17 Fatal Marketing Mistakes Lawyers Make
by Trey Ryder
Lawyers who rely on traditional marketing methods are fast discovering that many “time-proven methods” no longer work. Lawyers could dramatically improve their marketing results by avoiding the following mistakes and heeding this up-dated advice.
MISTAKE #1: Relying on referrals. When you depend on referrals as your sole source of new business, you allow middlemen to control your flow of new clients. You may discover that whether you receive referrals has nothing to do with your knowledge, skill or experience. Instead, it may be based on your ability to return the referrals.
ADVICE: In addition to referrals, make sure your marketing program attracts inquiries directly from prospects. This allows you to manage your marketing program, rather than relying on third parties over which you have little or no control.
MISTAKE #2: Depending on media exposure. Without question, articles in the print media and interviews on radio and television can help you attract new clients. But many lawyers rely on publicity as their entire marketing program. True, exposure can increase your credibility. But often exposure by itself isn’t enough. Lawyers routinely report, “We were very happy with the number of articles about our firm, but we didn’t get a single new client!” In addition to exposure, you need something that causes you to interact with prospects.
ADVICE: Make sure your marketing program brings about interactions between you and your prospects, such as over the telephone or in person. Interaction is a critical step in the marketing process -- and the step most attorney marketing programs overlook.
MISTAKE #3: Relying on networking groups as a primary source of new business. Networking is a time-consuming exercise in meeting prospects and cultivating referrals. And while networking may bear fruit, lawyers often underestimate the time required.
ADVICE: Pursue opportunities to meet and talk with genuine prospects, but don’t put networking above other marketing strategies.
MISTAKE #4: Competing on low price. When you lower your fee to attract new clients, (1) you undermine your credibility because clients conclude your services were not worth what they previously paid, (2) you attract clients who will leave you when competing lawyers offer fees lower than yours, (Note: Clients who are loyal to the dollar are never loyal to you.) and (3) you’ll probably lose money because the cost of attracting a volume of new clients is often greater than the profit you can earn from those clients.
ADVICE: Instead of competing on price, compete on value. You’re better off being the most expensive lawyer in town and having prospects appreciate your knowledge than being the cheapest lawyer and having prospects question your skill.
MISTAKE #5: Delivering an incomplete marketing message. Many lawyers believe common marketing methods don’t work because those lawyers didn’t get the results they wanted. But usually the problem isn’t the marketing method, it’s the message. If your message lacks even one essential element, your efforts will fail.
ADVICE: Before you implement your marketing program, make sure you create a competent marketing message. Without a powerful message, your marketing program is doomed.
MISTAKE #6: Not effectively reaching your target audience. A tax attorney who represents doctors before the IRS advertised his services in a weekly “shopper” newspaper distributed free to homes. Not surprisingly, he was disappointed with the response. Before running the ad, the lawyer could have saved his $2000 investment had he asked himself, “Will doctors look for a tax attorney in a free weekly newspaper?” I don’t know about doctors, but that’s certainly not the first place I would look.
ADVICE: Choose different methods that you believe will reach your prospects. Then test each method on a small scale before you invest serious dollars. This way you’ll know which method is most effective at reaching your target audience and how well it attracts the clients you want.
MISTAKE #7: Making decisions by committee. The quality of a marketing decision is based on how long it takes to make the decision and how much the decision has been watered down by compromise. One person working alone has the potential to make good decisions. When two people work together things begin to bog down. And if you’re waiting for three people to agree -- well, don’t hold your breath. Marketing is like football. Can you imagine how long it would take if the entire team offered their ideas and everyone had to agree before they could make the next play?
ADVICE: Choose one quarterback to direct your program. If you don’t get the results you want, change strategies or change quarterbacks. But don’t compound your quarterback’s problems by bringing in more people to help make decisions.
MISTAKE #8: Not taking the leadership position in your market. When prospects perceive you as the leader in your field, you have a substantial advantage over other lawyers. Yet, many marketing programs aren’t designed to attain this powerful, profitable position.
ADVICE: Look at your position in the marketplace. From your prospects’ point of view, is any lawyer clearly the leader in that category? If not, design your marketing program so you take control of your niche. If that niche is already dominated by other lawyers, create a new category for yourself. Then promote the category so prospects see you as first in that new area. One of my clients created a new category and successfully dominated his niche for five and one-half years. You gain an extraordinary advantage when prospects perceive you as the leader.
