Two ebiz topics

Should you recruit your own marketing person or use an agency?

It’s hard enough being a modern lawyer without having to qualify in marketing and get to grips with the latest selling fad. Your marketing efforts will benefit from some professional input to speed things along avoiding the pain and expense (and embarrassment) of a trial and error approach. There’s also a lot of grunt work in marketing which can safely be done by a non lawyer. So you can hire a marketing person or commission the services of a consultant.

Marketers come in all shapes and sizes – some specialise in web technology, some in digital marketing, some in public relations and some in selling. It’s important to know what sort of help you need in order to choose the right assistance. The starting point has to be your business plan and an idea of what sort of clients you want.

Recruiting your own marketing person

If you know what you want to do already and have an active programme of activities which need support (and if you have a reasonable marketing budget) then it makes sense to hire your own marketing person.

But too often, partners think that once a marketing person is on board, they can sit back and wash their hands of marketing. The reverse is true. The marketing person will need input from fee-earners and a lot more action in terms of getting out into the market place.

As well as a detailed job description (exactly what do you want this person to do?) you should give some thought as to how they will be measured and what sort of person you want. Marketing qualifications are important if they are to have a sound grounding in the theory and good practice across all areas but some place more emphasis on relevant experience.

Do they need experience of working in a partnership? The upside is that they will be familiar with the culture, the down side is that they may lack the creativity and client exposure that are hallmarks of marketers in mainstream business.

If your strategy focuses on particular sectors, do you want them to know that sector and have experience of working with businesses there? If you are predominantly looking at an Internet based campaign do they have the most up to date PPC, SEO and digital marketing skills? Or do you need someone who can write pithy web copy, help your partners with their presentations and produce a stunning pitch on the back of a fag packet?

Think too about the selection process. Who will interview the individual and what will they ask? Do they have the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to identify whether the person really has the ability to do what you need? And who needs to be involved in approving the appointment and the package? Who will the person report to? How will they be managed? Do you have the systems, information and other resources that they are likely to need in order to have an impact? (If not, you will have to budget for these).

A frequent complaint is that the internal marketing person only assists with marketing communications exercises – producing newsletters, dabbling with the database, organising events and assembling information for pitches – rather than shaping strategic campaigns or supporting lawyers trying to target and convert new business.

As firms develop their understanding of the marketing and sales process, the type of assistance that they need may change. This is why many firms prefer to rely on an assortment of external advisers which they can change at will as their business development evolves.

Using an external consultancy

There are large full service agencies and independent specialist freelancers and everything in between. What do you need?

If you are a relatively small firm which does not yet have a business development plan, then you may need a strategic someone who can help you align the various needs, identify the key opportunities and focus on one or two key campaigns. Then select the specialists to do the implementation.

It may be that you are seeking to update and refresh your image and are looking for a branding consultant. Sometimes these agencies want to undertake detailed market analysis and interview your clients and staff as part of a major rebranding exercise. Others will be little more than graphic designers who help with the logo, visual identity and photography.

Some firms will need to address their online presence and select a consultancy to help them design and develop a new web site. Or you may have a good site but need help in updating the content and optimising it so that more leads are generated through inbound marketing. Others will be trying to grapple with social media and need someone to help all the fee-earners engage in an effective and safe way.

Alternatively, if your partners are already pretty fired up and active, then you may need someone who can work alongside them prompting direct client conversations and support in sales conversion. Some firms hire telemarketing agencies to secure appointments with qualified leads.

Sometimes you need sales training and coaching. Sometimes you need to invest in the relevant software, systems and infrastructure – and often these providers throw in some training and consultancy with the package. There are some Government grants which contribute some of the cost of using specialist advisers but you need to know the rules and how to qualify before embarking on such a venture.

At the end of the day, the only real test of the effectiveness of any specialist help – whether in-house or external – is the extent to which they help you realise your objectives and maximise the return on your investment. And to do that you need to be clear what it is that you want to achieve at the outset.

Blending online and offline marketing

There are still some who deny that social media will have any impact on their practice. There are others who think that social media is a panacea to cure all practice development ills. I fall into a middle camp that suggests you use social media to supplement and enhance your traditional marketing and business development activities.

