What harm can a little marketing do you?
“What you do with your billable time determines your current income. What you do with your non-billable time determines your future...” (David Maister)
The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines marketing as:
“The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ requirements profitably.”
Well, they would say that wouldn’t they? This definition is incredibly wide and extends “marketing” to cover all the work carried out in our offices on behalf of clients. I prefer the following definition:
“Identifying and communicating to existing and potential clients the services which your firm can provide at a price which will be profitable for the firm.”
“However toplofty and idealistic a man may be, he can always rationalise his right to earn money…” (Raymond Chandler)
I cannot stress too much the importance of profitability. It would be perfectly possible to market your services as “the cheapest in town”. However, it does not follow that you would be bound to make a profit. Hambros Countrywide (now the largest conveyancer in England - and how long before they hit Scotland?) are charging £350 per transaction, far more than many conventional conveyancing firms. Yet, they expect to handle 30,000 conveyances a year.
So, the starting point of our search for a marketing policy must be to identify the services which we can provide profitably to our clients in the future. Tread carefully here, for the services you can provide profitably in the future may not include all the services which you are presently providing. If you are wise, you will develop a system of calculating the profitability of each of your major services, perhaps by comparing the salary cost (including partners’ notional salaries) of providing each service with the fee income from that service.
It does not automatically follow that, because a service is not very profitable (or not at all profitable), you should cease to provide it. Debt collection services may be provided at a loss, because they are part of a range of services you are providing to major clients. You may feel that you have to continue providing conveyancing services to maintain the long-term relationships with those clients who provide you with the bulk of your profitable business. But is there much of an argument for retaining an unprofitable criminal aid service, if that is only a small part of your business?
There may be ways of making each service more profitable in future and, if so, the possibilities should be investigated. For example, from case histories within your firm, try to identify the types of court cases which involve high levels of work with a relatively small return in the way of fees, then erect barriers to prevent the firm taking on these cases in future. At the same time, build a sensible “minimum fee” into your Terms of Business for all kinds of work.
Never assume that your firm is providing all the services that it could possibly provide. While most firms provide will-making and executry services, how many can claim to provide a full menu of services for elderly people?
Once you have decided which services you want to provide in the future you also have to decide whether there is a range of clients to whom you want to promote these services. The objectives of a firm should include identifying clients who are likely to be profitable in the long term and identifying clients and introducers who are likely to be sources of reference to other clients.
In most cases, the quality of new and future business is going to be more important than the quantity. Your marketing effort should be carefully targeted to be effective and this means looking at:
- The price which you will be charging?
- The quality of the service you will be providing?
- The geographical locality within which you will be providing these services?
- The method of promoting the services you are offering.
It will not usually be necessary to undertake market research by a firm of expensive consultants. However, it is essential to carry out some research, even if it is of a D.I.Y. nature. This could include for example:
- The issuing of client questionnaires to your existing clients at the end of each transaction. These can be used to help identify other services which your client may require.?
- The issuing of short questionnaires to existing clients who are likely to be sources of new business or referrals in future.?
- An analysis of some of your existing files and fee notes. What sort of transactions have you been handling and what fees have you been charging?
Market research should always include some consideration of what changes to the market there are likely to be in the future. For example, is house ownership in your locality likely to rise or fall? Is the population ageing (in which case services to the elderly may be a growth area)?
“Quality is what the customer says it is...” (W.E. Deming )
If the quality of your service is low, your business will suffer from a lack of repeat business and referrals from satisfied clients. As these are likely to be your main sources of business, the quality of your service delivery is crucial to your long term health.
“Quality” in this context relates to the quality of your services as perceived by your clients. It is often assumed that the solicitor is the best judge of the quality of a service, but this is simply untrue. Even if your client is wrong about his perception of quality, the fact is that he will not be coming back to you or referring new business to you unless he is satisfied in the way that he wants to be satisfied.
The quality of the legal advice provided to your client is not necessarily going to be important to him. He will assume that your advice is good quality, and he is entitled to do so. You would not judge a plumber on his ability to seal up a join between two pipes. You would assume that it will be properly sealed. (Although you would be justifiably upset if it transpired that it was not.)
“Thou are not for the fashion of these timesWhere none will sweat but for promotion ...” (Shakespeare)
There is a big difference between promoting your firm (raising its profile generally) and promoting a particular service. But it is important that you pursue both goals and that the efforts geared towards one goal do not conflict with your efforts towards the other.
There are many different ways of raising the profile of your firm in general, including:
- Use of the media - Issue (brief) press releases (to journalists on local papers, radio stations etc) when some newsworthy matters crop up.
- Advertising - This is usually expensive and it is not guaranteed to be successful. Save your money for when you have a particular service you want to advertise.
- Brochures - These can be useful to hand to new clients. However, they should not be the first place to concentrate your expenditure.
- Mailshots - These can be targeted on quite small areas and can be a good way of reminding people of your existence.
- A website - Essential for firms located far away from centres of population, firms with a number of commercial clients, firms whose Property Centres have websites and firms who need to appear to be up-to-date.
- Sponsorship - This can be a fun and effective method of increasing awareness of your firm.
The only way to have a friend is to be one...” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Eighty per cent of your business comes from 20% of your clients.
Clients hold high opinions of their own solicitors.
“Previous experience” and “recommendations” are the most important elements affecting how people choose their solicitors.
Sixty eight per cent of paying clients feel they have received good value or very good value.
You don’t have to believe all of these statements, although the last three are taken from real surveys. However, for most firms most new business comes from existing clients or people who have been recommended to them by existing clients.
If you are promoting a particular service you could do worse than direct the largest part of your marketing effort (or even the whole of it) towards your existing clients and contacts. Introducers of good quality business should be treated as bosom friends. Find means of providing them with small extras in the way of legal advice (free, of course) and entertain them regularly. If they are business contacts, offer their staff discounts or even some free advice.
“There’s never been nowt that was any good that was instant ...” (Percy Sugden)
Marketing is a continuous process.
Your offices give out messages about your working habits. A scruffy office, with heaps of files lying on the floor, is not likely to appeal to a client, who can usually see for herself a smart, well-lit, tidy office just along the road.
Your receptionists and telephonists give off powerful messages in the way they deal with enquiries from potential clients. Your speed of telephone answering and your speed of returning calls will also be noted by clients. If it takes you two days to return a call, your client may have found another solicitor in the interim.
Your headed paper and any other literature you issue should be well designed.
Your motorcar should be a Saab (solid, dependable) not a sports car (flashy, unreliable) or a Jaguar (too expensive, must be over-charging).
Your advice to clients should be clear and jargon free, but not condescending. They will not forgive you for either bemusing them or patronising them.
“Bring not a bagpipe to a man in trouble ...” (Jonathan Swift)
There is not room here to explain in detail the need for monitoring, measuring and coordinating your marketing efforts, although these are all important subjects. For those who are just getting to grips with marketing, perhaps it is more important to try a few small pilot projects to find out what works for your firm. For example, holding seminars for existing clients will only work if you have people who can talk well in public (rather than reading from lengthy notes). The trick is to find the right mix for your firm and experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t. The answer will be different for every firm.
Brian D. Allingham is still the only solicitor working in Scotland with an MBA in Legal Practice. He is also a management consultant, specialising in smaller and medium-sized law firms, and a regular writer and lecturer on various management subjects.