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Marketing is not magic, it’s methodical

Marketing and business development is an aspect of legal practice that baffles some lawyers, yet the underlying concepts are logical.

The holy grail of marketing is doing a few things exceptionally and consistently well. If you want to know what those things are, read on.

Marketing v business development

It is a good start to understand the difference between marketing and business development.

Marketing is about activities that raise your visibility and reputation. It is a process that provides the information that prospective clients (your market) need to put your firm, or you, on their radar. The purpose of targeted marketing and communication activities is to generate ‘enquiries’.  Marketing must support your business development strategy for it to be effective.

Business development takes the enquiries that have been created by marketing activities to begin the conversations that lead to new business from new clients, generate new business from existing clients, and expand your referral sources.

Marketing is mostly a one-to-many activity. Business development is up close and personal and usually done one-to-one or one-to-a-very-few. Put simply, marketing activities focus on a macro level and business development activities focus on a micro level. 

Marketing and business development are interrelated because business development activities should grow from marketing strategies. Those strategies need to adapt and change to evolving market needs and should address insights gained from business development efforts.

A few examples…

Here is an example of needing to adapt. Many business people tell me how irritating it is when lawyers want to meet with them and dangle the hook of having something of value to discuss, only to find that they don’t.

Compounding this disappointment is that the lawyers’ questioning is focused on trying to gain an insight into the prospective client’s world. After experiencing a few meetings like this, prospective clients are hesitant to accept meeting requests purporting to have something of value to discuss.

If your success rate in converting these types of meetings to new work is low, you need to ask yourself three questions.

  1. Am I selecting the right people with whom to meet?
  2. Do I really have anything of value to share?
  3. Are my communication skills letting me down?

Lawyers deserve a big A+ for effort for giving these meetings a shot. However, unless the prework has gone into living up to the expectations created around the purpose of the meeting from the client’s perspective, you have squandered your shot. Rather than thinking these types of meetings are a waste of time, the lesson here is to adjust how you go about them and keep adjusting until you improve your ability to convert meetings into new work. Like most things worth doing well, it will take practice.

There is little point having great marketing activities and then letting yourself down when it comes to following up on the leads they create. Another example is speaking at client or industry events and not putting in all the effort needed for your session to be sensational. It is just as bad to expect people in the audience to follow you up. They might, but it is more likely you need to get on the front foot and be the one making contact. Speaking and writing are among the best ways for potential clients to assess you – do you know what you are talking or writing about, and do you seem like someone with whom they would want to work?

Speaking and writing is a marketing activity that raises your visibility and can lead to new work. That is a fact when it is done well and with clarity, the issue is topical or emerging and your communication style is engaging.

Five fundamental truths

What I have found to be true is that everything about your personal marketing comes down to a few fundamental truths:

  1. Become a genuine expert, a true specialist and understand this takes years to achieve, but it will sustain your career if you nail it and stay current with what is evolving in your sphere of expertise.
  2. Know exactly what sort of clients you want by industry sector, size, geography, structure, turnover, regulation – everything. Be clear about where your expertise fits in, why and how it adds some sort of quantifiable value and then get serious about point 3.
  3. Maintain high visibility to your target market. Take and create every opportunity to raise your visibility at a client and industry level. Ignore anyone who chides you for being a blatant self-promoter – there is no point being a secret.
  4. Create and maintain networks on a range of fronts and be generous in connecting people and sharing contacts, ideas and opportunities.
  5. Get comfortable with being up close and personal with your clients, and those you would like to have as clients, also with referrers and potential referral sources. The legal business is personal, and relationship driven, and do not trust anyone who tells you otherwise.

Some business development professionals’ views

I asked some of the Heads of Business Development in a few of Australia’s larger firms (>450 people) what they regarded as the most important things lawyers could do to become more effective at marketing and business development. There was a great deal of consensus on what those things are, so here goes:

  • Make business development a consistent habit. Many lawyers let being busy be the reason for letting relationships languish and failing to participate in leads generated by marketing activities and then bemoan the lumpiness of their practice.
  • Develop resilience. It’s disheartening when BD activities do not immediately convert to new clients or increased workflow. Make resilience your friend because keeping at it will pay off; it just takes time, persistence and patience.
  • Know your client’s business. You might know your area of law, but unless you know your client’s business you are just another subject matter expert and this does not make you stand out. Being able to talk the language of a client’s business/industry is an attribute that clients value.
  • Know and promote your personal brand. A personal brand is what defines you. What makes you different/better? Why should anyone retain you, or work with you? What value do you bring? Your brand is a combination of what you do and how you do it. Those lawyers who take ownership of their own brand, promote it, and can speak to it with clarity tend to stand out from the crowd.
  • Get help. If you are in a firm with a marketing and business development team, engage with the team members. They are there to help and support you. They want you to succeed. If you do not have access to any internal resources, look to those in the firm who have busy practices and find out how they did it and consider retaining a BD coach for a while.

Keeping at it

When your personal marketing is creating more work and opportunities than you ever imagined, stay focused on living up to the expectation you have created with your new clients.

Simultaneously, keep focused on maintaining your personal marketing activities because marketing is a fact of private practice life. Learn to get comfortable with it and better than good at it. Focus on becoming the type of highly visible expert who remains current and is always relevant to your target market.

Genuine niche specialisation aligned to a target market, when blended with high visibility, is a powerful combination that enables highly effective marketing and business development. Marketing is not magic, but by being methodical in your marketing you may display some magical traits.

Trish Carroll is the principal of Galt Advisory, a business that helps law firms and individuals devise and implement successful marketing and business development strategies. Contact her at