11 Business Practices That Undermine Your Marketing Program and Trash Your Reputation
by Trey Ryder
The quickest way to destroy your marketing effort and trash your reputation is with bad business practices. If you see yourself in the following examples, I urge you to change your behavior.
BAD BUSINESS PRACTICE #1: Donít pay bills until they are at least 90 days old. You probably know lawyers who pride themselves in how slowly they pay their bills. They are the same lawyers who enjoy the least loyalty and respect from vendors.
BETTER: Pay bills within 48 hours of when you receive them. Your accountant may tell you Iím crazy, but few things improve your reputation and gain as much positive publicity as paying your bills right away.
When you donít pay your bills on time, vendors start grumbling around the community. In the same way you talk about clients who donít pay your bills, vendors discuss their clients who make them wait for payment. Sooner or later, this information gets around your community. The reason for your delay is irrelevant. When word hits the street that you are slow to pay, your reputation suffers. This is aggravated by the fact that people think all lawyers are rich and can write a check any time they want. Vendors often conclude that if you havenít paid their bill, itís only because you donít want to.
If you really want to generate the ďWow!Ē response -- and improve your reputation in your city -- pay invoices as soon as you receive them. As word gets out, you might find that more vendors want your business -- and that some vendors may give you a discount because you donít make them wait for their money.
BETTER: Keep employees happy and treat them with respect. Good employees are wonderful goodwill ambassadors. Plus, they stay at their jobs so you avoid recurring training costs. On the other hand, disgruntled employees undermine your marketing program and complain to everyone they see, spreading their poison all over town. If you cannot correct the underlying problem and turn grumbling employees into positive, enthusiastic employees, replace them.
BETTER: Keep your promises. Unreliable people arenít good friends -- and they donít make good lawyers. If you are not responsible, people will call you a flake. And if clients cannot depend on you to keep small commitments, do you really think theyíll trust you when the stakes are high? Stay true to your commitments and everybody wins.
BETTER: Arrive early or on time for appointments. This shows your respect for the other person. If you canít arrive on time, call as soon as you discover youíll be late. Tell the person when you expect to arrive -- and offer him the option to reschedule. When you keep the other person informed, you show your respect for the personís time. And by learning of your tardiness in advance, the other person will likely receive the information in a positive way.
BETTER: Return phone calls promptly. The first and best response is the quick response. Still, since you wonít always be able to return calls quickly, explain to your clients how you handle return calls in your office. Train your receptionist to take messages in ways that reduce callersí frustration. This includes asking if the call is urgent, so she can give it a high priority, and asking if someone else can respond to the callerís request in your absence.
BETTER: Respond to requests quickly because speed is critical to making a positive impression. At the very least, you should mail materials the same day you receive the inquiry. In this way, your prospects will receive your materials within two or three days, with luck. Even better, because everybody today wants an immediate response, you can help satisfy prospects -- and beat competitors to the punch -- by putting your marketing information on your web site where prospects can read it 24 hours a day.
BETTER: Donít haggle over price. Instead, when you call a vendor, explain that you will not haggle over price. (Vendors like to hear this.) Then explain that even though you wonít haggle, price remains an important consideration. Tell the vendor that you are requesting prices from several suppliers and that you will base your decision on the first quote from each. (This emphasizes the need for the vendor to give you the lowest price, and makes him aware that you will not accept a revised quote.) I use this method all the time. Sales reps appreciate that I wonít haggle and they give me the lowest price on the first quote, which saves them and me a great deal of time.
BETTER: When possible, avoid complex agreements for simple matters. Another lawyer I spoke with -- and the one I hired -- drafted a brief letter of understanding. In two paragraphs, he said everything he needed to say. I signed and returned the letter with my check -- and he did an excellent job.
BETTER: Keep your problems to yourself. Your problems have no place in a business discussion. Prospects and clients want to have confidence in your abilities. The more you discuss your challenges, the more prospects lose confidence in your ability to solve problems.
BETTER: Show your appreciation at every opportunity. Tell people how grateful you are for their help. And for maximum impact, tell them in writing. I started sending thank-you letters five years ago. They donít take long to write. And the act of sending a letter is so far beyond what most people would even consider that the recipient and his employer are really grateful for the gesture.
I send letters for several reasons: First, it makes the person who receives it feel good. Second, the person who receives it remembers me. And third, in an effort to live up to the letterís high praise, the vendor gives me excellent service in the future.
So take a few minutes to reward good service with a letter. Youíll really help the people who receive them, as noted in this old adage:
ďExpect people to be better than they are; it helps them become better. But donít be disappointed when they are not; it helps them keep trying.Ē
BETTER: Correct your mistakes immediately and overwhelmingly in your clientís favor. Recently, four of us went into the same restaurant. Nothing was bad, but several little things went wrong. Our server, a young lady, corrected everything quickly and courteously. Even so, she remained irritated at the cooks.
When we finished, she came to the table and made this announcement: ďYour meals are free and hereís a $20 gift certificate so youíll come in again.Ē We were speechless.
Because of her generosity, we decided to order dessert and asked her to start another ticket. Later she returned and announced that dessert was free as well. Again we were dumbfounded. We gave her a generous tip.
You will make mistakes. Everyone does. What matters is how quickly and completely you correct them. When you make a mistake, correct it immediately and overwhelmingly in your clientís favor. Your client will be so surprised that he will tell his family, friends, colleagues -- almost everyone he knows. As a result, you will recoup the money you lose from the mistake at least tenfold through positive publicity and client loyalty.
When you improve your business practices, you erase negatives that undermine
your marketing efforts. If you donít get rid of these arrows, someday youíll
find them in your chest.
Trey Ryder (c) Copyright 2004-2007 By Trey Ryder LLC. All rights
Trey Ryder is a law firm consultant who specializes in Education-Based Marketing for attorneys. Trey Ryder offers lawyers three free articles by e-mail: 9 Smart Ways to Cut Marketing Costs and Improve Results, 11 Brochure Mistakes Lawyers Make, and Marketing Moves Most Lawyers Miss. Send your name and e-mail address to email@example.com and ask for his free e-mail packet of articles.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.