December 2010 Archives

December 29, 2010

Make Some Marketing Dates for 2011

For many solo and small firm lawyers, the end of the year is a slow time, with prospective clients off on vacation or too preoccupied with the holidays to think about drafting a will, filing for bankruptcy or other legal matters. And while a slow-down can be nerve-wracking, it's also an ideal opportunity to start planning for next year. Here are a couple of ideas that you can still implement even as the clock ticks down towards the end of 2010.

 1. What can you finish in the next four days? Before you start planning marketing activities for next year, determine whether there's anything you can finish up before the end of the year. For example, perhaps you outlined an e-book, then set it aside when more pressing client matters came up. Can you find three or four hours to finish the e-book, convert it to a PDF file and have it ready for distribution when 2011 rolls around?

If an ebook seems too time consuming, what about activities that won't take more than an hour or two? That's really all the time you'll need to add a form or Google Voice number to your website to make it more interactive. Or, you could polish up your website bio. Finally, have you received any gifts or holiday cards from clients or other attorneys? Pick up the phone or even send an email to say thanks.


2. Make some dates for 2011 After you've cleaned up any obvious loose ends for 2010, it's time to start planning for next year. Most lawyers don't schedule time for marketing, so when they get busy, marketing falls through the cracks. Then, when the work ends, these lawyers find themselves scrambling. By planning marketing activities at the beginning of the year, you'll be able to reap the rewards of the seeds that you planted steadily throughout the course of your practice.

So what's the most effective way to plan for 2011? Drawing up a list of activities is helpful, but that's only part of the process. In addition, you should calendar those activities right now to hold yourself accountable. Thus, if you're planning to launch a newsletter or webinar series for 2011, select the dates for getting the newsletter out the door or conducting the webinar and mark them on your calendar. Then, break the tasks up into different components, and list those dates on your calendar as well. For example, if you're planning a monthly newsletter that will go out on the first of each month, you'll want to set a mid-month reminder to start gathering materials for the newsletter, and another reminder a week or two later that the deadline is approaching.

Select a calendar system that will send reminders by email to make it less likely that you'll ignore the dates. Google's free Calendar application is ideal - you can synch the calendar to your phone, receive reminders by email or even text and share the calendar with colleagues or staff.


3.Suggested Calendar Items Below are a few suggestions for items that you might calendar, along with the different components involved:

Get togethers with colleagues You can start scheduling a few lunches or coffee dates with colleagues for January right now. But it's tough to schedule dates more than a month out - after all, your colleagues might think that they're not high on your list, if you contact them in January to meet for lunch in May. Still, you can block out certain days each month - maybe the third Friday or first Wednesday - as dates when you'll have lunch or coffee with a colleague. Then, block out a date a week to ten days in advance to invite someone to meet. Once you have the days set aside for meetings, you're more likely to keep them those dates open and plan a meeting.

Conference attendance If there are trade shows or other conferences that interest you, mark those on your calendar now. Include related dates as well - such as a date pre-conference to get in touch with potential clients or colleagues who may also attend and set up meetings, as well as a date post-conference by which you'll send out follow up emails.

Writing activities In addition to creating a written newsletter, you might calendar dates for completion of written articles. Also be sure to include the publication's submissions deadline for particular topics.

Even the best laid plans may go astray. So don't be too hard on yourself if you let some of your calendared dates slide due to work or events beyond your control. My guess is that even if you follow through on half of the marketing activities that you've calendared, you'll be doing twice as well as you did last year. Happy New Year to all - and get busy!

December 20, 2010

The Link Between SEO and Social Media

Used to be that SEO was all about quantity. The quantity of preferred keywords sprinkled throughout your website. The quantity of blog posts providing continual bursts of updates to sate Google's appetite for fresh information. The quantity of in-bound links to a website, irrespective of whether the links came via recommendation from another blogger, or were purchased for a fee.

But as we move into 2011 and beyond, quality rather than quantity will determine search engine rankings, according to trend predictions by Elance and Search Engine Watch. As these sources explain, last May, Google modified its search engine algorithm to increase the quality of results generated in response to searches.

So, how does an algorithm determine site quality? Through the nature of the content, for one. That's precisely why Elance is predicting that "businesses wont' be hiring content creators for quantity anymore - it's all about quality in 2011." A second determinant of quality is the level of social media buzz - the number of times that a website or blog post is mentioned on sites like Facebook or Twitter. That's why, irrespective of the fact that just 8 percent of Americans use Twitter, lawyers should not discount Twitter in their marketing portfolio because tweets and re-tweets of website or blog content can improve SEO.

