Monday, June 15, 2009

Fortune Favors the Bold

Plough deep while sluggards sleep. Benjamin Franklin Unless you've been living under a rock, chances are you have noticed that the country is in a bit of an economic pickle. Job layoffs, foreclosures, and business failures dot our fruited plains. When times get tough, belts tighten and businesses reduce expenses. So where do law firms trim the fat? Cutting down on post it notes and danishes probably won't do the job. Not surprisingly, the first item you may want to put on the cutting block may be your marketing budget. As other law firms cut down on their own marketing efforts, convential wisdom might suggest you do the same. I couldn't disagree more.

One of my pet peeves has always been attorneys who advertise on television, billboards and buses. I always felt these ads had a negative effect on the public's perception of our profession. I wanted to compete with these firms, but not at the cost of appearing on late night television after a thigh master commercial. I didn't want to have my face staring down at me as I drove down the highway. Then again, this type of advertising worked for some firms. Maybe my real problem was that I was a little envious. How do you compete when it is simply not in your budget to rent a blimp? How do you level the playing field?

Perhaps the state of the economy has leveled it a bit for you. As others cut down on their marketing, its a chance for you to increase your efforts. Now is the time to be bold. Throw caution into the wind. Man up. Charge the battlements. Remember the Alamo! Fortune favors the bold! (Of course, I say this knowing full well that its not my money your spending. And yes, pretty much all the Alamo defenders did indeed die.)

t's been said that the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis'. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity". Chances are you may have heard this nugget of wisdom from the mouth of some slick pony tailed motivational speaker with a headset microphone. The quote is usually credited to the late President Kennedy and is often used to push the notion that increased profits can be had from a market is in despair. It appears JFK may have been wrong regarding his knowledge of Chinese characters. While the statement regarding brush strokes may not be entirely true, the idea behind the quote is pretty spot on.

Throughout history, we have indeed seen fortune favor the bold. In Sun Tzu's the Art of War, the military strategist surmised that "opportunities multiply as they are seized". Machiavelli echoed the sentiment when he said there was little difference between an obstacle and an opportunity. The true entrepreneur would be able to turn both to their advantage. My personal favorite is Bruce Lee who stated "to hell with circumstances; I create opportunities". As publicity hungry firms cut down on their over the top advertising, your firm stands poised to increase its foothold in your market. Now is your opportunity to step it up. Here are a few suggestions that can help market your practice without putting a huge dent in your budget:

1. Take Advantage of Advertising Rates: Many media outlets are struggling. Businesses, including law firms, are cutting down on advertising. Newspapers are having trouble raising ad revenue as they try to stay afloat. If you are the type of firm that likes to advertise in newspapers, now might be the time to lock in some great rates. Depending on your practice, you might also want to consider advertising in small local papers. Rates are substantially lower and tend to reach a targeted audience in your community much more effectively. If your practice offers language services, consider foreign language papers that serve local ethnic communities. 2. Remind Your Clients That You're Not Dead: One of my favorite scenes in Monty Python's the Holy Grail is when an old man proclaims "I'm not dead yet" as they try to load him onto a wagon. Like the old man, let people know your still kicking around. Client loyalty isn't what it used to be. You may have done a great job for your client in the past, but what have you done for Ms Jackson lately. As the economy sours, you may see more attorneys moving in on your "turf" with offers of reduced rates. I've seen a few struggling real estate lawyers start dabbling in criminal defense and business lawyers doing divorces. Even your clients might consider doing their own legal work as disounted generic wills and other forms become more readily available. Remind your clients about the quality of your work. Consider creating a newsletter about your practice area. For a relatively small investment, you can remind your current clients of your expertise and that your still in business. Occasionally take a client out for a bite. Remember, every lunch you eat alone is a wasted opportunity. Keeping your firm in your clients thoughts makes it more likely they will refer clients to you. It doesn't hurt to send out an occasional holiday greeting card either. You'd be surprised at the response.

3. Utilize the Internet. Marketing doesn't necessarily have to put a dent in your wallet. The internet offers lots of opportunities to market your firm. Several websites offer free law firm listings and allow you to claim your profile. Sites like allow you to post information about your educational background, past speaking engagements and allows you to answer questions in your practice area. You can create a blog at no cost through services like Blogger and others. If you don't have a website yet, services like Yahoo offer premade templates that you can customize pretty easily. At about twelve dollars a month, you can get a custom web and email address.

4. Make a Reporter's Life Easier. For many daily papers, it has to be tough to come up with filler every day. It's not a bad idea to prepare an occasional press release about your firm. Did you do something of note? Let the paper know. An article about your firm will have a far greater impact then a paid ad. Let reporters know that you are available for quotes in your practice area. To potential clients, it will reinforce the notion that you are an expert. Just remember, when I suggest getting in the paper or on tv, make sure its done in a professional manner. Don't streak naked across a baseball field just to get on the news.

5. Schmooze Your Community. I discussed this in my post "The Art of the Schmooze". Shop in your community and introduce yourself. Let people know what you do for a living. When going to the bank, don't use the drive thru. Go inside. Chat up the tellers. Banks can be a great source for referral business. To pharaphrase the oft quoted Jim Calloway, would you rather have a killer website or a chatty beautician. I would choose the latter. I've had a few bad haircuts to prove it.

6. Be a Vulture. OK, I don't mean to come off as crass, but let's be frank. With many businesses failing, this is indeed an opportunity for you to improve your firm's infrastructure. Struggling retailers are offering huge discounts on office equipment and supplies. Failed corporations are unloading their high end furniture into consignment office furniture warehouses. Take advantage of the discounts. Improve your waiting area. Modernize your office technology. Contractors are looking for work. Update the look of your office. Heck, why not buy yourself a used Jag on Craigslist at a fraction of the cost. Now's your chance to spruce up your image without breaking the bank.

7. Keep Doing Good Work: Your reputation can be your best marketing tool. Stay ethical and develop your practice the right way. While a billboard might be a quick fix, for longevity it's your reputation that will get you quality clients.

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