Small law firm marketing – some handy tips

Small law firm marketing is often undertaken within some serious constraints, mainly budget, time and resources – to state the obvious, so it is critical to get the basics right from the start.

The forecast for small law firms in general hasn’t always been great over the past years and marketing in small law firms has often been ignored. Today, a lot of firms are becoming bigger and more specialised and consumers are more ‘law-savvy’ with a range of ‘do-it-yourself’ legal packages at their fingertips.

Small law firms rarely feature in the weekly press, and it is not hard to imagine that the days of the thriving general practice might be limited.

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Most clients want genuine attention to their concerns, value for money and professional, articulate advice. Small law firms are uniquely placed to offer a personalised service responsive to these needs.

The questions that small law firms need to answer are: How do you get ‘good clients’ through your doors? How do you do your small law firm marketing tasks? In a competitive market and with most practitioners already stretched for time, the job of increasing your profitable matters or increasing your profit on the work you do, often gets pushed aside.

Whether you are just starting out or are looking for ways to boost your practice, here are three simple steps to start implementing a low-cost, effective marketing plan for your small law firm.

Small law firm marketing – “stock-take”

In a retail environment a stock-take identifies and places a value on assets, culls those that have expired or are of little value, and determines the new stock required to continue operations and generate profit.

Applying the stock-take analogy to small law firm marketing –  you conduct an audit of past and present matters and place a value on each. A stock-take helps determine the direction you need to take to increase your firm’s profitability. You probably already know the types of matters that generate more profit than others. The idea is to increase these and cull (or at least re-think) those that chew into your time and return little. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning down every matter that is not highly profitable in a monetary sense – some clients are excellent sources of referral even if their own matters don’t bring in the big dollars. It is really a cost-benefit exercise.

Doing pro bono work doesn’t need to stop either – just be conscious of how much you take on and when your resources are at risk of being drained. After all, you can no longer assist a charity if your business isn’t around anymore.

After auditing your matter list, prepare a stock-take of your firm’s resources (staff, hardware, software, premises) to identify anything you might need in the future to allow for growth.

Once your firm’s stock-take is complete you have the basis from which to develop a short, medium and long-term marketing plan.

Work on your client mailing list

For many small firms a client mailing list is a work in progress. If you don’t already have a mailing list, it’s time to create one. There are numerous software programs designed to capture, store and categorise information with simple or sophisticated reporting features, but why not start with a simple spreadsheet. Most firms have someone who can use excel and it’s a great tool to consolidate the contact information that will come from a variety of sources.

Most firms already have database programs bundled with their legal or other software but these are often under-utilised and may not store the information in the format you need for your client mailing list. So the first step will be to extract the contact information from the various systems you use – practice management, accounting etc. If you are not familiar with the technology you have, schedule a tutorial or even better, ask one of your staff members for a lesson. Even if you won’t be the person that ultimately inputs data into your mailing list, being aware of its capabilities and how information is stored will help when it comes to utilising the list to start your marketing communications.

Involving your staff is also a great way to get them on board with your plans and to generate new ideas.

The following tips will help with creating or updating your mailing list:

  • Start with your past and present clients. Be selective – if you don’t want business from a certain person or organisation (whether it be due to past experiences, profitability or conflict), then leave them off the list.
  • Include an area of legal interest or potential interest for each client – many of these may overlap. Think broadly such as a family law client who may subsequently purchase a home, a first-home buyer with a goal to start a property portfolio, a soon to be retiree or a couple making wills discussing a future business venture.
    Think about the ways your law firm can help your past and present clients in different ‘life-stages’. Put yourself in the position of pre-empting their legal needs.
  • Next, include potential clients. Think about your services and how you can reach a broad audience that would benefit from your expertise. Include ‘categories’ of interest so these clients can be selected specifically to receive important information such as small businesses or developers and builders.
  • Ensure that names are spelt correctly and email addresses current (the email address will be your main line of marketing communications). Review your database regularly, adding and updating as your marketing plans evolve.

If after reading this you are still confused about creating your database contact us – we have created simple step by step guidelines to help you, as we have encountered this many times.

Start talking

Communication is the key to small law firm marketing and a good mailing list allows you to communicate quickly and cost-effectively. Each time you send out a newsletter, post a blog, or share a link to an interesting article is an opportunity to reinforce your brand, show your areas of expertise and acknowledge your client’s unique interests.

Maintaining contact by newsletter is one of the most cost-effective ways of bringing good clients back to your firm or initiating enquiries from new clients. You can send regular newsletters of general interest to all mail recipients as well as interim special features or critical updates specific to certain clients.

Marketing takes practice and a bit of trial and error. The main point is that communication needs to take place regularly, leads followed up professionally and statistics recorded so that you know what is and isn’t working.

As a sole practitioner or partner of a small law firm, you are the driving force behind the direction your business takes. Start steering your business to success today and kick start your small law firm marketing tasks by blocking out a set time daily or weekly to devote to your marketing. If you want help to create interesting newsletters tailored to your practice area, or want to learn more about developing your marketing plan, we’d be happy to help.

About the author
Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.

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