My focus is on small to medium-sized businesses (often law partnerships) and many of those don’t have internal marketing expertise.  So when I contact them to ask if they have a strategic plan or an annual business/marketing plan, most of them groan.  They know that they should have these key business tools in place; but they often don’t because they aren’t sure how to create them and even if they did, they don’t have anyone to implement them.

This is an issue that must be taken off of the “too hard” pile.  Strategic marketing expertise can be critical to a firm in ways that many partnerships don’t’ realize.  Part of the problem might be that partnerships do not understand what legal marketing entails.  Marketing is not simply about client events, corporate image management and pretty ads.  Marketing is both an art and a science; it is about identifying – through research and analysis – the market, firm resources,  the offering, the key messages needed, the delivery mechanism, the timing and cost.   Great marketing positively and powerfully infiltrates virtually every area of the business.  As such, it can make a fundamental difference in the following:

  • Monitoring and adjusting service offerings to meet the changing needs of your client base;
  • Developing, testing and maintaining client loyalty;
  • Developing new clients, increasing revenue from existing clients, and maintaining good referral sources;
  • Efficiently hiring, training and retaining legal talent;
  • More effectively managing firm resources, whether it be people, technology, supplies, budgets;
  • Ensuring the firm and its clients are aware of changes in case law or legislation, and the potential ramifications;
  • Ensuring everyone in the firm understands the firm’s values and goals, and works collectively and consistently toward those;
  • Maximizing productivity by practice area;
  • Knowing how big a firm should be, with how many locations (and where), etc.
  • Understanding how much should be spent each year on marketing, and ensuring maximum return on investment for those dollars.

Some partnerships believe that the collective intelligence of their members should be able to oversee the marketing of a firm.  Yet they hire accountants, someone to run the office, and if they need specialized legal advice (i.e. tax law), they hire that, too.  Why is it that partnerships so often feel that marketing is something that can be dabbled at?

And then there’s the argument of logic.  Let’s use a law firm as an example: the core competency of a lawyer is the law – very few lawyers would suggest that marketing is one of their core competencies.  Further, the primary value of a lawyer to a firm is revenue production – either directly or through delegation.   Sitting on marketing committees or overseeing marketing areas that are not a core competency takes time – often a lot of time.  Why would a firm hive off 20% or more of a productive lawyer’s time to put them into a role for which they are not trained and usually have little interest?  Meanwhile, the firm believes that marketing is being well-looked after because lawyer time is going into the function.  Here are some results of such situations that I have seen just in the past year:

  • A firm lost 25% of their annual revenues in one year – a predictable event yet they headed toward it without any plan for recouping those losses.  The collective loss of this business over the next ten years will exceed $40 million.
  • A firm lost 2rainmakers in one year – another predictable event as they retired – yet working on their own, the firm was not able to create a succession strategy that ensured appropriate client retention.
  • A firm spent a year searching for an associate. Six months after she was hired she was underperforming, feeling very unsupported and thinking about leaving.  The firm thought everything was fine, but wished she was more productive.  The cost of the hire and training by then exceeded $50k.
  • One of four partners was in desperate need of cohesion and future business planning with his other partners in terms of where the firm was going, but instead they decided to change the logo and build a new website.  This person is considering leaving – with their book of business of course.

If you believe your firm can run effectively without a focus on marketing, you might need to dig deeper.  You may be experiencing loss issues without even realizing it.  You may be missing out on opportunities without realizing it.  The irony is that strategic marketing pays for itself, usually ten-fold and within the same year.  It is the most potentially profitable cost centre you have in your firm!

So if not having internal expertise is holding you back, here’s how you can improve your marketing even if you don’t have expertise internally:

  1. Create a strategic plan: if you are going to continue in business for any length of time, it is prudent to have a clear set of long-term goals.   Bring in a legal marketing strategist to help your partnership to create a strategic plan.  It’s doesn’t cost as much as you think it will, and it will pay for itself quickly through  less duplication of activity, less wasted action and  more captured opportunity as a result of focus.
  2. Create an annual business/marketing plan:  this should be documented and detailed.  It is the roadmap for everyone in your firm to ensure that you focus all activities and expense on accomplishing the things you want to accomplish.  Don’t worry about how these things will be done – just list what has to be done.  If you need help in building this plan then get it.  It will more than pay for itself by focussing your efforts on items that will drive your business goals, while cutting back on duplicate efforts and useless actions.
  3. Honestly assess internal resources: you may be able to use existing resources to assist with things like client mailing list creation and maintenance, client event coordination, production of newsletters, etc.  Figure out who you have that has these capabilities and how much of their time can realistically be dedicated to these functions.  Beware of placing too much marketing responsibility on lawyers; however.  They are a firm’s revenue producers. Every hour you have them marketing is one less billable hour.  Ensure you have people focussed on their core competencies as much as possible.
  4. Determine where you need outside help: This should be assessed under two categories as follows:
    1. Strategic decisions and project oversight: it’s rare for a firm without a seasoned internal marketing expert to have access to this expertise, so consider hiring someone on an as-needed basis to help out.  I will often go into a firm for a four to six month period of time to help them develop a strategic plan, and then an annual marketing plan.  I’m also often hired to oversee major projects such as a corporate image transfer (new name/logo); development of a new website; or creation of client teams or formal practice groups.  These items need to be carefully managed by an expert to ensure they are done properly and cost is minimized.  But once done, people within a firm can often take over maintenance of these functions.
    2. Daily marketing implementation: A firm may rely on strong marketing, but not need a full-time in-house marketer.  You may wish to hire a part time marketer, or an occasional marketing implementation expert to deal with your marketing needs as they come up.  I now work with a colleague who is an implementation expert and can assist firms in this regard.

Finally, if the fear of the cost of these efforts has been holding you back then consider this: a small firm can accomplish all of this for less than the cost of hiring an internal marketer for one year.   Yet most firms experience returns that quickly cover the cost (often multiple times) for the investment.

Don’t let the lack of internal marketing expertise stop your firm from using marketing to improve your business efficiency and expand your profitability.