May 16, 2011

Seven Marketing Mistakes Most Start Up Law Firms Make

A recent Geekwire post by Matthew Heinz describes seven marketing mistakes that most start ups make. But the overall advice dispensed in the post applies just as readily to start up solo and small firm practices.

According to the article, one mistake common to start-up companies is hiring a PR firm too early. Not only is a PR firm costly for a nascent company, but it's not as effective as enlisting employees, investors and customers to spread the word directly through blogs and social media. Because the company relies on its supporters to build its brand, it has no choice but to remain engaged and responsive to their needs, which in turn lays the foundation for future success.

Put another way, there are no shortcuts. And the same lesson applies to new solos and small firms. Most lawyers don't enjoy marketing but at the same time, they're hungry for business after hanging a shingle. So they drop a few thousand dollars on a marketing expert only to discover that the expert can't improve the lawyer's reputation with his referral sources. If lawyers spend the early days of their practice focused on their clients' needs and assisting and building relationships with their colleagues, the work will follow. Though building relationships requires in person face time, lawyers can also blog and interact on Twitter and Facebook to get to know their colleagues and to educate potential clients. As a lawyer, only you can build these relationships and establish a reputation. A marketing expert can't help you there.

A second mistake made by start-ups is over thinking brand. Lots of new companies spend time and resources figuring out the right color of their logo, rather than "empowering the sales team." As Heinz points out,"if you can't drive revenue and grow the business, the [brand] won't mean a thing." So too for lawyers starting out. I've seen some new solos held up for months creating a perfectly designed website and blog. Yet in the meantime, they lose out on business that an online presence could be generating. To be sure, your website and blog should be both reliable and professional, which is easy enough with today's tools. But leave the refinement - and the fancy design - until money starts coming in and you can afford it.

Interestingly, the third start up mistake identified by Heinz is starting with a marketing budget. Heinz explains:
Startups should have to earn their marketing budget. They should operate with the assumption that there's no money for marketing, and instead focus initially on the scrappy, organically-generated ways to drive customer awareness, demand and closed business.
Likewise, there are plenty of ways for lawyers to attract clients and referrals at no cost. They can get together with other lawyers in their practice area or take advantage of blogs, listserves and other social media tools. They can even create their own video on their own. As Heinz points out,
You may eventually start spending money to accelerate your opportunity. But if you start by spending money, there's little incentive or motivation to first figure out what can drive the same performance and results with far less investment.
Finally, start-ups should not try to follow lock-step with their competitors. What works for a competitor may not work for another company - plus the focus on what others are doing will distract start-ups from devoting time to improving their companies.

Lawyers are notorious copycats. In my industry, as soon as one firm sponsors a table at a conference, the following year, I'll see ten firms doing the same. Yet as Heinz points out, keeping up with the Jones isn't productive. For starters, your competitors may earn more revenue than you - and you'll jeopardize your firm's financial health if you burn through money as quickly as they do. In addition, lawyers' practices are very different, as are lawyers themselves. Sponsoring a table at an insurance defense dinner is not going to help a family law attorney. Likewise, attending an organization's weekly happy hours may not be effective if you have a shy personality and are constantly overlooked. You might be better off attending the happy hours monthly, and use the rest of the time to write articles or engage in other activities where you'll be portrayed in the best light.

Heinz lists three other mistakes - letting interns drive the social media plan, allowing adversarial relations between sales and biz development within the company and impressing the board instead of customers. Though these mistakes are not necessarily relevant to new solo or small firm lawyers, they make for an interesting read - so be sure to click here to read the article in full.

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