By Jay Harrington of Harrington Communications.
Last summer, I decided to give fly-fishing a try as a new hobby. I bought some equipment, watched some YouTube videos, and practiced casting in my backyard. Didn’t seem so bad. I felt ready to hit the river. But then I dug a little deeper. I quickly came to realize that success would require an intimate understanding of what fly (bait) to use while fishing. And to pick the right fly — there are thousands to choose from — you need to take into account what you’re trying to catch and where you’re fishing.
The same principles apply when it comes to law firm marketing. There are many tactics and tools that firms and lawyers can use to generate attention, but if the right message is not reaching the right audience, it’s wasted effort. Once you identify your ideal client, you can optimize your message to appeal to your audience and make sure it’s hitting its mark.
Narrow the Focus to Find Your Ideal Client
If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. This simple maxim may sound trite, but it’s essential to improving your law firm marketing, not to mention your business development efforts.
You must define your ideal client to have any chance of differentiating yourself from other lawyers. With your ideal client in mind, you can tailor your marketing to address the needs, and speak the language, of those you hope to serve. You can stand out among the multitude of options otherwise available to clients. By positioning yourself and your practice to a narrowly defined audience, the expertise you have to offer will be perceived as less interchangeable.
There is no one right way to identify your ideal client. It requires a bit of both art and science. If your practice is geared toward consumers, then you may want to focus on geography and demographics. For example, an estate planning lawyer might decide that an ideal client is a young couple who recently started a family, earns an annual income of $150,000 or more, and lives within a particular metropolitan area. On the other hand, a corporate lawyer might define her ideal client by job title and industry, such as general counsel at tier 1 automotive suppliers.
Of course, you probably will serve clients that don’t fit squarely within the definition of your ideal client. By tailoring your marketing and positioning yourself to appeal to your ideal demographic, however, you will attract more of the clients you want and fewer of those who are a poor fit.
Muster the Courage to Join the Conversation
We’ve all been there — standing off to the side, sipping a cocktail or nibbling a cookie, observing pods of people engage in conversation at a networking event. We’d welcome an invitation to join the group discussion, but rarely does it come. We know that engaging could give rise to a valuable relationship, so we eventually muster the courage.
The same is true of marketing. You’ll be relegated to the sidelines, barely visible or audible to prospective clients, if you don’t join the conversation. But what conversation? There’s no single marketplace of ideas to participate in. The internet, for example, is one big cacophony.
But if you look closely, you’ll find that all the noise breaks down into discrete conversations among similarly situated people with common interests. Your job, as a lawyer who wants to build a practice, is to find the right conversation and add your voice. And that process begins with identifying your ideal client.
For instance, people with certain job titles within particular industries tend to belong to the same professional associations, read the same trade journals, websites and niche media publications, and network at the same events. They tend to move horizontally within an industry when changing jobs. They trade notes on the various professional services providers who specialize in their industry. They discuss and debate issues of common interest and concern.
The behavioral commonalities of those in your ideal-client cohort will provide a breadcrumb trail that should guide your marketing efforts. You can identify the “watercoolers” around which the people you hope to serve are gathering and conversing. Those will signal where and how you should be spending your time and attention. No longer will you be engaging in “random acts of marketing.” Instead, your marketing, like your market positioning, will be narrowly focused.
By investing yourself and adding value to the communities — online and offline — populated by your ideal clients, you’ll become a trusted insider, no longer an outsider scrutinized at arm’s length.
Demonstrate Your Expertise: Answer Their Questions
The best way to add value is to be helpful. And the best way to be helpful is to answer the questions your ideal clients are grappling with — fully, freely, and without expectation of reciprocity. In short, you need to become a thought leader for your target audience.
Members of your ideal-client audience face common challenges. They have unanswered questions. They’re looking for guidance. You can stand out by addressing their concerns. By demonstrating your expertise through the creation of thought leadership content, you’ll position yourself as a trusted advisor capable of helping clients navigate obstacles in business and life.
Of course, many lawyers create content. Few, however, generate meaningful results. The problem is that creating content is only half the battle. You must place your content in front of the right people. Publishing a blog post on your firm’s website rarely does the trick. On the other hand, with an ideal-client audience in mind, you can simply follow the breadcrumb trail.
Thought-leader lawyers know where their audience is and identify opportunities to inject their voice into the conversation:
- The articles they write are published in the leading trade journal read by their audience because they’re creating content for a particular industry or demographic.
- They secure speaking opportunities at the key annual conference because they’re actively engaged in the trade association hosting it.
- They can create a podcast that’s widely listened to by their target audience, because members of that audience frequently appear as guests on the show and the content is relevant.
By consistently showing up with attention-worthy content in the right places for the right people, a lawyer will remain top of mind and be the person ideal clients turn to when it’s time to engage legal counsel.
Build an Ideal Practice
When you consistently serve similarly situated clients facing similar problems, you become highly competent at what you do. And once you achieve that, you’ll never want to go back to the feelings of uncertainty that afflict generalists. It’s not easy, but you need to overcome the fear of narrowing your focus. I get it. It’s hard to say no to new opportunities. But every time you say yes to a poor-fit client, you’re saying no to someone who is an ideal fit.
And if your goal is to build an ideal practice, that’s not a compromise you can afford.