4 Questions: Finding Your Authentic Marketing Niche

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Most people screw up niche selection, especially when starting a law firm, by looking first to the money. Finding the right niche is essential to creating a law firm marketing plan. Many lawyers think something like “bankruptcy is hot, I’ll get a bunch those clients.” Or how about “people are always dying, I’ll focus on estate planning”? Wrong move, Bucko.


Following the money first is the wrong move because if you don’t have a passion for the work and the people you will NEVER stick with the niche long enough for the investment of energy, time, and money to pay off. You’ll never attract the perfect clients. If your investment actually does pay off in a bunch of paying work, then you’ll be miserable in your “success.”

Niche decisions are essential in selecting your law school electives, but most lawyers missed the opportunity to start branding themselves as experts while still in law school. They were under the false impression that checking some professor’s law review citations would be of more benefit to their career than building niche expertise. Go figure.

Selecting an “authentic niche” is even more critical when you are starting your solo or small-firm practice. So, how do you do it right? Ask yourself the following 4 questions and answer them honestly.

1. What am I REALLY good at?

Don’t limit your answers to legal interests. Many of us are REALLY good at legal tasks we hate, so spend more time focusing on the stuff you do for fun. Are you really good at fixing cars? Are you really good at snowboarding? Are you really good at thinking up names for new brands of micro-brew?

The answers to these questions will guide you toward your authentic niche because they will identify the type of PEOPLE and PROJECTS you will actually enjoy. You’ll have fun helping potential clients through your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-In, and other social media and real-life networking activities.

2. What would I do for free?

The projects you would do for free are the projects that will hold your interest long enough to become the best lawyer in that area. And, you’ll probably need to actually do a few of those project for free to get the experience and business-intelligence you’ll want in order to set prices and market with integrity. If you don’t know what you WOULD do for free, take a look at what you ALREADY do for free. The things you’re already doing are good indicators of your passion.

3. What would I like to be known for professionally?

Do you want to be know as the best bankruptcy lawyer in your city? If you do, great. Go for it.  If you’re thinking you could make a lot of money at that, but feel embarrassed to want to be introduced in that way at a party, then you should think of something else.

4. What are you willing to write about and speak about for free?

I’m convinced that entrepreneurial success comes primarily from two actions: writing and speaking. Yes, in that order. Yes, for free—at least until you’re the obvious expert in your niche and are good enough at both to get paid for each. What can you write a blog post about every week?  What topic or situation are you willing to drive 100 miles to speak about to a group of interested people?

If you ask yourself these questions, examine your actual behavior, and answer these questions honestly, you’ll have a great idea of your authentic niche. You’ll still need to do the work, but if you’ve chosen wisely, the work will be part of the fun. You’ll be able to build an effective marketing plan. You’ll enjoy the process as much as the result. And, my friends, that’s what it’s all about.

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2959833537/#/)

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  • Sage advice.

    As someone who “chased the money” early in his career, I can tell you that your advice is 100% correct. I found neither happiness nor job satisfaction. Since then I’ve found a practice area I enjoy greatly and success seems like it is flowing organically from it. A lot of this involves being honest with yourself and what you want.

  • I could not agree with Ben’s sentiments more. Excellent article! In my early years as a solo, I went after divorce cases because those clients came in with money, money that I needed to stay afloat. Unfortunately, I hated every minute of it, particularly the child custody battles. Not a recipe for happiness. I turned to other areas of civil litigation, only to find myself working with people in a different kind of crisis. Still not happy. I am in transition now, after some serious soul-searching. Your article is spot on, and I think will be useful to many.

  • I am going to join Eric’s and Ben’s chorus of praise for this excellent and insightful article. I just want to add one thing — it may take some time to figure out what it is that you really love doing and therefore what your niche is. A lot of that may come with experience when you wake up one day with an “ahah!” moment and say, wow, I really love doing this and it’s so different from, for example, being the bankruptcy lawyer I thought I wanted to be. But, be patient with yourself and, as Kevin emphasizes, listen to yourself.

  • Thanks for the kind feedback. :-)

    Another thought on this just hit me this morning: this is not a one-time exercise. You don’t have to feel trapped by thinking that what feels like your authentic niche (some might say “calling”) will always be the same. Over time, it will evolve or maybe suddenly shift dramatically. That’s OK. That’s “life.”

    Again, thanks for the comments and keep sharing the article.

  • Kevin,

    Thanks for the insightful article. As a non-lawyer reading this blog, I have to say that this is sage advice for other types of businesses, as well. I feel strongly about doing something that you would do for free.