Recently in Networking events Category

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 22, 2009

Marketing a Law Firm On Facebook

Facebook isn't just for friends anymore.  Increasingly, businesses are using Facebook for marketing, the New York Times reported last month.  And why not?  With 300 million users, Facebook is likely to be home to a substantial portion of a business' prospective and existing customers.  For that reason, Facebook helps businesses find new customers, build online communities to retain and provide perks to existing customers and even to access demographic information. 

Just like businesses, lawyers can also realize marketing benefits through Facebook.  At Inside Facebook, Sara Ines Calderon offers ten tips for ways that lawyers can use Facebook to market a practice.  I'll discuss some of those tips below and throw in a few of my own:

1.  Goals and Target Audience Definition:  Just like there's more than one way to skin a cat, there's more than one way to market a law practice on Facebook.  To figure out which marketing approach (or approaches) are right for you, you need to define your goals and identify your target audience.  For example, if you market to consumer clients, you may want to attract them with direct ads or try to educate them with articles or links to blog posts on relevant topics.  As discussed below, creating a Fan Page would support these goals.  By contrast, if you're trying to attract more conservative corporate clients who don't spend much time on Facebook, direct advertisements wouldn't have much value.  However, you might locate these clients indirectly through referrals from colleagues whom you can get to know personally through a Facebook friends page.

2.  Set Up A Fan Page:    A Fan Page is a Facebook page for a business or corporate entity rather than for an individual.  As a lawyer,  a Fan Page is important because it provides a way that you can interact with clients without allowing them to become privy to personal information and photos that you might share with close friends.   You can use a Fan page for a variety of purposes - to respond to questions about legal matters (in a general way, of course, to avoid any perception that you're giving legal advice), to share links to recent blog posts or to engage "fans" of the site in conversation.  You can also use a Fan page to issue invitations to events or to make special offers available - for example,  free consultations or a discount on certain legal services.

3. Direct Advertising:  With so many users on Facebook, advertisements can potentially attract a large audience.  Moreover, you can very specifically target ads to various demographics, including, country, state and city, gender, age and workplace.  There's more information on Facebook ads available here.

4.  Building Relationships:   Personal referrals are the primary source of business for most lawyers.  And most people prefer to make referrals to lawyers whom they know on  a personal basis.  Facebook offers a way to get better acquainted with colleagues and build a relationship that goes beyond the office or the bar meeting room.  In addition, when you interact with colleagues more frequently, you'll be at the top of their mind if they're asked to refer a matter.

Have you thought about using Facebook to market your practice?  How are you using it? 
August 3, 2009

Networking That Never Goes Out of Style

Every fourth Friday of the month, for more than a decade, the Washington D.C. area contingent of Solosez, the ABA's online listserv, has had a standing lunch date at an area restaurant, thanks to  Terry Berger, the Maryland solo who started it all.  Over the past ten years, the location and time of the lunch have changed just twice (the restaurant that played host for the first seven years closed down).  The agenda never deviates: fifteen minutes for informal mingling, then it's time to be seated and go round the table with introductions -- name, jurisdictions where licensed, and a quick elevator speech on practice areas.  Then the floor opens for discussion and questions on any topic, from an aspect of law practice to recommendations on different law products and services. 

Each month brings a diverse mix of anywhere from a dozen to forty lawyers of different genders, ages, and races.  The lunch group includes forty-year veterans to new grads and the occasional law student; corporate specialists who represent large clients to general practitioners who deal with only consumers.  Yet the conversations flow more smoothly than any other bar event I've ever attended because we all share the common goal of running a successful law practice and serving our clients' needs.  But perhaps one of the best kept secrets of this informal monthly lunch is that it's been responsible for the exchange of tens of thousands of dollars in referrals as well as the creation of longstanding business relationships and personal friendships.

In the Internet Age, it's all too easy to forget the value of personal, face-to-face interaction when it comes to building and marketing a law practice.  I'm equally culpable.  Most of my posts here at the Legal Marketing Blawg focus on 21st century concepts like search engine optimization, social networking tools, or video

But even these seemingly magical, modern-day tools have their limitations.  For starters, many lawyers still aren't engaging social media, which means that if you rely exclusively on those tools, you miss out on meeting older lawyers who can serve as mentors or a source of referrals.  In my own case, I've met several older lawyers through Solosez lunches who have helped me with my law practice but whom I would have never met if I'd limited my marketing efforts to social media tools.  Second, personal meetings can solidify online relationships, making them more likely to produce referrals or other financial opportunities.

There are myriad opportunities for lawyers to interact with other lawyers in person, from bar association meetings to business networking groups to pro bono activities.  All of those activities are worthwhile and should comprise at least a part of a lawyer's marketing portfolio. Yet as far as I know, none of these organization-sponsored events have consistently produced the same number of referrals and personal friendships as the Solosez lunches that I frequent and other similar, "organically-grown" networking groups with which I'm familiar.  So below are some simple but foolproof steps for creating a good old-fashioned regular get-together which provides a respite from the online world and can prove lucrative opportunities besides.