Listen to the market. One of the areas where lawyers tend to fall down is the area of research – to select a market on which to focus (geographical, sector oriented or a specific business or life challenge) and identify suitable targets (intermediaries or potential clients). Social media can be immensely helpful here. To supplement your web and specialist media monitoring you can set up Google Alerts and join key online communities (for example, LinkedIn Groups or Twitter lists) to keep up with new developments.

Attend events to gain market intelligence and make connections with both potential referrers and clients is a mainstay of any professional’s marketing activity. Social media will help you to improve your effectiveness – you can show your intention to attend and meet people online before meeting them in the flesh. You can also do a little research so that your conversations are more targeted and informed.

Follow up. After meeting someone in real life (IRL) you can connect with them on a social media platform – LinkedIn is probably the most popular business and professional network. So invest a little time in making your profile interesting to them. Reviewing a contact’s profile and recent posts also oils the wheels of those first few exchanges as you have an instant insight into the topics of business interest and their personal pursuits. You might also be able to identify contacts that you have in common.

Manage your contacts. If your firm doesn’t already have an all singing, all dancing CRM (Client Relationship Management) system then you can use one of the free (or low subscription) services to help you categorise, prioritise and manage relationships and your sales pipeline.

Promote your referrers and clients. Everyone needs more exposure and more business so use social media to promote the material of your referrers and clients. This is a good way to show some reciprocity and also to introduce valued contacts into your circles.

Create a campaign. The best marketing takes place in a campaign where you use a number of different tools over a period of time to convey a specific message to a particular audience and move them along the “pipeline” from cool to hot. Whilst you will use traditional methods here – producing the research, writing media articles, preparing White Papers and booklets, presenting conference papers, organising seminars and preparing pitches for sales meetings – it is possible to use online methods to increase the reach of your work.

Optimise your web content. Your web site is your on-line shop front and people will check it to obtain contact details and see your background. But it should also work for you in attracting the right people when they encounter the sort of issue that you can solve. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a fast changing black art although some of the basics (eg key words, titles, headings, descriptive HTML etc) can be mastered. It is also possible to use Google Adwords to drive traffic to your site, to sign up for newsletters or to download papers and Apps – although it might be good for you to use specialist help in this area. Google Analytics is a free tool that will allow you to measure your web site traffic and show what content is of most interest and what key words got people to your site – informing your future SEO and Adwords activities.

Demonstrate your expertise. Whilst there is still a role for newsletters and e-alerts, it is quicker and easier to provide a flow of your observations, expertise and comments through a blog. If you have developed well-defined campaigns, then you will have identified the key areas on which you can help and your blog entries will reflect this. As well as drawing traffic to your web site through search engine optimisation (SEO) you can distribute links to blogs through social media (LinkedIn and Twitter are linked so you only have to post links once to reach both groups of connections and Google+ has a slightly different user profile).

Provide intellectual gifts. Ensuring that you always provide something of value at every interaction is a cornerstone of good relationship development and you can use blogs to produce snippets of interest to your clients and contacts. Calling them or mentioning these pieces of information provides another opportunity for real contact. You can place key presentations and documents for your connections to download from your LinkedIn profile, but try to find some way to get them to interact as this is the only route to a successful sales conclusion.

Stay on their radar. The automatic weekly email from LinkedIn to all your connections means that you stay on the radar in an unobtrusive yet time efficient way. They get to see what you are doing, who you are connecting with and where you will be. They might see things of interest that prompt them to contact you. So make sure you make regular updates to your status and post links to things like blogs or articles.

Make regular contact. Part of your relationship development and sales plan will be regular contact to learn more about your client, build trust and mutual understanding and identify opportunities to pitch. Social media will provide a stream of information about your clients so use it to identify snippets that provide you with an excuse to call or meet.

These are fairly basic ideas for what a lawyer might do to manage new and existing relationships. New business is generated when you have a compelling proposition and develop a strong relationship with people who are in a position to hire you.

Kim Tasso is a strategic marketing consultant specialising in the professions and a freelance writer.