The move towards SEO based on quality content is a positive trend for several reasons. First, lawyers intimidated by blogging because of the time commitment involved in producing several posts a week (the amount once viewed as optimal for traction) can now focus their efforts on writing higher quality posts, but less frequently. Second, focusing on the quality of site content ensures that once prospective clients find your site, they'll spend time reviewing your materials which in turn increases the chances that they'll hire you.

So how do you write quality content? Select topics that are important to prospective clients - such as, simply answering the types of questions that folks ask about when they call your firm. Don't be afraid to tackle controversial subjects as well. For example, let's say that you routinely advise clients to adopt a certain type of corporate structure, even though your competitors recommend another. By explaining your position head on, and critiquing (in a respectful manner, of course) your competitors' practices. you'll generate plenty of discussion and links back to your post.

By contrast, don't just throw up a link to an article with a lame "see this" or "me too" tossed in. Don't post about recent accidents and put the victims' names in the blog post heading without any further content. And don't simply copy a newspaper article into your post - that's a copyright violation, plus, Google isn't crazy about duplicate content.

Posting quality content is just one piece of SEO; you've also got to make sure that it's disseminated. Taking the time to send other bloggers links to a post that might interest them is a nice touch because it helps other bloggers in search of content - but it's also a time intensive endeavor. If you don't have time to routinely alert bloggers to your new posts, make it easy for readers to share them by installing one of these sharing widgets on your site.

Do you have any other thoughts on SEO trends for 2011 and beyond? Post them in the comments below.
December 17, 2010

Marketing Statistic of the Week: Wealthier Prospects onLine

Here's the first in what will hopefully lead to a series on interesting lawyer marketing statistics or trends. We'll cull the web to uncover stats and trends from other industries, then tell you what the stat means and most importantly, how to use it in your practice.

The statistic: Ninety five percent of households earning over $75,000 use the Internet and cell phones, compared with 70 % of those living in households earning less than $75,000, and 57% in households with incomes of under $30,000.

The source: Pew Internet Reports (November 2010).

What it means: That potentially 95% of clients in households earning over $75,000 are spending at least some part of their time online. As a result, the Internet offers a powerful tool to attract this desirable demographic.

What to do about it: Well, nothing, if you're not interested in making a play for clients who might actually have the means to pay your bill. But if you're tempted by the potential of attracting a better grade of clients (at least financially speaking), for starters, you ought to at least put up a website, educate yourself about SEO and get up to speed on social media. That's a tall order if you haven't done much in the way of online marketing...but if these measures will enable you to attract better prospects, then they're time and money well spent.
December 14, 2010

How Working Cheek to Cheek Can Help Market Your Practice Week to Week

Is your law office costing you $30,000 a year in foregone revenues?

It just might be. A quartet of surveys on the economics of law practice from Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio compared the incomes of solo practitioners in (a) either home-based offices or independent offices outside the home and (b) shared space arrangements. In Michigan and Wisconsin, the surveys found that solo practitioners who shared space earned at least 30% more than their counterparts in either a home office or independent space. In Michigan, solos in their own office (either home or outside the home) earned $81,884 compared to $111,571 for space sharers; in Wisconsin, those numbers are $71,783 in net income for solos compared to $109,586 for the space sharers.

In other states, space sharing also gives an advantage, albeit not as dramatic.  In Colorado, space sharing solos earned $80,000 - $5000 less than a solo with an office outside the home, but a whopping $30,000 more than a solo with a home based office. Finally, in Ohio, solos with home offices earned more than their office-renting counterparts in the first ten years of practice, but by year 16 and beyond, space sharing solos' income ($100,000) exceeded that of home office solos ($56,000) and and solos outside the home ($85,000).

Though hardly scientific (the economic surveys reflect limited data samplings), the numbers aren't coincidental either. One solo interviewed in the article accompanying the Wisconsin survey results surmised that:

"there might be something about that informal networking available to those who share offices...for example, they might refer cases outside their areas of expertise to their office mates."

Sharing space may offer other marketing advantages besides referrals. Solos sharing space can split the cost of other networking activities, such as monthly client lunches, holiday parties or picnics. Or solos with complementary practices - such as workers' comp and personal injury might team up to put on a joint webinar.

Shared space can also help reinforce good marketing habits. Working alone, it's easy for you, particularly as a solo, to let marketing fall through the cracks when they're busy. But when you see your suitemates consistently marketing their hearts out, you'll either feel motivated - or shamed - to keep pace.

