitioners to a greater degree. Using leverage will make you more profitable and to free your time for more important things.

14. Web support. Among other things, websites are the brochures of the new millennium. Is your website supporting your marketing efforts or is it just a necessary expense? The most effective sites have a lot in common: they are built from a client’s point of view; they are informative and educational; they display your expertise; they have personality; they are well “tagged” to be picked up in Google type searches; and use videos effectively. How do firms use online video? Visit Torys at http://www.torys.com/VideoCenter/Pages/default.aspx to view an effective use of this medium.

15. Discipline. Sometimes, our best intentions lack the discipline to carry out what we know needs to be done. Develop a strategy with a timetable to accomplish the plan. Start with this checklist and add to it as you progress along the road to growing your practice.

We hope that this will help you to focus on the issues that are most important for you and your firm going forward.

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About the Author

Michael J. Anderson is a principal in Innovative Consulting Ltd. with more than thirty years experience working with professional firms throughout North America, fifteen years as an Executive Director of law firms and, since 1987, as a consultant to the professional services industry.

Michael serves firms that range in size from 30 professionals to over 2,000 professionals. While providing a broad spectrum of firm management expertise, his primary focus has been on elements of strategy including partner compensation issues, mergers, practice/industry/client team leadership and profitability and innovations within the professions.

Michael is based in Vancouver BC and can be reached at 604-272-4222 or at anderson@innovativeconsulting.ca

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