February 2010 Archives

February 25, 2010

A Word About Logos

As the saying goes, a picture is worth one thousand words.  Nowhere is that statement more true than when it comes to logo design.  In fact, the term "logo" finds its roots in the Greek term, logos which literally defined means "word," but actually encompasses concepts like storytelling and analogy.  Which makes sense, because in some ways, a good logo succinctly encapsulates a company's story. 

If done right, a logo also draws attention, conveys memorability and reflects a business' personality.  Even if you believe, as Seth Godin does, that a great logo doesn't mean anything until the brand makes it worth something, if you do decide to create a logo for your firm (and opinions diverge on the need for logo, as discussed below), devote some thought to it or you'll be saddled with something hideous if you eventually hit it big.

So should a law firm have a logo? As with most topics related to marketing or branding, there are two schools of thought.

No Logo Needed 

Several years, Tom Kane of the Lawyer Marketing Blog (absolutely not to be confused with this one, as Tom's been around forever!) downplayed the importance of logos, arguing (somewhat like Seth Godin) that if your service isn't excellent, then a logo is worthless.  From Kane's post:

The point is, logos can be helpful if your product and service is excellent. Otherwise, it can truly give off negative vibes, and it would be better to not have a logo than to have one that generates immediate disdain. I like logos, but a logo is much less important than the impact of your legal services (both the legal product and the actual client service experience).

Dan Hull of What About Clients concurs, adding that a logo is really nothing more than your firm's look -- the patterns, letterhead and colors reproduced on stationary, business cards and the firm website.  Indeed, seems that a number of law firms subscribe to Hull's philosophy; even mega firms like this or this one which could readily afford a fancy logo, instead use simple typography that one might find on letter head in lieu of a logo.

Which raises a second point about logos:  great, professional design doesn't come cheap.  As I'll discuss, there are some low cost and even DIY options, some which are more preferable than others.  But if you can't afford more than a generic logo, you may be better off taking the approach that Hull suggests.

Tips for Logo Design

Let's say you want to take a chance on a logo - maybe you have a distinctive idea in your mind or perhaps you feel that it will make your firm stationary and business card look more prominent.  If that's the case, here are some tips for getting started:

1.  Identify what you like...and what you don't

Do you have a concept for a logo?  If not, there are plenty of resources to stimulate your imagination.  Steve Matthews of Stem Legal suggests SeekLogo.com, a tool that allows you to search a database of around 200,000 - though as Matthews points out, there are only 59 examples for law firms.  Even so, you may find inspiration from other industries. 

If you find that nothing resonates, you might find it useful to review examples of top logos, selected by others, such as this top 250 logo list or 20 great and 20 not so great logos.  It's also interesting to read a designer's explanation of what makes a good logoLogo Design Love offers a treasure trove of information on logo design, including samples and discussion of the design and redesign process (not surprisingly, Logo Design Love has a great logo!).

2.  Setting a budget

Once you've got a couple of logos in mind, you'll probably want to set a budget.  Great logo design costs money, which was something that I never fully appreciated until I actually explored the process.  Six Revisions rounds up a bunch of posts like this one that depict the steps in developing a logo, from idea to inception.  If you thought editing a brief or drafting a contract was time consuming, take a look at the design process: it's equally involved. 

3.  Design options for implementation

    a.  Professional designer or web company


With a budget in mind, it's time to find a way to implement it.  If you're able to spend several hundred dollars or more, you might decide to hire a professional designer.  Seek recommendations from colleagues, but don't stop there, as your colleague's tastes may differ.  In addition to references, you want to look at the designer's portfolio to get a sense of his or her style.  Where a designer is local, an in person visit is useful.  And for a designer who's in another location, a phone call is imperative.  You'll be working with this person intensively, albeit for a brief period, so it's best to get a sense of how you'll interact (a phone call also provides added reassurance that the designer isn't fly by night).

