Vol. 82, No. 3, March 2009
The marketing budget is one expense that many law firms will consider reducing or eliminating entirely in a time of cutbacks. But studies have shown that this is the wrong move. An economic decline actually offers new opportunities and advantages for firms that embrace smart marketing opportunities. Rather than cutting their marketing budget, proactive law firms will carefully consider their marketing activities, pursue a mix of solutions, track the results, and redirect resources toward the marketing efforts that yield the best returns.
Why Spend Money on Marketing in a Down Economy?
Marketing your services will give your firm an advantage over firms that scale back on their marketing efforts, or eliminate them entirely, during an economic downturn. When prospective customers need a lawyer, they’re more likely to think of you than the lawyer who hasn’t been marketing. This gives your firm the opportunity to increase its name recognition and gain market share.
In addition, certain practice areas are recession-proof or are likely to experience an increase in business in a down economy. During a downturn, lawyers can still expect to see significant work in litigation, bankruptcy, restructuring, intellectual property, trusts, personal injury, and products liability. Your firm should adjust its marketing to emphasize practice areas that remain profitable. The agile lawyers will recognize the opportunity this presents. If you primarily work in a practice that thrives during boom economies, consider cross training and expanding your practice to areas that do well during bust economies. If you can’t easily diversify your practice, at least watch for unexpected opportunities. If your competitors eliminate practice areas or go out of business entirely, you may be able to pick up additional work that they previously handled.
You may have an opportunity to stretch your marketing budget during a recession. As you’re looking at your budget, consider how much is being spent on marketing overhead versus marketing activities. If cuts are necessary, smart businesses trim overhead spending that isn’t producing any direct, measurable results.
Evaluate Your Current Marketing Efforts
When the economy is tight, it’s important to look at each marketing activity in terms of value and ROI (return on investment). Focus your firm’s marketing budget on investments that have low risk and high reward. If you have money left in the budget, you can use it to test other marketing activities. But analyze your current marketing efforts first.
- Assess the current situation. What marketing activities are we engaged in, and what measurable results can we show from those activities?
- Identify opportunities. What are our strengths in comparison to our competition? Where are our firm’s biggest opportunities for growth?
- Set objectives. What do we want to achieve through our marketing?
- Determine the marketing strategy. What resources are prospective clients using when deciding to hire a new attorney? How do our existing clients decide which attorney to use?
- Identify the marketing mix. What are the most cost-effective ways of reaching new and existing clients?
The answers to these questions should help you map out a marketing strategy.
What Types of Marketing Efforts Should You Consider?
A recent LexisNexis/Harris Interactive Survey of Solo Practitioners and Small Law Firms asked respondents to rate the perceived value of various marketing tactics. The two most popular types of marketing were law firm Web sites (considered valuable by 89% of respondents) and legal directories (82%) (LexisNexis 2008).
When new clients search for a lawyer, most people will ask their family, friends, and business colleagues for personal recommendations. But once people have the names of a few lawyers, they’re then going to attempt to validate that choice, and most will turn to the Internet to help them. Whether prospective clients find you through a legal directory or come directly to your Web site, both are valuable sources for attracting new clients, and they serve complementary purposes.
Web sites. Your Web site is a virtual representation of your firm, an online storefront of sorts. Law firms spend about 19 percent of their marketing budget on their Web site (LexisNexis 2008). It’s important to make sure that your Web site is working for you.
If your site is intended as a lead-generation source: Are you happy with the number of leads that your Web site is generating? If people don’t know your firm’s name, are they likely to come across your Web site? If they type the name of your city and area of practice into Google or another search engine, does your Web site appear among the top listings? If not, you may need to apply search-engine optimization (SEO) techniques or paid search-engine listings to ensure maximum visibility for your firm and to increase the leads that come through your Web site. Paying for placements on search-engine results is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to increase leads to your Web site. But buying keywords can be tricky. To maximize your ROI, consider working with a business partner who understands the nuances of SEO and pay-per-click listings.
If your site is intended as an information source for existing clients: A strong Web site will include frequently updated content, creating a reason for users to regularly visit the site. Because not every visitor wants to read an article – some might want to watch a video, others might want to listen to a podcast – you should try to use different types of media that appeal to different types of visitors. Regularly updating your content with new articles, videos, and podcasts that are interesting and informative – with a clear call to action – will keep your clients coming back to the site.
Online Legal Directories. When prospective clients need a new lawyer, they seek out a referral, often from a trusted peer, then use the Internet to research credentials. Martindale.com® is the top online legal destination for corporate counsel, and Lawyers.comSM is the top online legal destination for small businesses and consumers who are seeking legal representation. In fact, 70 percent of users surveyed say they planned to hire a lawyer they found through Lawyers.com within one week, according to an October 2007 survey. If you spend your marketing budget on only one activity, spend it on inclusion in an online legal directory. With unlimited online content about your firm’s expertise, you’ll get a high ROI and detailed tracking reports so your firm can measure performance and track leads.
Create original content. Closely tied to your Web site efforts is the idea of creating custom content for newsletters, Web sites, blogs, email blasts, and print publications. Sophisticated marketers know that you don’t sell your services just by telling a prospective client, “Hire me” (though it is important to have a strong call-to-action in your marketing message). Each time you can impress a prospective client with your knowledge and expertise, you’re giving that prospect another reason to hire you.
Creating original content costs very little money for attorneys who have the time. If your target customer is an individual or small business, you’ll want to write or speak in “plain English.” Keep your message short and understandable. Using online technologies, you can then post content to your Web site, write a blog, post a podcast or video, create electronic newsletters, and send email briefings to your customer and prospect lists.
As a small business owner, you should rightfully be concerned about how a potential recession will affect your legal practice and the legal needs of your clients.
Analyze your marketing efforts. Make thoughtful decisions about how and where you spend your money. Make strategic investments in marketing your law firm, with the understanding that these investments will help continue to generate revenue in the short-term and will help build your law firm’s market share into the future.