Vol. 77, No. 7, July
Nine Referral Marketing Keys to Your Best Year
These nine fundamentals of successful referral marketing - followed
seriously and consistently - will help your practice grow.
by Dustin A. Cole
Marketing doesn't have to be expensive, difficult, or complex, and it
can be done successfully in a highly ethical, respectful manner.
Yellow pages ads, television spots, or private referral services are
expensive, tend to compromise your reputation, and are not very
effective. They may bring inquiries, but the vast majority will be "D"
and "E" clients - clients whose business is not profitable in terms of
referrals or the cost of resolving their issue(s). In contrast, the best
new business always comes from personal referrals; clients who come to
you because they were referred by someone they trust, who in turn likes
and trusts you. Your referrals will increase when you focus on
developing stronger personal relationships with a larger group of good
In short, the most effective marketing is the most ethical, the most
cost-effective, and potentially the most enjoyable.
Here are nine tips excerpted from the workshop "14 Fundamentals of a
Million-Dollar Practice" that provide a quick look at the fundamentals
of successful referral marketing. Follow them seriously and consistently
and these tips can help you have a great year, this year and every
1) Identify Your Referral Sources
For most attorneys, marketing is an occasional, informal process.
Very few have ever created a list of important referral sources for
regular reference. Many attorneys do not even have a system for
capturing the names of new client referral sources, and only a very few
capture referral sources' names when an inquiry does not turn into a
Effective marketing demands that you develop a list of those people
who refer you business, and use the list consistently to maintain
contact, relationship, and awareness with them.
Once you've compiled a comprehensive list from your current and past
files, you can decide which sources have high potential for generating
new business (and therefore should be contacted more frequently) and
those who have low potential (and can be contacted less frequently).
A list is also the beginning of a database, which allows you to
leverage your marketing effectiveness by capturing relevant personal and
professional information: assistant's name, spouse's and children's
names, hobbies, interests, and especially, notes from past
conversations. Such a database allows you to be extremely effective in
developing and maintaining strong referral relationships.
2) Get Into Action - No Excuses
Dustin A. Cole is president of Attorneys Master Class, an
organization that helps attorneys and teams build marketing and
productivity skills for increased revenues. For more information.
Contact Cole at
For most attorneys, marketing is done "when I have time" rather than
as a regular activity. As a result, it inevitably ends up on the bottom
of the priority list. The first rule of marketing is "Be in action!"
Without a commitment to a certain number of contacts with referral
sources each week, all other skills in the marketing toolbox are
irrelevant. Prioritize marketing at or near the top of your list. Commit
to a minimum level of three to four contacts a week - even if it's an
email that takes two minutes. Don't let a week pass in which you haven't
done some type of marketing. Marketing is essential to a secure
3) Focus Your Marketing
Focused action is a keystone of effective marketing. Rather than
"marketing by wandering around " (MBWA) and hoping to encounter
potential clients, attorneys should be developing trust relationships
with referral sources who work with many people who could be "A" or "B"
clients. Referral marketing leverages your time and effectiveness
because you've built a team of people who are helping you locate new
Rank your list of referral sources and potential referral sources.
Focus on building or maintaining "A" relationships with referral sources
who can refer you "A" and "B" clients.
4) It's All About Relationships, Not Sales
If you believe that personal referral marketing is about "schmoozing"
people, you'll be frustrated and disappointed. No one enjoys - or trusts
- insincere, manipulative people. Referrals are made out of "know, like,
and trust" - from sincere "friend" relationships - and not from sales,
coercion, or pressure. Focus on building genuine trust relationships
with referral sources and let go of the need to sell yourself.
Discussions about "business" will come up naturally, or sometimes not at
all. Just remember, it's about the relationship.
Understand that fruitful relationships don't develop overnight.
Building fruitful relationships is a long-term process that may take
months or years to mature, but once built, these relationships will
continue to support you for years to come.
5) Acknowledge Your Referrers Early and Often
One of the most frequent complaints attorneys who refer business to
other attorneys make is "I never know what happens to them." Build a
system to thank and acknowledge those who are supporting you at every
opportunity. When your office receives an inquiry call, one of the first
questions that should be asked is "Who should we thank for referring you
Every referral - even a phone call from a prospect who was turned
away or chose not to work with you - should be quickly acknowledged and
thanked with a note, call, or email. When a client is accepted and a
file opened, a handwritten note should be automatically generated and
sent to let the referrer know you're working with the client, and again
thanking him or her. Finally, at the close of every file, a note, call,
or email should go to the referrer saying that the matter has been
concluded, and thanking the person again for having trust and confidence
in referring to you. This level of communication creates high trust
levels and great appreciation of you - resulting in even more
6) Use Existing Referral Sources to Develop New Ones
The definition of an "A" level referral relationship is someone who
knows, likes, and trusts you, and wants to support you. So why not ask
some of your "A" level relationships to introduce you to their
colleagues who may have clients, colleagues, or friends who might need
your help? Have them take you and the other person to lunch and
introduce you. Let them do the talking. They will convey their trust in
you to the other person, and you can begin the process of establishing
another fruitful referral relationship in a highly positive way.
7) Put Some Fun Into It
Hate to go to those boring meetings to troll for business? Then stop,
because it rarely works. If you dislike it, it will show, and your
efforts will be wasted. Worse, you will avoid whenever possible any
marketing activity you dislike. Shift your activities to reflect your
interests and hobbies and personal passions. Listen and learn about
interests you share with your referral sources and instead of attending
stiff lunches or cocktail parties, go boating or running or golfing with
them. Do what you enjoy and invite others to participate.
If you are involved in an uninteresting organization because it's
important to your referral marketing, take your interests into it. Chair
a committee for a charity, civic, or social event that is meaningful to
you, and you will attract others in the organization who share your
interests, and have the potential to become "A" referral sources. The
organization, the charity, and you will all benefit.
Marketing doesn't have to be unpleasant. It actually can be a joy.
And when it is, it not only works better, it contributes considerably to
your enjoyment of your practice.
8) Involve Your Team to Leverage Your Marketing
Just as in the legal work, there is much that you can delegate, and
many systems you can create, that will allow your team to support your
marketing efforts. If you have a sharp, people-oriented assistant, have
your assistant start regularly scheduling lunches from your referral
Collect information on referral source birthdays, anniversaries, and
special events, and create a system that has your staff generating cards
and notes for you to sign. Paralegals and legal assistants have their
own associations, and your staff can be connecting with staff from other
firms, helping you generate new business. Your marketing effectiveness
can be multiplied many times over by the thoughtful use of staff and the
development of marketing support systems.
9) Consistent Action Gets Results
Consistent contact over time with your referral sources creates a
continuing high level of awareness and contributes mightily to building
a trust relationship. Once-a-year holiday cards and lunches do little,
but personal contact with your best referral sources at least four times
a year, plus occasional notes, cards, and emails, builds trust and
Consistency of another sort is even more important. "Yo-yo" marketing
- a lot when work is slow, then none for months because you're busy - is
highly ineffective. Relationships cool, and you risk creating an image
of periodic desperation, which definitely is not a trust-builder. Make
marketing a priority in busy times as well as in slow ones. Commit to at
least five marketing contacts a week - lunches, dinners, notes, emails,
or just friendly check-in calls - and your practice will grow
consistently over time.