MISTAKE #9: Not delivering your marketing message until prospects come into your office. Attorneys usually have no problem persuading a prospect to hire their services once the prospect is in their office. But getting prospects through the door is another matter.
ADVICE: Develop materials you can send to prospective clients. Then create a marketing program that uses the print and broadcast media to attract inquiries from prospects who ask to receive your information. When prospects call your office, you respond by mailing your packet and adding their names to your mailing list. This allows you to put your marketing message into their hands regardless of their location, rather than waiting for them to come to your office. If your materials are powerful and persuasive, you’ll find that prospects call you and request appointments.
MISTAKE #10: Not marketing to your practice mailing list. Your mailing list is your own personal area of influence. It should contain the names of all your past clients, current clients, prospective clients and referral sources.
ADVICE: Make sure you mail your newsletter at least quarterly. And don’t think that you must make your newsletter an 8- or 16-page treatise. A simple educational letter of even one or two pages works just fine. Your newsletter’s size is not nearly as important as how often you mail it and the value of the information you present.
MISTAKE #11: Taking marketing shortcuts. Lawyers who achieve success often trim back their marketing programs hoping to save money by eliminating the bells and whistles. What they often don’t realize is that many of the so-called “bells and whistles” are not bells and whistles at all. They are the essential components that make their programs work.
ADVICE: When you shortcut your marketing on the front end, you shortcut the number of new clients on the back end. If you want to streamline your marketing and determine if any steps might not be needed, start slowly and track your results. Be careful not to cut away the steps that are responsible for your success.
MISTAKE #12: Not making marketing a priority. For most lawyers, practicing law is their highest priority. When they get busy, they often reduce their marketing efforts because they need that time to work on their clients’ behalf. They operate under the false hope that their momentum will attract new business long into the future. But when they cut their marketing efforts, they actually shift their marketing into neutral. As a result, inertia takes over and things slowly coast to a standstill.
ADVICE: Make marketing a priority for you or someone in your office. Or hire an outside consultant so you make sure the work gets done. Don’t turn your marketing on and off like a light switch. Keep your program in gear so you always attract an ongoing flow of new clients.
MISTAKE #13: Writing an intricate marketing plan that becomes impossible to carry out. Many marketing plans look like jigsaw puzzles with dozens -- even hundreds -- of pieces. And while the plans might work, most lawyers and their staffs don’t have the hours needed to administer the plans.
ADVICE: Make sure your marketing plan is built on simple steps that have proved to be effective and efficient. In my 30 years in marketing, the most profitable, efficient and effective method I've found is education-based marketing.
MISTAKE #14: Never completing -- and therefore never implementing -- your marketing plan. Many lawyers get so caught up in gathering facts that they never stop designing their plan. They collect data, add more steps, collect more data, revise their plan, collect more data....
ADVICE: Implement your plan at the earliest possible moment. A poor marketing plan that is up and running is infinitely more profitable than the “perfect plan” that never gets off your hard drive.
MISTAKE #15: Delaying your marketing program until your cash flow improves. More often than not, lawyers who use this reason never start marketing because they aren’t aware that their logic is backwards: Their cash flow won’t improve until they start their marketing program.
ADVICE: Maintaining an effective marketing program is the most important investment you can make. Why pay for an office and staff if you don’t have enough business to justify the overhead? Start your marketing program now so you have an ongoing flow of new clients.
MISTAKE #16: Carrying out a marketing program that does not achieve the four essential steps for success. Your marketing program must (1) establish your credibility, (2) generate interactions between you and your prospects, (3) gain your prospect’s commitment, and (4) maintain your client’s loyalty. Programs that don’t achieve all four steps will fail.
ADVICE: Any time you evaluate a marketing opportunity, consider how well that method will accomplish these steps.
MISTAKE #17: Promoting your services. When you promote your services, you take on the role of a salesperson hawking his wares. This method, called selling-based marketing, undermines your credibility and causes prospects to question whether they can trust you.
ADVICE: Instead of promoting your services, promote your knowledge by educating prospects. Education-based marketing gives prospects what they want, information and advice, and removes what they don’t want, a sales pitch. It attracts prospects who come to you because of your knowledge, skill, judgment and experience.
Trey Ryder © Copyright 2004-2007 by Trey Ryder LLC. All rights reserved.
Trey Ryder is a marketing consultant, and specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.