A: A central point of contention between people who think online marketing (read: social media) is worthwhile for lawyers who want to get clients and those who think it is a waste of time is this question: Is there a critical mass of good-quality clients online, and are they ready and willing to hire you if you market yourself online?
In other words, if you go all-in with online marketing, could you get the kind of business you hope for in your wildest dreams?
Let me just start this out by saying I don’t know. I don’t know because I am not a marketing expert (or ninja, whatever). I think I know a few things about what can work for marketing a law practice, online and offline, but I don’t know whether they will work for your practice. Marketing is never a cookie-cutter exercise, and nobody has a one-size-fits-all Answer to the problem of marketing your law firm successfully. If they say they do, do not give them your money.
So, with that disclaimer in mind,
Are there good clients online?
Of course there are good clients online. There are good clients everywhere. You can get good clients by sending out Monday-morning letters to everyone who wound up in jail over the weekend (and you can even target the crimes you prefer to handle). You can get good clients by pinning your business card to the coffee shop bulletin board.
That’s not really the question, though. If you post your business card in coffee shops, you are likely to get dozens of manila folders full of crazy for every actual potential client you talk to. If you sent out Monday-morning letters, you will waste a lot of time licking stamps (or hiring someone to do it for you) for every potential client contact.
Online marketing often results in the same thing. In general, you have to talk to a lot of tire-kickers, free-advice seekers, and crazy people for every legitimate client. I think that’s because many lawyers approach marketing strategy from the wrong end. The important question is where you will find high concentrations of people who resemble your ideal client, or who are likely to be able to refer people to you who resemble your ideal client.
But many lawyers just want to know whether they should be doing online marketing, as if that were a separate thing from plain old marketing. There is no such thing as online marketing; there is just marketing, and there are a lot of ways to do it. You don’t need to be doing it in any particular way, just in the ways that work best for you and your practice.
Think of the last social media seminar you sat through. Did the presenter start by talking about how Facebook is the second-biggest country in the world or how many tweets there are every day? How many of those Facebookers or tweeters are likely to be potential clients for your practice? How many of those people are interested in engaging with a lawyer (in “lawyer mode”) online, and likely to hire that lawyer as a result of that engagement? How many of those will make decent clients? I don’t know, but I bet we’ve turned that third-largest country in the world into a suburban cul-de-sac.
That’s why the question is not whether it makes sense to market your practice online or use social media. The question is what form of marketing will be most effective for your firm.
Effectively marketing your firm
In other words, where are you better off spending your time if want to make money?
One of the most-glaring problems with the way lawyers (and lots of other people) think of online marketing is confusing results with other, buzzword-y metrics. For example, none of the following are meaningfully related to your firm getting more clients:
- unique visitors
- ranking well in Google (as a generic statement, anyway)
Those terms are tangentially-related to your firm getting more clients, at best. In order to make those terms meaningful, you need a lot more information. Who is liking or following you and your firm on Twitter and Facebook, or finding your website in search results? How many of them follow up by contacting you? How many of those turn into clients? Do those who become clients pay their bills? In other words, how profitable, overall, are the clients you acquire from each source, whether it is Twitter or traditional networking?
Those are the same kinds of questions you need to know about offline referrals in order to know what marketing activity will be most effective.
There is only one way to find out what kinds of marketing will be the most effective for you: experiment, track the results, compare them to your other experiments, and experiment again. That is the only way to find out what works for your practice.
What experiments should you try? No matter what, start by building a strong network, adding online networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to keep tabs on people if you want to. Then, branch out and try other things.
The best way to figure out what sorts of things to try is to talk to your current and former clients. Ask them how they learned they needed a lawyer and what they did to find one before they found you. Ask them what sorts of things they found when they did those things. You should start to get some ideas of ways to intercept clients earlier in their search for a lawyer.
Your best clients are also probably your best source of marketing ideas. And if they are happy clients, they will be happy to help. Try out your ideas on them. Would they be likely to look for a lawyer on Facebook? How would they go about it? Did they try a self-help book or are they members of a group for which you could teach seminars? Keep your mind open and leverage the collective wisdom of your clients.
You can also get ideas from other lawyers with similar practices, although you should always ask those lawyers how they know what works. Few lawyers take the time to track their results. If they do, give their recommendations greater weight.
For everything you try, take the time to learn to do it right. Google AdWords can be cheap and highly effective, or it can be a huge waste of money. It all depends on how you use it (and whether it makes sense for your practice, of course). The same goes for every other kind of marketing. The guy who shows up to Networking events with a stack of business cards will get nothing out of it. Don’t be that guy. If you’re going to try using Facebook to get clients (which you should probably wait to try until you’ve already got a healthy book of business from other sources), take the time to learn what’s supposed to work.
Then, go ahead and experiment, track your results, assess your results, and experiment again.