1.  Choose An Event and Location That Caters to A Broad Spectrum of Preferences

Don't try to be original in arranging an event or choosing a location.  You might think that hosting a monthly happy hour at a local punk rock or hip hop club is an original idea, but that kind of event is likely to exclude many older lawyers.  Ditto for holding a monthly lunch at a costly, five-star restaurant which may deter financially strapped new solos from attending.  Instead, focus on locales which cater to the greatest common denominator in terms of prices and menu choices. 

Location is also important.  Try to choose venues with access to parking and public transportation.  If you can't find a convenient location, encourage potential attendees to carpool.

Finally, if you're choosing an eatery with table service, be sure that the establishment will provide separate checks (if attendees are brown-bagging or purchasing food at the counter, a separate check isn't needed).  Nothing puts a damper on a companionable meal than trying to equitably settle up the check afterward.

2.  Make It A Regular Event From the Outset

Don't just organize a single lunch event because the event may take time to gain traction.  In addition, many times, potential attendees won't be able to attend the first event, so having a second event planned will help hold their interest.  You can start out with a few pre-scheduled quarterly or monthly breakfast or lunch events and refine the frequency depending upon interest.

3.  Open Up Your Contact List

Once you've decided on a location and a couple of dates, decide who you want to invite.  Do you want to reach out to all solo and small firm lawyers or your area?  Or limit the event to a certain sub-category, such as female lawyers or family lawyers?  Once you've come up with the group you want to include, invite everyone on your personal contact list who meets the criteria as well as those whom you know virtually through social media.  If you think that attendance may still fall short of what you'd like, ask your contacts to pass the invitation along to others who might be interested.

4.  Maximize Networking Opportunities

One reason why most networking functions fall short is that they do not offer any meaningful opportunities for attendees to get to know each other.  In planning your event, take care to structure to facilitate networking.  For example, when you send out invitations, remind attendees to bring business cards.  Allow time for attendees to mingle informally, but be sure to provide time for formal introductions and elevator speeches.  In that way, attendees can easily single out those whom they'd like to get to know.

5.  Relax and Have Fun

Too many networking events can feel awkward or tense, particularly if participants have spent a lot of money and feel pressured to come away with contacts to "get their money's worth."  But since folks need to eat breakfast or lunch anyway, they're less likely to feel that they've wasted their time by sharing a meal.  So encourage people to simply relax and have fun.

Marketing with Web 2.0 tools may be the current trend, but getting together for breakfast and lunch is a networking technique that never goes out of style.  More importantly, in an era where we increasingly spend more and more time online, getting together for a meal satisfies our all-too-human appetite for personal connection.
December 9, 2008

Take a Vacation from Holiday Networking Events By Hosting Your Own

The holiday season has descended in all its glory, and like most lawyers, you probably find yourself with a stack of invitations to bar association lunches, charitable events, and holiday cocktail hours and parties.  So you trek dutifully from event to event, exchanging business cards and pleasantries with dull colleagues whom you see only a few times a year at these types of gatherings and who've never sent you a dime's worth of business.  Maybe worse, the others ignore you entirely, so you resign yourself to observing from the corner, stuffing yourself with cardboard crackers and bland cheese.  And suddenly, the holiday season, which ought to be joyful and uplifting, morphs into an enervating experience.

Guess what?  Networking doesn't have to be this way.  In fact, if you dread or loathe networking events, your distaste will come across in your interactions, thereby further reducing the likelihood of meeting anyone worthwhile.  Why not take a vacation from holiday networking events by holding your own?

You'll find many advantages to sponsoring your own holiday event.  First, you control who you invite, so you can include people you actually want to spend time with, or colleagues who've sent you work or helped you out in the past.  Second, you make yourself the center of attention at your own party by greeting guests and introducing them to each other.  Third, let's face it -- you're not the only person who's grown tired of bar events.  Most lawyers can't stand them and will welcome a chance to hang out in a relaxed environment with a small group of colleagues.  Finally, when you host a party, people appreciate the initiative.  They'll call in advance to ask what they can bring, and likely call afterwards to thank you for a good time, or for introducing them to a potential business contact.  Thus, without any further action, you remain in touch with colleagues long after the party ends and solidify relationships that may eventually yield business.

As for planning a party, it's never been easier than with the Internet.  Use Evite or email to get the word out and collect RSVPs.  You can hold the party in your office or the backroom of a casual restaurant or bar.  There's no need to spend lots of money and in fact, in these economic times, a lavish party may be regarded in poor taste. If you're feeling charitable at this time of year, you can organize a group of lawyers to staff an intake night at a local clinic, or ask them to bring toys or food for the needy to the party.

If you act quickly, you may have time to squeeze in an event before the end of the year.  If not, no worries.  Instead of a holiday party in 2008, why not organize the first post-New Year's party of 2009?