What do I do with only a limited marketing budget?Posted on: October 21, 2011
The original 3,000 word article on this topic was written for Ark Publications’ “Law firm strategy” although the points are equally valid for accountants, surveyors and other professional firms.
The major investment in most professional firms is in terms of the fee-earner time for relationship development activities as selling and account management are the major tools in the business to business world. However, most will have a small marketing and business development budget and here are some ideas for ensuring that it is used most effectively:
Clarity over aims and strategies
The partners need to be crystal clear about their aims and expectations so that you can focus investment on those areas that are likely to achieve them most effectively. So the initial task is to try and gain some agreement about what would be a realistic goal.
You can then work back along the sales pipeline to identify how many pitches from how many meetings from how many leads will be necessary. It then becomes much easier to identify where any limited resources might be invested – and the measurement metrics are built in.
Concentrate on a niche
It is well established that smaller firms will do best if they focus their attention on a specific segment or niche in the market place – there’s a smaller market and less channels for the budget to cover.
If there is a really small number of prospects it might be possible to develop a compelling value proposition and send a or tailored pitch document to establish a dialogue.
Develop a new service
While many firms consider spending their limited money on promotional activities, few have looked at how they might develop their existing services to increase differentiation and address new and emerging needs. For example, a nicely bound “Buying a property in France” package with maps, phrase books, French estate agent information as well as a lot of useful background material.
A few firms have developed smartphone Apps to provide information and capture lead information.
Often, marketing budgets comprise a multitude of small items that have little impact. Often, they are there to support the “pet project” of a partner. Try “zero based budgeting” – where you remove everything from the budget and only add items that are proven to be in support of an overall aim or part of an integrated campaign.
The other lesson learned from many firms is to focus on doing a few things really well. Consolidating a small budget on one or two specific campaigns is more likely to have impact and to achieve the desired results.
Scope the budget
Whilst the marketing budget might be limited there are often pockets of money in other budgets that can be focused on the business development task. Take a look, for example, at entertaining. In effect, whilst under control of individual partners, it is often a substantial amount of money that – with guidance – can be used in support of focused relationship development activities.
Consider the HR and training budgets too – it may be possible to gain funds to help with sales, service and relationship management training. The IT budget may reveal allocations for investment in CRM systems and web site development.
Develop existing client and referrer relationships
Let’s not forget that one of the most effective ways to generate additional income and profit is to concentrate effort on improving your knowledge of and relationships with existing clients and referrers.
The lack of good selling and account management skills means that many lawyers will approach this in the wrong “what’s in it for me now?” approach. If training budgets are tight, invest in a few good books that help lawyers with their selling skills.
Run satisfaction surveys
The foundation of any good marketing strategy is market and client knowledge. Equipping your professionals with basic interviewing skills and a good discussion framework means that they can attend face to face meetings with key clients and referrers to assess their perception and satisfaction. Often these sorts of meetings will not only deepen and broaden the relationship but will also reveal ways to improve the service and possibly even future opportunities for working together.
Having an up to date and comprehensive database of clients, referrers and prospects is a fundamental requirement for good marketing planning and relationship development activities. But how many firms get locked into complicated discussions about software systems and prevent its achievement?
Sharing information is a cultural dimension and the behaviours of contact and relationship development need to be in place before lawyers see the value in pooling and updating their information. So education is important.
Develop basic materials
It surprises me how often the most basic material is not readily available so that when an opportunity to tender or pitch is received firms have to scrabble around to collate biographies, case studies and client permissions. There has rarely been much work on developing compelling and differentiating value propositions, thinking about alternative pricing strategies and groundwork on selling and presentation skills.
This sort of activity takes time rather than cash and is particularly relevant to those in transactional or litigation areas.
Procure cost effective expert help
Some firms may need external expert help to get them started or to tackle a particularly challenging marketing opportunity. Public relations and other marketing agencies can be expensive. However, if you carefully define a project – and the desired outcomes – they are often willing to agree a fixed price rather than the more typical retainer arrangement. Freelance writers, journalists and other marketing experts can be cost effective with an hourly rate even lower than that of a professional firm trainee.
If you are undertaking research, don’t overlook local universities, business schools or other educational establishments who might be keen to participate to strengthen their relations with the business community, provide some real-life experience for their students and gain some publicity when the results of the research – for example, in a thought leadership campaign – are used.
Some professionals enjoy writing and are able to turn out witty, concise prose. Others have friendships with journalists. These facets may be used to generate publicity in local and specialist media. Whilst advertorial (where you pay for your material to appear – like an advertisement) should be avoided, developing a good relationship with local journalists may mean that your lawyers are asked to comment upon and contribute to other articles.