Another option for logo design is to commission the work as part of web or blog design.  Again, personal recommendations, followed by a review of the company's portfolio is important.  In addition, if you see a logo on a site designed by your web or blog developer, don't assume that the web company did the design.  Many times, customers hire a web company and provide their own logos that were prepared by another designer.  So if you choose to use your web company for logo company, ask explicitly about their design experience and whether the company actually designed some of the other logos at the site.

b.  Online options for more affordable design

If you can't afford a professional logo design now, not to worry.  There are plenty of mid-range options that you can locate through the Internet.  Results vary, but with some due diligence, you can may be able to find a satisfactory logo at a reasonable price.  On line options include:

1.  Craigslist and intern websites

Several designers offer logo creation services on Craigslist for fees ranging from $60 to $199. You probably won't get anything high end, but again, check the portfolio and see if the designer's work appeals to you.  Another option for low cost work include websites like UrbanInterns or College Helpers where you might find new grads or students looking to build a portfolio and thus, willing to work for less.

2.  Elance, Odesk and freelance sites

Instead of hiring someone for a flat or hourly fee, you can also bid out a logo project at sites like Elance.com or Odesk.com.  You can sign up and provide some details about your project, and set a cost cap and see what kinds of responses you generate.  Both sites include information about a designers' work history and feedback from other customers and provide an escrow type account to hold money in case there's a dispute later on.  As an alternative, you can search for designers by project (e.g., design or logo) and directly contact those who've done work that you like.

3.  Design Contests

Several sites, like 99 Designs or Cullego allow users to run a contest to select a logo.  Essentially, users offer a prize and a description of the project, and designers submit a proposal, with the winner collecting the prize money. While I've seen law firms use contest design sites, I don't recommend them.  Though characterized as crowdsourcing, in my opinion, logo contests are a way to get free work on spec, which isn't fair (would you work on spec?)  In addition, there are a host of other concerns about logo design contests, including the likelihood of attracting low quality or inferior design, winding up with potentially plagiarized work and the legality of contests.  (For another view of crowdsourcing design, see here.

4.  DIY Sites

Some online sites allow users to design a logo themselves, by mixing and matching stock images, fonts and colors in an online template.  Some of the online sites  like LogoYes offer decent variety and themes; you can design the logo free and then pay $69 to $99 to purchase it.  Logoease offers a similar concept but it's free, though its choices are more limited.

Conclusion

Though a professional logo can be fun to create and add some distinctiveness and pizazz to your website and business cards, ultimately, your logo won't carry much value unless you do the work to back it up.  Oddly, when it comes to something as visual as a logo, seems that substance trumps form.
February 24, 2010

The Three Es of Cold E-mails

You've heard of cold calls, right?  I posted some tips about cold calling almost a year ago, but they're still relevant if you missed them the first time around.

But these days, what's perhaps even more relevant than the cold call is the cold email.  After all, we interact so frequently online - through social media sites and listservs where we're more likely to have access to someone's email rather than their phone number.  In addition, it's a little less intimidating to make a first crack at contacting someone we don't know by email rather than phone.

So what are some reasons you might contact someone via a cold email? Here are a couple of scenarios.  Let's say that you're a family law attorney interested in generating more referrals from bankruptcy lawyers, since you've noticed that bankruptcy lawyers are already a good referral source.  You might run some searches on a site like LinkedIn to identify bankruptcy lawyers in your area who also attended the same college or law school.  Sending an invitation to "link" with them won't accomplish much if they don't know who you are.  But an email explaining the connection and suggesting a meeting or phone call could lead to a relationship that might generate referrals.

Or, maybe you've just started a blog on estate planning for young families that you believe might be interesting to financial planners or new parents.  Sure, you could compile a list of 50 planners or mom-oriented websites and send a canned announcement.  Or, you could customize an email that introduces you and your site and gives recipients reason to check it out.

As with cold calls, you should follow certain best practices for cold emails to ensure that they satisfy the three Es:  ethics, effectiveness and etiquette.  These practices are discussed below.

 1.  Ethics  Rules prohibiting client solicitation may apply to cold emails.  For example, if you come across a tweet on Twitter that "en route to hospital. Drunk driver hit me," emailing the victim and offering your services would violate solicitation rules.  To avoid running afoul of ethics rules (and, as discussed below, to avoid annoying people), you're best off limiting cold emails to lawyers and other service providers rather than prospective clients, potentially consumers.

