November 2008 Archives

November 24, 2008

Lessons from Retailers: Marketing in a Time of Less Than Plenty

Though we lawyers prefer to think otherwise, for many consumers and small businesses, legal services are a discretionary expenditure.  In times of less-than-plenty, consumer clients may decide that estate planning can wait, while small businesses may choose to make do with do-it-yourself contracts even in complex situations where retaining a lawyer would make more sense.  Couples are even putting off divorce in part because of the costs associated with the divorce process itself!

So what can lawyers do to make procurement of legal services more palatable for clients in lean times?  For starters, they can take a lesson from some of the initiatives that retailers are adopting to retain customers and stimulate sales in the holiday season.  I've listed some of these measures below, and I'll leave it to you to determine whether these ideas can work for your practice:

1.  Show Clients Your Budget Options 

Not surprisingly, upscale grocery store Whole Foods (dubbed Whole Paycheck by some) is suffering in this economy.  Sure, folks always need to eat, but when you're unemployed, the first items cut from the grocery list are discretionary luxuries like imported cheeses or handmade pastas.  So rather than risk losing to pedestrian grocery stores those customers who once willingly shelled mega-bucks for these kinds of goodies, Whole Foods has shifted its marketing to highlight its best values for customers, reports the Washington Post.  Now, Whole Food gives "Value Tours" of its stores to teach customers about saving by buying in bulk and dispenses tips on finding bargains on its blog.  And for the holidays, the store is promoting a list of environmentally-friendly gifts that cost less than $20.  Though teaching customers to cut costs may result in less profit for Whole Foods, in the long run, the strategy allows the store to retain customers who will merrily resume more lavish spending when the economy turns around.

Lawyers can implement a Whole Foods-like strategy by identifying ways for clients to keep their legal fees low.  Perhaps a client can't afford your deluxe estate planning package right now, but can pay for the bare essentials.  When the economy improves, the client might decide to pay for an upgrade.  For some cases, clients can save money by doing some of the legwork themselves.  You might, for example, tell corporate clients that you can draft their incorporation papers but let them take care of the filing on their own to save extra fees. 
Or instead of charging clients each time they call for a status update, you could implement a secure online portal or project management tool (such as Basecamp or Zoho) where clients can check on the progress of their case themselves or download documents rather than calling you.

2.  Layaway Plans

This holiday season, retailers are increasingly reviving an old payment strategy, according to istock Analyst:  the layaway plan.  Under a typical layaway plan, customers select the item they want to purchase, which the store sets aside or "lays away."  Every week or two weeks, the customer makes an installment payment for the item -- for example, in the case of Boscov's Department store, a customer must pay either 10 percent or $5 every two weeks until the merchandise is paid off, at which point it is released to the customer.  There is no charge for the Boscov layway program, though there is a $5 cancellation fee if the customer decides midway not to make the purchase.  Since many customers cannot qualify for credit cards, or prefer to reserve credit cards for emergencies only, layaway plans allow customers to budget and pre-pay for items that they could not otherwise afford.

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November 17, 2008

How A Lawyer Like You Can Get Found Online Even If SEO Concepts Have You Lost

You know the old teaser that if a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Well, the same might be asked of your law firm's web page or blog -- if no one can find your site online, does it really exist?  That's where the concept of SEO - search engine optimization - comes into play.  As explained in Wikipedia, SEO is the "process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to an online site from search engines, via search results." 

So what can you do to improve your SEO?  Some would argue that you're best off leaving SEO to experts instead of doing it yourself, but I disagree.  First, professional SEO services done right can cost a good chunk of change, so often, they're not really an option for small firms or lawyers just starting out who need SEO the most.  Second, even those lawyers who have the financial means to purchase SEO services should educate themselves about SEO basics to make an informed decision about an SEO provider.  Some SEO companies use unscrupulous tactics that can get your site banned from search engines, while others employ means that aren't particularly effective.  If you know a bit about how SEO works, you can avoid the bad apples.

Below, I've provided a couple of tips and resources that will let you start learning about SEO.

1.  Good SEO Isn't Rocket Science.  First and foremost, achieving good SEO isn't rocket science; it's common sense.  Ask yourself a basic question:  What kinds of terms are prospective clients likely to use if they're looking for a lawyer in your practice and geographic area?  For example, a woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma who wants to find a lawyer to handle her divorce is likely to search terms such as "divorce lawyer" and "Tulsa Oklahoma," or perhaps "Tulsa Oklahoma family lawyer."  Once you have a good sense of how a client might look for you, use those search terms regularly at your website or blog to make it easier to be found.

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