Comfort Zone

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: Daily Journal Extra

Marketing takes time to master and is a daunting obstacle for many lawyers, but it is a tool that can clear a path toward building new business.

Successful attorneys need much more than excellent legal skills if they are to prosper in today’s competitive legal environment. No matter the technical sophistication of a legal team, it still needs to bring in new business to keep it going. Marketing, also known as business development, is a must if a law firm is to support a staff of high level attorneys and pay the rent.

Getting comfortable with marketing however, is a daunting obstacle for many attorneys, including those who recognize its value. How do you know whether you suffer from marketing discomfort?

The symptoms are fairly clear. Have you ever said to yourself, “l don’t know what to say to a prospective client at a lunch meeting,” “I don’t know how to describe what I do when I meet people at a networking event,” or “It feels unprofessional for lawyers to advertise”? If any of these statements apply to you, then you probably suffer from marketing discomfort.

How can you increase your own comfort level with the marketing process and clear a path toward building new business? What can you do to become adept at selling your skills? The first step is to understand the marketing process. As with most things, education is the key.

It’s Not About You

From an academic perspective, marketing is the process of identifying a service need in the marketplace and delivering a “product” to fill that need. From a “real world” perspective, marketing is what you do to get the phone to ring so you have the opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective client. Think of marketing as the red carpet you roll out which leads a prospective client to your door.

Marketing is not about you — it’s about the client or prospective client. Many lawyers tense up because they think the spotlight is on them. The truth is that your prospective client or referral source should be the one on center stage. Marketing is much more comfortable when you focus on the person across the table and forget about yourself.

Marketing is all about service, not selling. You have an outstanding skill, honed to a very fine level that someone else needs. Your job is to find out what is keeping a prospective client awake at night and how you can ease his or her pain. In reality, this is one of the most important motivators of attorneys and probably what you already enjoy doing.

Educating yourself about basic marketing techniques can help you become more comfortable with the concept. Many professional organizations offer classes and seminars on marketing for lawyers. Spend an afternoon or a Saturday taking advantage of these programs. Literature about legal marketing also has mushroomed. Take advantage of the reading material that’s available in legal publications.

Mapping Out a Plan

After education, the next step in any marketing campaign is to develop your marketing plan.

You wouldn’t drive to an unfamiliar location without a map or a global positioning system in hand, so avoid jumping into the fray without doing your homework. You’ll greatly increase your chances of success if you lay out a specific roadmap beforehand. Your marketing plan should be a brief, bullet- pointed document rather than a voluminous tome. The key is to identify where you want to go and how you intend to get there.

Do some self-examination when developing a marketing plan. What are your core competencies or, in other words, what is it that you do better than anyone else? This applies to your firm, as well. Determine why you are going after this market or client. What leads you to believe that this is the most effective investment of marketing time and dollars?

Your plan should include your objectives and strategies and a tactical plan for getting there.” Tactics encompass the types of public relations elements usually associated with marketing, such as media relations and advertising. If your firm has its own marketing director, ask for help with this plan or consider working with an outside adviser. A plan will help you become much more comfortable with the process.

Marketing is all about communication. Your job is to communicate more effectively with your essential target audiences: clients, prospective clients and referral sources. Murky communication will make you uncomfortable. Ask yourself, and those that you trust, if you succinctly communicate what you do in a way that is clear and memorable. This is not an easy task, and reducing your plan to a few words is often more challenging than writing a brief.

To this end, can you communicate why a prospective client should hire you rather than your competitor? And can you succinctly describe what you do in an attention- getting and professional manner?

For example, “I’m an IP lawyer,” doesn’t differentiate you from the 25 other intellectual property lawyers down the street.

How about, “I’m an IP lawyer specializing in …” or, depending on the venue, “I help entrepreneurs protect what they’ve worked so hard to develop.”

It Takes Time

Marketing success does not happen overnight. It will take a while to see specific results, with marketing momentum building over time with persistence and perseverance. A few steps done daily or several times a week can bring results that you may not experience from one explosive blast of effort.

Marketing requires many of the same skills used in the courtroom: research, perseverance and communication. It takes time to master this new skill set and to experience results. However, once you get into the swing of things, you just might find you enjoy it.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, Marketing Strategy & Implementation, a Los Angeles based marketing consultancy specializing in working with law firms.

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