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January 23, 2007

Leveraging Friendships The First Step To Success

Connecticut Law Tribune - August 14, 2006

In my opinion, there is a major difference between a marketing plan and a leveraging plan. And the key to bringing in the most new clients at the lowest cost is knowing the difference between the two. For you, the solo, this knowledge can have a huge impact on your business plan and the manner in which you allocate funds and energies to attract new business.

While marketing in general is the method(s) by which we work to attract buyers of a product or service, for purposes of this column we are going to more narrowly define it. Marketing in the legal industry should be defined as direct efforts to attract those potential buyers of our services who have no prior knowledge of us or any connection to us in order to get them to try our services. Leveraging, on the other hand, is utilizing those who already know us to attract buyers of our product whereby the only connection the potential client has to us is the third party relationship.

When designing a business plan you should have a two-tier plan for attracting clients......

....... first, a leveraging plan, then a marketing plan. And in the beginning your dollars and energies should be geared towards your leveraging plan.

In general, most (62%) of our business will be referrals from people who already know us. So it is incumbent upon us to "leverage" those relationships; give them the tools they need to bring information about us to others who don’t yet know us. These tools are quite different from generalized marketing tools such as the Yellow Pages, newspaper or television ads. These tools are more personalized, geared towards your existing relationships in order to make them feel special, to make them feel a part of our success. How many times have you seen or heard this scenario: Two people are talking, one who knows you, and the one who doesn’t says, "I just got in a car accident.....'. Your friend (co-worker, relative) says, "I know this great lawyer. She’s a friend of mine." Your friend, (relative, coworker) should at all times feel the strength of their relationship with you and have the information they need at their fingertips to give to their friend (co-worker, relative) so their friend will contact you for their legal needs.

In your leveraging plan you will have provided them what they need to automatically have your name spring from their lips versus another "friend who is also a lawyer." These tools are varied dependent upon your personality and the nature of your relationship with the individual but the generalized tools should include your contact carrying an extra business card of yours in their wallet which includes your website address so they can do some preliminary research on you based upon the well-crafted electronic brochure you will have created just for this purpose.

In addition, your friend won’t just be handing this potential client your card, she will be talking about your personality, the nature of her relationship with you and why you are the right lawyer for this person. And she will know because you will have let her know on a more personal level, through regular, more intimate communications, what you are doing, the type of law you practice and the success you are achieving. You will not have sent her an "announcement," those little expensive cards that say basically nothing and get tossed. You will have sent her a personalized letter on your letterhead detailing the exciting news you just opened your office, giving her detailed information about the areas of law you will be covering, how she can help support your endeavor, hoping her family is well, sharing news of your family and inviting her to see your office anytime. You will have included a few business cards, asking them to check out your website and call if there is anything you can help them with. You might even include an item with your name on it the friend will be inclined to keep because it is useful. It’s a much better use of paper and $.39. You will continue to leverage this individual through the year with birthday cards, holiday cards, occasional updates on what is new and exciting with you, your family and business and keeping them in the loop of your life and business while staying in theirs.

A leveraging plan is a key component in the legal services business. If you only have resources for one plan, it should be the leveraging plan. Know the difference, allocate your dollars accordingly and reap the referrals. This type of business will always be your bread and butter and the basis of your professional success as a solo.

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.


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Nelson Ireson

As a new lawyer thinking seriously about opening my own practice, articles like these are invaluable resources as I plan what to do and when with the time and money I have available. Knowing that leveraging is more successful than marketing in gaining business early on is something I'd otherwise have to learn the hard (and expensive) way.

To reiterate a point you often make in your posts: I wish they'd teach us this kind of information in law school. I even took a class specifically about starting my own practice, and still no information about the effectiveness of marketing or how to go about obtaining new clients when you're first starting out. That part was always taken for granted, or so it seemed.

If we were in widget school, nobody would assume sales were going to happen and just teach how to make widgets. A big part of business (perhaps the biggest part, I'm learning) is not doing business, but getting business to do. And that's so painfully absent from law school curriculum, I almost feel like asking for a partial refund of my tuition.

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