By: Sharon Berman
Published: The Recorder
What does diamond grading have in common with law firm marketing? It may not be immediately obvious, but some takeaways from a weeklong lab on diamond grading made the similarities as clear as you’d want a diamond to be.
Education is Marketing
Selling a diamond or fine jewelry in general takes the same finesse and skill as selling any professional service. The first words out of one instructor’s mouth were “People buy from those they trust, and they trust those who are educated.” Was he talking about marketing a legal practice? It sure sounded like it.
There are several aspects to education. Yes, it’s the degrees on the wall, but more than that, it’s the ability to communicate with the prospective customer or client so that what you know – what you are educated about – is meaningful to them. It’s essential to clearly explain what is important to your prospective client without using jargon or tech talk. Your job is to educate and clearly explain the legal aspects of a transaction or lawsuit, not to talk in a way that underscores the prospect’s lack of knowledge. Similarly, a skilled jewelry professional steers away from discussing the technical aspects of the diamond he is selling to an “uneducated” buyer.
In today’s business development world, the buzzword is “content” – a means to market through educating, informing and engaging. The digital world offers so many vehicles to do this and enables professionals to reach beyond yesterday’s perimeters. Take a look around your office; it’s chockfull of material that can be packaged to educate your audience. Clients’ recent questions may point to a trend, which can be the subject of an article. The topic of a recent talk can be transformed into a webinar and these can all be promoted on your website, in your e-newsletter and through social media channels.
Almost everyone in the lab class, whether they worked in the jewelry industry or not, had to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Most of the work, conducted under microscopes, was technical and exacting. The instructor constantly reminded the class that this was a skill ii it would come with practice, but no one was born knowing how to do this. Everyone had to be patient with themselves.
What a strong similarity to becoming effective at marketing and developing business for a legal practice. Those who are “naturals” are few and far between. Most professionals have to learn the skills, yet there is often an expectation that this should be innate. Because it is new and outside a native ken, it takes pushing past your comfort zone and doing it repeatedly, so that you enlarge your area of comfort. Building a law firm requires pushing into uncharted areas, whether it’s walking into a meeting of people you don’t know or giving a talk to an industry group.
Consider how far you’ve come. Perhaps you’re now very involved in an organization, but for the first half-dozen meetings it took nerves of steel to walk into the room. Keep that in mind the next time you need to cross a threshold. And give yourself a chance to improve. If, let’s say your networking skills weren’t as smooth as you liked, then keep practicing, and it’s inevitable that they will improve as your comfort zone grows.
Finding Clarity in the Gray Areas
Determining the specifics of a diamond is an art as well as a science. There are many gray areas. The same can be said of legal marketing. There are “scientific” aspects, especially when it comes to the technology, such as client relationship management systems and increasing marketing automation, but so much of success results from judgment calls based on experience. The only way to get that experience is to try different approaches, modifying the approach based on results. You get no experience from saying “It won’t work” and doing nothing.
Legal marketing can often seem like a diamond full of inclusions (which you don’t want) because lawyers are often exhorted to “just get out there,” without any structure or training. The field looks cloudy and opaque. However, a seminar, course, coach or marketing professional can clarify your strategic vision and light the way.
Systematize your Consistent Process
Going through this class meant having to accept not being good at something, at least not for a while. It took being willing to repeatedly fumble and feel slow at the task but persevering that brought improvement. It was a reminder of why lawyers and other professionals understandably often shy away from going out on a seeming limb when it comes to business development. You may not get it right immediately; it’s a distressing feeling and not something that professionals who have been successful throughout their career are used to experiencing.
Our instructor continuously admonished us to focus on the process, and if you followed it systematically, it would get you where you wanted to go. While aspects of legal marketing and business development call for the art, many other aspects of can be broken down into repeatable processes. It’s the consistent repetition of these processes, such as creating and distributing original content and leveraging all of it via online channels that can lead to success.
Polish your Focus
This class called for intense focus, and the most flabbergasting aspect of it was that for five days, no one had a phone or iPad out except at breaks. The only thing the instructor had asked was that participants shut the ringer off, not that these devices could not be out; however, students instinctively knew that distractions could lead to failure. What if you could have this kind of focus on your marketing, not for five days, but for even a few hours several times each week?
When it comes to business development, you are your own client. Schedule regular time in your calendar to focus on marketing. It might be 30 minutes several times a week for networking calls or updating social media, and carve out larger chunks for projects needing more focus. If you wait to work on marketing until you have the time, you’ll be waiting a long while.
As with most things, a tremendous contributor to success was the patience and encouragement of those instructing us. They kept reminding us that diamond professionals did this work over and over each day, but that students were just learning. They pushed participants to focus on the skill itself and would not give credence to students’ criticisms of their own skill level. They assured those in the class that proficiency came with practice, and gave us time to achieve that.
When it comes to marketing your own legal practice, this encouragement, too, can make all the difference. Your in-house marketing professionals or an outside agency or coach can offer this encouragement, as well as creative ideas and powerful accountability. These professionals can push you beyond your fears, so that you can experience the success that makes you want to expand even further.
A diamond has many facets, which when cut and polished correctly sparkle and attract the eye. Law firm marketing also has multiple facets, which, when attended to, can make your firm shine and attract the clientele you want.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & Public Relations, specializing in working with law firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org