Increasingly, law firms are learning to appreciate the value of individual lawyer marketing plans. But paperwork is only the first step. A plan is useless without implementation. Yet how does a firm convince a busy lawyer to implement on those plans?
Too often, in firms that require personal plans, lawyers will begrudgingly prepare them but pay little more than lip service to them thereafter. Some firms put carrots and sticks in place in an effort to ensure implementation. For example, they might tie in part of compensation with successful accomplishment of a lawyer’s personal plan. This has mixed results, as some lawyers can be very cagey about seeming to have done their action items while having spent the year ignoring what they originally wrote down in their plan. Ultimately, it has to be up to the individual lawyer to turn their plan from paper to action.
I know from years of experience that lawyers who plan and implement well see remarkable results: but until they start to see those results it must be a leap of faith to enter into this process. This is why so many lawyers who are serious about doing this engage a coach to help them through the process and keep them accountable to their plan. It is entirely possible, however, to effectively do this process without a coach. Here are some tips to help you on this journey. (And incidentally, I encourage all law firm administrators to use this process as well to facilitate the continued progression of their career).
Start by creating an assertive plan:
- Take the time to create meaningful business goals. Most lawyers (and administrators) set the bar at survival. That’s too low. Surely you want to accomplish more than getting through the year in one piece? Life is short. Dream big and then pursue those dreams; otherwise you’re spending an awful lot of time at work for very little intrinsic reward.
The firm sets revenue targets for most lawyers and those should certainly start your list, but consider other goals you might set for yourself. These might include improved business development and marketing goals, improved practice management goals, education goals, leadership goals, etc.
- Under each goal, consider the actions you can take to accomplish that goal. Notice the “s” in “actions”. For example, if you want to increase your client base by 10%, you won’t accomplish that by doing a single action item. You will likely need a combination of actions that include identifying and pursing target clients, building up your reputation in the community, asking lawyers in your firm to help cross-sell their clients into your practice, building up your referral network, etc. Don’t cheap out on the action items. Assemble enough to get the job done.
As you move into implementation of your plan, here are some tips to make the process more manageable:
- Make it easier to accomplish action items by capturing ideas as they come to you. I call these “parking lots”: notes (either on paper or electronic) that store ideas you’ve thought of throughout the year for a particular project or task, so that when the time comes to do that action item, you’re not starting from square one. For example, if you write a blog or newsletter, keep an ongoing list of content ideas going at all times. If you’re planning a major client event, track ideas for the event when and as they come to you.
- Not everyone is busy all of the time. Monitor your time to better understand when you are more or less productive; and the months when your practice tends to be busy or when it drops off a bit. Don’t take holidays in your busy times; reserve those for quieter times of the year. You can also use quiet times to get some marketing done. Too often, when lawyers are not busy, they waste time or do make-work projects to make it look like they are busier than they really are. Instead, think “what can I do to catch up on or get ahead of projects on my list?”. Use every moment you can to do something positive and productive that will take you one step closer to achieving your declared goals.
- Although this may seem excessive to some, I strongly recommend you read your plan weekly.
- This will encourage you to consider what you can do that week to progress the plan in some small (or large) way;
- It may help you to improve your impact that week. For example, perhaps you’re meeting someone for lunch that week and review of your plan suggests they might be a good person to speak with about getting an introduction to a certain contact. Review of your plan might reshape that conversation into something that becomes far more productive than simply “hello”;
- We are hit with many ideas and options each week, but we might not see them as opportunities unless we are acutely aware of our goals and plan. This enables us to see when certain opportunities align with our plan and should be taken up. For example, one of my clients was approached to sponsor an event. Normally they would have said no, but on reviewing their plan they found that the sponsorship would be shared with a target client. Sponsoring and attending the event helped them to build a relationship with that target.
- Make the plan itself more powerful by using it to also track your accomplishments and any results. This helps you to see a direct correlation between activities and results, and provides an opportunity to critique the tactic to see how successful it was and to decide whether to adjust the action for even better results. Recording and analyzing your stats also helps you to identify trends you might not otherwise notice.
- Tracking actions also helps you to be more honest with yourself. By way of example, most lawyers believe they are keeping in contact with key clients or referral sources far more often than they actually are. It’s typical, when pressed, for my coaching clients to have to admit that they only touch base with key members of their network once or twice a year when their belief previously was that they are in touch with them four or more times per year. To rectify this gap, I encourage clients to break their networks down into A, B and C lists. A’s are those contacts we want to stay closest to so we probably want a touch point with them every two months. C’s are the ones that we only need to touch base with once or twice a year (until hopefully they move up the list), and B’s are somewhere in between. I then have my clients plan and for and track the appropriate points of contact by placing the corresponding number of columns beside the contact. So, an A contact will have five or six columns beside them that, by the end of the year, must be completed.
- If you invest, you’re probably familiar with dollar cost averaging: investing the same amount of money in regular intervals (such as monthly) without focus on the rise and fall of the stock. Over time, this strategy usually provides better results than if you had attempted to predict the market for rises and falls. Use the same philosophy with your marketing: do a little each day/week, and accomplish a number of marketing action items or goals each month/quarter. You can’t effectively maintain a network only during the month of November. It requires regular, small activities throughout the year. Same with building a relationship with a potential referral source, or building trust with a client so they will send you more work. Writing is another example of an activity that would ideally happen in regular intervals throughout the year. Plug away at your action items like you would pursue an exercise program – with regular discipline. It will all pay off in the long run.
We all know the old saying “if you need something done, give it to a busy person”. The assumption is that because this busy person is so busy, they are also highly efficient so that even if you add to their list, they’ll be able to find a way to get it done. But we all know lawyers who are forever busy, and never seems to have time for anything. Any practice – even a busy one – still requires the lawyer to effectively manage that practice, do some marketing, assist with mentoring, build some leadership skills, and perhaps take on some firm leadership responsibilities. While some lawyers (and Administrators) may be naturally good at balancing all of this, most are not. Doesn’t it make sense to have some tools in place to help you do a better job of managing those multiple expectations and responsibilities while keeping you sane?
The development of a personal plan is a great start, but implementation must follow. If you have trouble either building a plan or following it, as mentioned before you can always get assistance from a coach. But whether you build and implement a plan with help or on your own, start to develop this habit. Gone are the days when law firms could allow lawyers to under-deliver on practices, marketing and firm leadership responsibilities. It’s time to get serious about having a full-rounded practice.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in SLAW.