If you think shared space might benefit your practice, search out openings on Craigslist, in bar newsletters or on listserves. And have your colleagues put the word out that you're looking for a space sharing arrangement

Of course, maybe you're happy to work from home or the existing office where you rent space. Or perhaps you simply don't yet feel financially ready to commit to space outside of a home office. Even so, you can still enjoy the advantages of space sharing without the commitment or cost.  One increasingly popular option is coworking.  As Business Week describes, coworking blends the appeal of an individual work environment with the traditional advantages of an office.  In a typical coworking arrangement, you'd have access to a common work space where you drop in on an as-needed basis and work at a cubicle or a large open table. Coworking spaces provide access to all of the necessities of the office, including supplies, printers and wireless computer access; even a shared kitchen and coffee and snacks. Coworking arrangements vary; for some, you might pay a monthly fee which grants you permanent access to a cubicle or workspace; in others, you might pay a small annual membership fee and then pay for each separate work session when you choose to use the space. Like a shared suite, coworking offers many opportunities to get to know other business owners and professionals, without the commitment of long term rent.

If there aren't any coworking facilities near you, you could try to organize one yourself. In fact, there's even a name for that concept: it's called a Jelly, a casual work event where people gather in a person's home, coffee shop or office to work together for a day every few weeks. Over time, you'd begin to establish a relationships with other Jelly participants which could generate enough business to allow you to enter into a space sharing or coworking arrangement full time. Or not - you could simply remain at your preferred location, but capture the benefits of working along side others a few times a month.

So why not consider one of these arrangements for your practice? After all, you spend enough time working in the office. You might as well take the time to make your office work for you.
December 6, 2010

Should You Give Holiday Cards the Stamp of Approval?

December is here, the month when a lawyer's thoughts turn to holiday cards -- or more accurately, when lawyers start to panic, wondering whether it's too late to send cards out or if it might just be easier to send an e-card instead.  So briefly, here's a quick run down on how to handle holiday cards for 2010.

1.  Should I send holiday cards? 

For some lawyers, holiday cards are a longstanding tradition that goes unquestioned.  If you fall into that group, chances are your holiday card campaign is already underway, so there's no need to change it now. 

But if you're a new solo on a tight budget or a lawyer who's been busy and hasn't gotten around to holiday cards, you ought to consider whether sending them makes sense.  While holiday cards aren't a big ticket item, they're not all that cheap either.  Assuming around a dollar per card and 41 cents for postage, that's $141 for one hundred cards; money that you might otherwise spend on CLE or books for your law practice.

Moreover, that $141 isn't necessarily money well spent.  Many clients who receive your holiday cards simply don't notice them in the rush of all of the other holiday mailings.  Roy Ginsburg, a lawyer- coach advises not to bother with holiday cards, explaining that when he served as in-house counsel, he received few that were memorable.  In fact, the ones that stuck out most to Ginsburg were those that didn't coincide with Christmas or New Year's but rather, celebrated other odd events like Elvis' birthday.  Other lawyers favor sending clients birthday cards rather than holiday cards, which are also more likely to stand out.

In short, before you jump on the holiday bandwagon, consider whether the effort and expense that goes into holiday cards will pay off either in the form of referrals, or even building more meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients.  If the answer is no, don't do it.

2.  But if you do send cards, abide by these rules....


If you do send holiday cards, here are a few simple rules to follow from All-state Legal.  First, personalize the card with a meaningful, handwritten message.  If you can't think of anything to say or don't have the time to personalize, you're better off shortening the list of recipients.  Second, make sure that cards go out by December 15.  Any later, and they'll be caught in the downtime between Christmas and New Year's.  If you can't meet the December 15 deadline, then wait a couple of weeks and send New Year's cards instead. 

3.  and no e-cards, period

E-cards, particularly generic ones rather than custom design are cheap and quick. But most people don't like getting them and won't bother opening them. There's an even more compelling reason to avoid e-cards: they may be laden with computer viruses. That's not the kind of gift you want to give to colleagues or clients.
 
4. What are some alternatives to holiday cards?

If you've got the budget, why not send a mini-calendar or notepad in lieu of holiday cards.  The advantage with these items is that recipients will see them year round.  By contrast, holiday cards get filed in the trash can when the new year arrives. 

Another option is to host a low key, impromptu holiday get-together for colleagues - perhaps a morning breakfast in your office conference room or at a local coffee shop.  For $141 - the same cost as sending 100 cards, you could comfortably host a dozen colleagues.  And while you wouldn't reach as many people as with a holiday card campaign, the goodwill that you achieve with a breakfast is far more likely to generate business than a less personal card.

Finally, if you're strapped for time and money, why not take a few days between Christmas and New Years to call colleagues on the phone and wish them well; perhaps set up a get together for 2011.  The last week of December is fairly relaxed downtime for many lawyers so you wouldn't be imposing on their time.  Plus, phone calls are cheap and it's faster to make a dozen calls than it is to address the same number of cards and write personal notes.

5.  A free gift for you!

If you do decide to send holiday cards, here's a nice freebie. Check out SHutterfly's promotional deal here: 50 free SHutterfly holiday cards to bloggers who write about the service at their site. The offer is good through Friday December 10, so you'll need to act quickly if you're interested.