2.  Effectiveness   A cold email is effective when it meets with a fairly quick reply rather than a delete button.  Tech start-up advisor Thomas Korte offered some great tips (and a template) for effective cold emails in a recent blog post.  Specifically, he advises that you include the following information:

  •   a description of who you are and where you are located;
  •  an explanation of your connection to the recipient.  Did you work at the same firm?  Attend the same school?  Or follow him on Twitter? 
  • an explanation of the reason for the email.  Do you simply want to inform the recipient about an article that you wrote that might prove useful?  Or would you like to schedule a phone call to talk further or even an in person meeting?
  • a link to your website and any relevant attachments that can help the recipient learn more about you.
Bear in mind that cold emails don't become effective once you hit "send."  If you don't get a response within a week, definitely send a follow up email.  Many times, emails are accidentally deleted or a recipient may set it aside to respond and simply forget.  Of course, if you send a follow up and still don't hear back, you can probably check that recipient off your list.

When you get a positive response, consider what steps you want to take next.  For instance, if the recipient agrees that meeting in person over a cup of coffee might be a good idea, then the ball returns to your court to set a date.  Do so promptly.

3.  Etiquette  Even if your cold emails are ethically compliant, that doesn't mean that they're not annoying.  Take care not to send impersonal, mass emails, emails rife with misspellings  or emails that make clear that you haven't taken twenty seconds to learn about the recipient.

So why not give cold emails a try?  If you follow these three Es, you'll realize how very Easy cold emails can be.
February 4, 2010

Social Media Round Up

The numbers are in, and as you might have expected, 2009 was a banner year for social media.  According to the Nielsen Company, consumer usage of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter increased by 82 percent.  In fact, consumers spent over six hours per month on Facebook, or more than three times the amount of time spent on Google. 
 
Many lawyers give short shrift to the growing importance of social media, which is mistake.  As described in this article excerpted from an upcoming book that I co-authored with Nicole Black, lawyers should keep in mind these three themes when they approach social media:

  1. Social media is not a fad or a frivolity but a paradigm shift sweeping both the legal profession and society at large;
2.   A social media presence is a tool for achieving other professional goals, not a goal in itself and

3.  Use of social media does not transform otherwise appropriate conduct into something unethical, but nor does it insulate unethical conduct.

Take a look at the full article for more detail on these three themes.  And if you're interested in learning more about social media,  consider  these additional resources:

Mashable - Premier online site for social media, packed full of demographic information, trends and how-to guides.

Social Media Law Student - Don't let the fact that this site is run by students and young lawyers deter you - this blog covers social media issues related to lawyers, judges and the legal system at large, and includes some product reviews of social media tools.

Social Media Today - Focusing on how businesses implement social media.

Web Strategist - Though focused on business use of social media, detailed discussions and statistics at this site make it a great educational resource for lawyers on intelligent use of social media.

AllTop - Social Media - Top social media stories aggregated in one place.
 



 


 



February 2, 2010

Using Excellent Client Service to Build Brand and Market a Practice

All too frequently, lawyers treat law practice management and marketing as mutually exclusive matters.   Many times, lawyers invest considerable thought and resources in developing and implementing policies that allow them to effectively and efficiently serve clients, maintain files and collect payment.  Yet lawyers rarely mention these practices in marketing their services - and in doing so, they miss out on an important opportunity to distinguish themselves from the competition. 

Indeed, as this article by Gerry McGovern describes, your firm's law practice management practices are part and parcel of your firm's brand.  In McGovern's case, she judges banks largely on the usability of their online service and unfortunately, they don't fare well.  McGovern believes that's because banks treat customer service and IT issues separately - and fail to recognize how IT design can impact usability:

In fact, I have rarely, if ever, met a senior manager with more than a passing interest in the Web. They think this stuff is technical - something you give to the IT department.
Where customers spend their time is where you build your brand. Organizations need to stop trying to use traditional advertising techniques to create false images. For an increasing number of customers, you are your website. It's about time senior management woke up to that fact.


Unfortunately, in a down economy, are cutting customer service programs rather than enhancing them reports  BigNews.biz.  That's a mistake, says Chris Coles, a CEO of HyperQuality, a customer service solutions provider quoted in the story, because quality service helps companies retain existing customers. 

When you market your law firm, do you describe to clients how you'll serve them?  If your firm has a 24 hour call return guarantee, a client portal, where clients can check the status of cases or Internet access in your waiting room, you should make those features part of the package that you sell to clients, along with your expertise and the results you've obtained in other cases.  And if your firm doesn't offer a suite of client friendly benefits, realize that it's not just a law practice management issue.  It's also a marketing issue that may be impacting the financial health of your law firm.