This month, guest author Stephen Fairley of The Rainmaker Institute brings us part 1 of a 2-part article on building a referral-based law firm. Watch for part 2 in the February 2016 newsletter.
If you want to get your year off to a blockbuster start with an increase in referrals and revenues then you need to find a way to reconnect with and stay connected to the three groups of people who are your best source of new business: current clients, past clients, and others (attorneys and non-attorney professionals) who have served as referral sources for you in the past.
If you're a business to consumer attorney, such as personal injury, mass tort, criminal defense, family law, bankruptcy, or estate planning, send out a letter via snail mail (yes, through written letters by lawyers still get read) to 10-20% your former clients (depending on how large your list is) expressing your thanks for using your services in the past, reminding them of other ways you can help them, and inviting them to call you about any legal matter they have at no charge. You want your clients to think of you first, always and only when it comes to any legal issue. Even if you can't help them you want the opportunity to refer them to a trusted colleague who can. If appropriate to your practice area, invite them to come in for a “checkup from the neck up.” For example, we have an estate planning attorney who invites every client to come in for an annual checkup at no charge. He ends up upselling 20-30% of them who need additional work done due to life issues that have come up (marriage, divorce, birth, death, bought or sold property, etc). Continue sending out these letters every month to 10-20% of your list. You will get calls. You will find additional work.
If you're a business to business attorney, make the time to identify your top 10 clients and set up appointments with them in person over the next 30-60 days. Have an open and honest discussion with them about the state of their business, what challenges they expect to face this year, the resources they need (legal and non-legal) and how you might be able to assist them. If appropriate, ask them for a small project you can work on to demonstrate your expertise in an area or inquire about doing some research into how a new law or ruling might affect them. Offer to do this either for gratis or for a significantly reduced rate.
Perhaps they really need a business loan and you know a few local bankers you could introduce them to. Or they may have to let a few employees go and are afraid of being sued and they need your input on how to prepare for the layoffs. Maybe they need to do some asset protection right away in case their business fails to protect them against creditors.
The idea is not to wait until they come to you; be proactive and let them know they are important to you. They’ll appreciate a listening ear and your expertise. And, no, you don’t get to charge them for lunch; it's your treat.
Create a comprehensive list of every single person who has sent you a referral in the last year and send a personal note with a small gift (bottle of wine, flowers, gift card to a local restaurant) expressing your appreciation for their help in years past. Be sure to make it personal. If you don’t know what they might like, consider contacting their assistant and ask.
In your handwritten note, ask them to join you for lunch, a drink, or an open house and tell them your assistant will be in touch to set a date. This will allow you to reconnect in person and provides you with the opportunity to update them on your practice and what you consider to be a great prospect for your services.
How to Stay Connected
Intuitively, we all know that when we're off the radar, we're not on our clients' minds. At the same time, every attorney knows that referrals and returning clients are some of their strongest sources of business.
So, how do you stay connected? How do you stay on someone’s radar throughout the year?
There is a well-known marketing principle—the Law of 7 Touches, which says it takes an average or seven to ten meaningful touches every year to stay “top of mind” with people who know you and to build trust among people who don’t.
In today's marketplace of over stimulation and thousands of advertisers trying to push their products and services, we have often found most attorneys need more than seven touches. Look at Twitter - it is a constant stream of updating statuses. One tweet is irrelevant 10 minutes - or in some cases, one minute - later. The world and your prospect has moved on to the next latest blurb. In this overly saturated world, the marketing world has accepted that this number is somewhere north of 12 touches every year.
So what differentiates between a meaningful touch and a normal, entirely unremarkable touch? Running through a networking event and talking at everyone just long enough to shove your business card into their hand is not sufficient. You need to make a lasting positive impression at least 12 times to remain relevant in the eyes of your prospective client or prospective referral source.
Here are some easy and meaningful ways to reach out to your network:
• Host a seminar and invite contacts to attend.
• Call up your former clients and check in with them; see how they're doing.
• Attend a local, non-legal networking event and make a point to meet potential referral sources.
• Attend a networking event in the industry you serve - ask attendees questions about their needs, their concerns, etc.
• Schedule lunch with an old referral contact to catch up.
• Use surveymonkey.com to conduct a brief survey on a topic of interest, use social media to invite people to answer it and then share the results with your network.
• Connect with them on LinkedIn. It's the most widely used social media platform for attorneys, but most of them don’t use it effectively. Learn how.
• If you see an interesting article in a blog, an industry magazine, or the newspaper, forward it on to your clients or referral partners.
Watch for Part 2 of this article in the February 2016 Affinity Consulting Group Email Newsletter where Stephen Fairley will discuss email marketing, newsletters and marketing mistakes to avoid.