By Don Silver
Your firm offers excellent legal services, staff and facilities. You hold the secret of the legal universe except for one minor problem-you are the best-kept secret in town! How can you make your firm emerge amidst the turbulent seas of fierce competition?
It’s not as difficult as you think. Many not-so-well known firms are becoming successful through some simple concepts called corporate networking and media relations. The following tips apply to those wishing to develop their firms and individual practice areas.
Analyze Your Current Situation
Who are your clients and how did the relationships begin? Did another firm or an existing client refer them to you? Remember, the majority of new business is referred by existing clients and contacts.
What major practice areas and industries do you focus on, and is this where you want to be? By analyzing current clients, you can identify natural referral patterns. This exercise is commonly referred to as MAPPING. As the word naturally denotes, these patterns will allow you to find new business where you are most likely to succeed. Just connect the dots. The key point - - do what you do best, but in a targeted, organized manner. This may differ from attorney to attorney. What works for one may not work for everyone. One size does not fit all in the world of business development.
So, how do you reach new clients?
- Lunches with prospects and referral sources
- Community involvement and charitable work
- Seminars - in-house and out-of-house
- Social situations
Networking Made Simple
An effective way of expanding your community and marketplace exposure is by joining organizations or clubs frequented by current and prospective clients and referral sources. After all, isn’t it better to let your clients and contacts boast about the quality of your work instead of you making self-serving comments?
Depending on the practice area, there are different networking venues to consider. Business-oriented venues may include trade associations, economic development boards, chambers of commerce and general networking clubs. On the other hand, charitable causes, civic associations, churches or synagogues, cultural organizations, special interest clubs and organized athletics can be just as effective.
Selecting the Right Groups
You will want to develop a selection criteria to determine if the organization or group is right for you. Consider the number and type of members and their individual involvement. Prior to making a commitment, find out who are the movers and shakers. Since their motivation is for you to join, they will be the best source of introduction to other members. Take the opportunity to ask them about the needs of the group. If you join, this information will prove essential when targeting your efforts.
It is also a good idea to attend the meetings of different groups, sometimes even two or three times before joining, in order to get a good feel for the organizational dynamics and networking potential. It is always recommended to have a mix of business and civic/charitable activities. In fact, civic and charitable organizations may generate more leads for members versus business groups. Simply put, developing new contacts in these venues is more subtle and might be considered an act of good citizenship rather than one fueled by a pure business-seeking motive.
Once you decide to join, establish a reputation as a hard-working, dependable member by immersing yourself in all aspects of the organization and emerging as a leader. Take initiative, suggest projects and ideas and volunteer. Most importantly, demonstrate your dedication by investing time on the group’s agenda. Attending the first meeting and never showing your face again will do nothing to improve your image or generate new business.
Establishing Yourself As An Expert
As your practice expands, you will want to be known and respected for your insight and expertise in your field. An active public speaking schedule and implementing a high-profile public relations program can be combined to increase the name recognition and awareness for you and your firm.
Representing Your Firm In Public
Attending meetings and special events can often be the onset of a referral cycle that could attract many quality contacts. When socializing at these events, ask other guests and members about their company, industry and operating style. Find out how they like to do business, the strength of company, etc. When they finish, you will have the opportunity to talk about your firm. Keep it brief, concise and to the point. Focus on helping them solve a problem or identify an opportunity. Also, maintain the dialogue by bringing up current issues of importance and common areas of interest. Never turn this opportunity into a live infomercial. It will surely prove to be a business-prevention strategy. Building new relationships is all about giving, not getting, at least in the early stages.
Follow up with a phone call or note and brochure as well as any additional information of interest (newspaper articles, Internet reprints, magazine articles, etc.). E-mailing is also a great alternative when seeking a less intrusive communication method. You may also want to take the initiative in suggesting a get-acquainted lunch. Setting a simple objective of scheduling two business development lunches a week can be very effective.
Placing Your Firm in the Public Eye
There are many other ways to let your “audiences” know about you and your firm. Exposure through trade journals and the local media are always advisable. Ask yourself, what is newsworthy and unique about my practice or areas of expertise? Is there a major local or national news story or new legislation I can comment on as an expert? Does the publication accept guest columns offering legal tips or commentary on important issues?
Become familiar with industry trade journals, newspapers and newsletters in your community. Find out which reporters cover specific areas of interest and send out press releases and media kits, always making sure to follow up afterward.
When presenting your story idea, make sure you convey the news as concisely as possible - remember it’s common for reporters and editors to receive up to 50 press releases in a single day.
A New Solution
In the past, many individuals with great minds and innovations sank into the dark depths of oblivion because their message was unable to reach the rest of the world. Networking and public relations may be a viable option for virtually any law firm, from the sole practitioner to the largest multi-departmental mega-firm. By following these simple concepts, all it takes is a little initiative and a strong dose of perseverance to develop your practice. After all, public relations is a participation sport.
About the Author
Don Silver is Chief Operating Officer of Ft. Lauderdale-based Boardroom Communications, a full service public relations firm specializing in media relations, marketing, public affairs and crisis communications. For more information, visit the company’s website at boardroompr.com. He can be reached at 954-370-8999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.