Feb 08, 2009

A New Look At Newsletters for Lawyer Marketing

These days, blogs and social media are all the rage for lawyer marketing -- and I plan to discuss the pros and cons of these 21st century marketing activities in future columns.  But for today, l'm going to step back and take a new look at a more traditional form of lawyer marketing: the client newsletter.

So with Web 2.0 tools like blogs or Facebook or Twitter available to keep your clients up-to-date on the law or your firm's accomplishments, why should lawyers resort to something as old-fashioned or static as a client newsletter?  Well, believe it or not, newsletters offer several advantages that these other tools don't.  First, newsletters give you a chance to connect with existing clients and retain contact with former clients.  Since most lawyers report that client referrals account for their largest source of business, keeping in touch with clients ensures that they'll keep you in mind when a family member or friend asks for a referral.  Second, newsletters are a great way to build a mailing list for prospective clients -- for instance, you can have them sign up to subscribe at your blog or website. 

Newsletters also offer more flexibility over content than blogs or Twitter.  Twitter confines users to 140 characters per update -- barely enough to link to a news article or post of interest.  Blogs also tend to focus on a single topic and don't allow for digressions.  But many lawyers use newsletters to convey a variety of information to readers -- from articles on legal issues to profiles of clients to jokes or recipes.  Another drawback of blogs is that readers expect frequent updates, which leaves little time for busy lawyer-bloggers to really digest the news.  By contrast, because newsletters go out bi-weekly, there's time to develop more substantive or analytical pieces.

If I've convinced you to take a new look at client newsletters, below are the top five questions and answers on the nuts and bolts of getting started and equally, if not more challenging, keeping a newsletter going:

1.  How do I set up a newsletter?  There are many options for creating professional-looking client newsletters for minimal cost.  Desktop publishing packages such as those included in Word or Word Perfect are one option if you're comfortable with the software or have staff who can do it for you.  If you decide to send out your newsletter in hard copy, these packages work best.  Alternatively, you can also outsource newsletter production and printing to a virtual assistant or online company (just type terms like "client newsletter" and "newsletter preparation" into Google or your favorite search engine).

If you prefer an e-mail newsletter, consider services like Aweber or Constant Contact, among others, to automate newsletter preparation.  These services, which cost anywhere from $15 to $100 each month provide professional, customizable templates for e-mail newsletters and auto-response features that allow clients to register for the newsletter at your website.  Both services are simple to use; you can set up templates yourself or outsource the work to a virtual assistant.  The other benefit of an e-newsletter (as opposed to print) is that you can include URLs to sites or online articles of interest that readers can simply click through to access.

2.  Should I buy canned content?  No, for several reasons.  First, consider that your clients may be on several mailing lists and could already be receiving newsletters with canned content from other lawyers.  How embarrassing if they were to learn that your newsletter was the same as others they receive!  Second, the newsletter offers an opportunity for you to let your personality shine through based on your content choice and writing style.  Don't waste it.

3.  If I can't buy canned content, how can I find content?  There are a number of ways to develop great content for your newsletter.  First, try to include at least one informational piece in each newsletter -- perhaps a "tips post" on information to set aside for a will or five things clients should do to keep their credit records clean.  Next, set aside a folder and include links to interesting news stories or neat blogs that you've come across throughout the week.  You can alert readers to these materials in the newsletter. 

Interviews are another great source of material for a client newsletter.  Even better -- there's no writing involved. Here's how:  Identify a subject for your newsletter.  For example, if you practice immigration law, you can interview a successful immigrant business owner within your community.  If you practice family law, you might interview a marriage counselor who can share information about the counseling process.  Next, set up a phone interview with your subject using a service like Freeconferencecalls.com which will record your call at no charge and transcribe it for a small fee.  Conduct the interview and print the transcription in the newsletter.  Couldn't be easier! Plus, your subjects will be grateful for the exposure, and are sure to return the favor with referrals or introductions. 

Finally, your newsletter needn't focus on legal issues exclusively.  If you think your clients will enjoy off-topic issues, include jokes, light stories, home repair tips or cooking recipes -- and invite clients to send in their favorites.  You may find that you create a little bit of community through your newsletter.

4.  I'd like to start a newsletter, but I'm concerned that I won't follow through.  Any ideas on how to keep it going?  First, schedule your newsletter as you would any other deadline.  Every two weeks or month (and you may want to start monthly at first), set a date for when the newsletter will go out and milestones for finalizing content and putting it together.  A newsletter is also an ideal task for a virtual assistant or a law clerk -- you could send them material during the course of the month and ask them to take a first cut at creating a draft. 

5.  Should I limit my  newsletter to clients?   Not at all.  Make it available to clients and prospective clients as well.  And get double duty from a newsletter and added exposure by submitting it to some of the article archiving sites  I discussed a few weeks back.