End-of-year tasks

You probably have a list of tasks you must accomplish before the end of the year. Wrapping up some billable work, making a few final holiday get-togethers, perhaps a few last-ditch but gentle calls to encourage clients to pay their invoices before year’s end.

Adding these two year-end tasks will significantly benefit you as you start the new year: 

  • Revise your biographical sketch to reflect this year’s accomplishments, and
  • Do a simple review of your 2016 business development activities to guide next year’s efforts.

Your biographical sketch is almost certainly the most-viewed page on your website. Updating it isn’t busywork: it’s a way of letting people know that you continue to improve your professional reach and achievements. An out-of-date bio sketch suggests and out-of-date practice. Review this post I wrote in 2009 and Chapter 4 of the The Reluctant Rainmaker to walk through the steps to ensure that your sketch does what it needs to.

End-of-year planning can take many forms. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What was your objective and top priority this year? You must start with this question, because results are meaningful only in the context of your objectives. For example, my goal this year was business maintenance and writing while caring for a family member who is in home hospice. Achieving maintenance would feel completely different had my objective been to grow the business.
  • What worked? What got you closer to your objectives? What required the least effort while bringing good results?
  • What didn’t work? Which activities either didn’t bring you the desired results or required effort that’s out of measure with the results attained?
  • What’s your objective for this year? I like to boil my objective down to a single word that can act as a litmus test when I’m deciding what to do. As noted, my 2016 word was maintain. It kept me from drawing back too far or pushing forward too strongly. I haven’t yet committed to a word for 2017, but candidates include growth (growth in my business and professional growth), reach (growing my platform), and communicate (building stronger professional relationships and also writing and speaking more).
  • What will you continue, stop, and start doing to meet your objective? Your 2016 analysis will give you the first two answers, then you can brainstorm your new routes to 2017’s objectives.

The key to planning well is to make it a means to an end. In other words, what comes from your planning should be a document that you will refer to and tweak throughout the year, not a “one and done” effort.

Set aside some time to complete these two tasks now so you can enter 2017 with a clean slate and a clear direction. And then, enjoy your holidays!

“Me too” Marketing?

“Me too” marketing refers to virtually indistinguishable marketing messages and offers for products or services from multiple providers. Unless you see a name or logo associated with the marketing, you’d have a tough time knowing which provider issued “ me too” marketing because it all sounds alike.

Attorneys often fall into “me too” marketing for some good reasons: tight ethics rules, wanting to appear professional, and budgeting. Ethics rules may be interpreted to prohibit (or may actually prohibit) anything out of the norm when it comes to marketing by lawyers, and concerns about appearing professional may have exactly the same effect. And budgeting, especially but not exclusively for smaller firms, often leads to a website that’s simply a “customized” template that looks like all the other “customized” templates out there with equally indistinguishable copy.

Take a look at your own website, your biographical sketch, or a recent blog post or article you’ve written (or any other marketing materials you have handy): does it sounds like what everybody else says? If it does, you’ve fallen into “me too” marketing. Here’s an easy test: does your website or bio sketch describe you/your firm as experienced? Client-centric or client-focused? Providers of high-quality work? Collaborative? Innovative? While you and/or your firm may be just that, saying so isn’t proof… Especially when everybody else says the same thing.

So how can you break out of “me too” marketing? Try these ideas.

  1. Make it about your potential client. Marketing is designed to introduce you to a potential client, but if it’s focused too much on you (how experienced, client-focused, and collaborative you are in providing high-quality work, for example) it’s boring, duplicative of others, and not persuasive.

    Start with your potential client’s perspective. What is that person thinking about when they come to your website, read your article, or talk with you? Chances are that they’re wondering if you can solve whatever problem has prompted them to find you. So start there.

    Let your potential client know you understand the issues she’s facing. This is the place to demonstrate knowledge, not just say you’ve got it. If you’re in person, ask questions. If not, use stories to illustrate that you understand. Then you can extend those stories to discuss your experience in solving the problems.
  2. Use your potential client’s language. If he discusses his problem using legal terminology, you should too. But you won’t gain any points for discussing “constructive eviction” if your client is concerned that he’s about to be involved in litigation because a tenant is claiming that conditions make it impossible live or work in the potential client’s rental property. Using legal terminology that a potential client doesn’t understand doesn’t make you look smart or professional: it’s confusing and might even alienate a potential client.
  3. Figure out what makes you different and highlight that. And know it’s ok that some potential clients will be turned off. Good marketing offers a quick “is this for me?” test – The reaction to good marketing is a gut-level “yes, this speaks to me” or “no, thanks,” and then the potential client may engage in further rational inquiry to test that initial reaction. If your marketing is designed to appeal to everyone, it won’t connect deeply with anyone. 

    Points of distinction must matter to your clients and potential clients; otherwise, it’s just a distraction.  And, of course, knowing what matters to your clients and potential clients takes you right back to point #1. 

It takes some courage to escape “me too” marketing. By definition, when you break free from looking like everybody else, you don’t look like everybody else, which can be a bit unnerving. If you give it a try, though, you’ll discover that standing out in ways that are appealing to your ideal clientele will benefit your practice.

(P.S. Were you surprised that I included the biographical sketch in the list of marketing material to review? After all, a bio sketch is, well, just a short statement of your qualifications and experience, right? Nope. I’ll tackle this in next week’s column.)

How do you ask for business?

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business. However, many lawyers are leery to come out and ask for business explicitly, and rightly so.  Asking can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation. Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business. And yet, the inner voice cautions, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

When working with clients, I offer many approaches to the “challenge of the ask.”  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut.  Very often, if you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you’re correct. A more gentle approach (“I’d love to help you with that,” for example) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.
  • Notice how often your gut tells you not to ask. The flip side of the previous suggestion is that it can offer carte blanche to those who are disinclined to ask for business. If you always feel that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level. What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?
  • Look for the win / win.  Lawyers often use somewhat violent language for business development: “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  Using that language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target. Fortunately, few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way. The fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter, however, may prompt a lawyer to hold back in conversation. Sometimes, it even prompts lawyers to ask for business in a way that implies that potential clients would be doing the lawyer a great favor when the truth is that a good representation offers benefits for both parties. Look for that benefit and focus on it, and then weave it into your request.
  • Listen to the concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help. If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts. You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.

As these approaches suggest, asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique. Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them, and what approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively, without running a danger of damaging your relationship?

If you’re uncomfortable asking for business, you’re not alone. The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling includes a full chapter on whether, how, and when to ask for business, with an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your business development efforts. (Click here for a free sample of Chapter One.)  If you’d like to move even faster with your rainmaking activity, please contact me to arrange a consultation.