The digital world has changed the humble press release. However, you shouldn’t overlook using developments at your firm on the news section of your web site – it will help with SEO too.
Digital PR gurus would encourage your key experts to provide comments and posts on other people’s blogs – particularly if you can identify the mavens or main influencers in your market. Most blogging software is free and it costs little to integrate them into your own web site. A blog then provides a steady stream of useful (to the audience) information that can be distributed through email and social media (see below), adding value to existing client and referrer relationships and generating awareness amongst prospective clients and referrers.
Some firms have used blogs to establish their reputation and trust and then to create valuable online communities that become an ongoing source of direct leads and referrals.
Use thought leadership
Thought leadership is a much used tool in the professions – and the law is no different. It needs a sharp mind and perhaps some lateral thinking to identify an issue that is or will become important for one of your key markets or a particular group of clients. You can then design a research project (perhaps using local colleges, freelancers, students or your own lawyers) to collect the data.
The data can then be packaged up inexpensively using some design templates and PDF making software. A small PR campaign – followed up with some digital marketing to invite people to informative events – can alert the media and potential clients to the information.
Get them networking
Get your professionals out and about at groups whether they are professional, commercial, local or special interest – they are waving the flag for and raising awareness of your firm and also in direct contact not only with potential clients but also potential referrers.
Train your professionals so that they are knowledgeable about all of the firm’s services, understand the key messages and what is expected of them and also how to gather market intelligence and identify common interests and needs so that a good sales foundation is created and then followed up when appropriate.
Make it easy for them to log all contacts, assess their value and develop simple follow up and nurturing programmes.
Yes, you need a substantial budget to put on a major conference. But some firms have good in-house facilities and inviting clients along to a short briefing (perhaps with an interesting guest speaker) and then providing them with a glass of wine afterwards doesn’t cost the earth. Many law firms arrange highly successful roundtables with a few, high value guests.
Some firms are lucky to have clients who have interesting rooms, gardens or other facilities that would be a good place to host a reception.
Craft collaborative events
Another low cost alternative is to collaborate with other organisations to get your professionals in front of potential clients and referrers. Many local business groups will have events and you can offer a selection of topics on which your experts can speak.
Alternatively, you might arrange to present a seminar in conjunction with another professional firm. You can do the administration in return for them providing a venue and refreshments. If you both agree to invite some of your clients and contacts then you will have access to new people whilst presenting an opportunity for your clients to network.
Explore webinars and videos
The ever declining cost of technology means that if you have professionals who are comfortable and convincing in front of a camera, you can produce a series of short videos or webinars. These can be posted on your web site, on a Youtube channel and the links can be emailed to key referrers or interested clients.
Let young professionals be social
It doesn’t have to be the partners doing all the leg work either. Young professionals are often key to helping with market research or client analysis and in preparing materials for campaigns, newsletters, blogs and pitches.
And there are plenty of them who have interesting hobbies and/or are willing to organise informal events for their peers at referring and client organisations. Go karting, paintballing, softball, five-a-side, cooking classes, fantasy football and Curry Clubs have all been successful.
Enhance your web site
Your web site is your window on the world. And it is probably one of the largest items on your budget – particularly if you are in a high volume, low value business and need to do a redesign. It is critical that you specify what you want – after taking a really good look at competing sites both within and outside the legal market.
There are suppliers who, for little outlay, will take care of not only your web site design and hosting but also provide regular content updates to keep it fresh and thereby providing you with new material to regularly send out to clients, contacts and referrers.
Some firms have used interns and local colleges to create innovative web sites – but only where the senior (and older) partners have stepped back a little to allow the digital natives to deploy their knowledge and skills of the brave new digital world effectively.
And while Google Adwords may require significant budgets and careful monitoring, an understanding of the basics of search engine optimisation takes time but little cash investment.
Use social media – carefully
There is much controversy about the value of social media in the legal profession – I have written several Blogs on the subject. However, as a basic requirement all lawyers should have a profile on LinkedIn and use it as another channel for relevant information from the firm to targeted clients, contacts and referrers as it supports SEO. There are plenty of examples of other firms using tools such as Twitter to extremely good effect within their niche.
I often tell firms that having a small marketing budget is a blessing. It forces you to undertake a careful analysis of what you want and may be able to achieve. It makes the need for a plan and measurement evident. It also manages expectations about the likely results and prompts action from professionals to invest their time.
I do not restrict access to the FAQs but I politely request that you let me know by email and acknowledge the source (www.kimtasso.com) if you wish to use the material anywhere.
As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.