This article was first published in the Lex Witness December 2014 issue.
The Legal industry today is going through a cut-throat competition globally and there are several reasons behind the rat race. This varies from geography to geography and firm to firm. Better branding and positioning remains one of the many reasons that can be the ‘wish-list’ for a law firm’s managing partner to excel and see how best the firm can manage to make a mark.
However, following certain steps can help any law firm, irrespective of size or availability of resources (time and money), compete effectively for the attention of clients and referral sources. These steps will not only help enrich the law firm’s client list, but also grow the firm as a business from a long term perspective.
Step 1: Prepare a Business Plan
The business plan is an integral component of a well-constructed short term growth strategy, which is part and parcel of a long-term strategic plan. Expending efforts and resources without a well-thought out plan or reasoning place, and in reaction to randomly obtained advice rarely works in the long term. Applying a results-oriented approach forces you to quantify expected financial growth.
Benchmarks must be established to measure the business plan’s effectiveness.
Step 2: Conduct an Initial Assessment
Before committing to new branding and positioning endeavours, step back and thoroughly assess your current initiatives. Basic questions to address at the inception are:
- Who is your target market?
- What is your current brand?
- What was your branding and business development budget for the year?
- Have you identified your niche practice areas and specializations?
- Do you know your key client industries?
- How do you currently measure the effectiveness of marketing endeavours?
- What has been your past return on investment (ROI)?
Step 3: Carve, Differentiate and Evolve Your Brand
Most law firms let their brand develop as a part of the flow. Many of such law firms engage in a “visible branding” initiatives, such as graphic components such as a logo and randomly chosen tag lines, neglecting to strategically develop image and core message.
Start defining your ideal brand by exploring the unique qualities that differentiate you from your competitors. A strategically positioned law firm resonates with us in a significant way, and create its own individuality. Consequentially, this may not appeal to every current and prospective clients.
The firm should own the category it aspires to be positioned in, and ideally should be the first in a position. Differentiation is key!
Step 4: Write Down Monthly Goals for Branding and Business Development Initiatives
Strategic branding and business development plans yield best results only when carefully laid out steps are implemented on a consistent and persistent basis. Create or adopt an activity management and accountability system that keeps you on track.
Don’t waste resources, in terms of money, time and talent, on anything that is not measurable. Identifying or creating long term customized positioning platforms, like your own blog or newsletters, can not only be much more effective as compared to a display ad (Indian law firms can only advertise outside India), but also easily measurable.
Step 5: Establish a Specific and Consistent Follow-up Process
The reason that follow-up is so important is because that is where all the revenue is. It is not found in the introductory event, pitch or handshake. The frequency and method of future contact with the prospective client or referral source is context dependent. Bear in mind it takes 7 “touches” to establish a relationship. With online touches that number increases to 7-16 times. Sometimes the situation calls for an immediate lunch or even a phone call. When immediacy is not necessary or appropriate, you could schedule periodic “soft touches” over the course of the upcoming year. “Soft touches” include sending notifications of blog posts, copies of your published articles, and invitations to firm-sponsored seminars.
Step 6: Monitor and Reassess Results
A structured approach for accountability and assessing ROI creates the basis for shifting away from efforts that aren’t productive and directing resources toward endeavours that prove profitable. However, it is essential to keep in mind that some marketing initiatives take longer than others to produce appreciable results.
Once you have given the particular plan a reasonable amount of time to produce results, analyze whether you are satisfied with the ROI. If not, revise the plan on your own or consider investing in a short-term contract with a consultant experienced in law firm marketing to get you on the right track.
In one of my previous articles, we had also discussed THE RULE OF 2.5% AND 200 HOURS. This is where you calculate the 2.5 % of the firm’s gross revenue, and invest that money directly on generating new business, like on taking clients out to lunch, or business development trips, conference sponsorships and so on.
Alongside the monetary investment, it is key to put in man-hours in all positioning and active business development initiatives. 200 hours may sound like a lot, but when you break it down on a per week basis, it’s really only about four hours a week.
When you take out such a measurable and tangible sum out of your firm’s revenue and invest it back into growing the firm, you psychologically become accountable to every initiative you pursue.
Like most worthwhile endeavours, the marketing process requires effort, focus, and commitment. Branding and business developmental projects affect the future of the firm’s practice and are just as important as short term production and billable hours.
As the well renowned former Harvard Business School professor and expert on the management of professional service firms – David Maister says, “Your billable time is your current income, but your non-billable time is your future.”