If you’re like many small and mid-sized law firms, you’ve at least thought about developing a marketing plan for your law firm.
At its most basic, a marketing plan defines what you plan to do to market and grow your law firm and how you plan to do it.
For some firms, the idea of writing down a plan seems daunting. Or maybe It seems like an unnecessary exercise when you already are doing some level of marketing.
Taking the time to write down a plan seems superfluous.
But, trust us on this one – a defined marketing plan is as critical as a business plan.
You need a thought-out strategy for not only what marketing actions your law firm will engage in, but how you’ll do them, who will do them, when they’ll be done–and how you’ll measure the success (or lack thereof) of your time and money.
Executing on marketing without a cohesive plan will likely waste your time and your money.
And worse yet: it may turn you off of marketing altogether as a means to grow your business.
These opportunity costs could kill growth for your firm.
But fear not, a marketing plan is not difficult to develop. It will take some critical thinking and just a little bit of your time.
And, your law firm marketing plan should be thought of as a living document. You’ll update, amend and change it over time.
Importantly, you don’t need to fear that it will be a crazy-long, time-intensive process like building a business plan.
Your marketing plan doesn’t need to be a 30-page document. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
It should be a concise, cohesive document of a page or two that clearly outlines the goals, practices and tactics of your marketing plan.
In this article we’ll cover how to best write, and execute on a killer marketing plan. We encourage you to use what you learn here to develop a marketing plan for your firm. You can use our Sample Marketing Plan as a template–or create your own.
Let’s get started.
Marketing Plan Why, What and How:
Starting at the Top.
When planning the marketing plan for your firm, it may seem natural to jump right into the specific to-do’s for your law firm.
Jumping right into advertising.
Or putting together your email newsletter.
These tactical components are the how of your marketing plan.
But starting here is starting backwards: When developing your law firm marketing plan, start with why and what.
Marketing Plan Framework
There’s not necessarily a right layout or framework for a marketing plan, but we find it useful to break your plan into three distinct sections, starting with the high-level, strategic and working its way down into the tactical, nuts-and-bolts execution of your marketing plan.
Or, a section for: Why, What and How.
WHY: The purpose of your marketing plan. What are the strategic and definable goals of your plan?
WHAT: What will your marketing plan actually entail? What ongoing marketing endeavors will you do?
HOW: Once you’ve defined what your firm will do for its marketing: How will you do it? How often? Will you outsource some or all of it?
WHY: Purpose & Goals
When developing your law firm marketing plan, start with Why.
It may sound obvious or unnecessary, but you should clearly define the purpose of your law firm marketing plan.
The purpose of each initiative and activity.
The purpose of one law firm’s marketing endeavors are not necessarily the same as another’s. We’ll use the fictitious firm Collins & Whitmore to represent the law firm we’re defining a marketing plan for–pretend this is your firm.
When crafting the Why part of your law firm marketing plan, define the purposes of your marketing plan, which may include (for example):
To establish Collins & Whitmore as an authority on the practice of Family Law in California.
To establish Collins & Whitmore as the clear go-to for Mother’s Rights in New York.
To ensure Collin’s & Whitmore’s online presence and messaging is consistent with the firm’s real-world prestige.
To generate “Sales Leads”, or prospects: new prospective clients.
To generate “Marketing Leads,” or followers: your website audience and readers of your content (who may become clients later).
To generate new clients and increase caseload by X% annually.
Notice that each of these examples are fundamentally different.
But, the components of your law firm marketing plan, the What’s and How’s, will be actionable projects and rhythms to achieve these goals, and certain marketing activities can (and should) drive to one or multiple goals in your marketing plan purpose.
In the Why section of your marketing plan, you should define quantifiable goals, where possible.
“Establish your firm as a thought leader in your practice area,” isn’t really quantifiable (though critically important), so we’ll leave it where it is in the Why section.
“Generate X new clients / month” definitely is quantifiable.
So, as part of an actionable, measurable law firm marketing plan, let’s define it.
How many new leads (prospective clients) would you like each month?
What quantity, in a month, would you consider “good,” or a success? How many would be “not good enough”?
It’s important to define the goalposts with lead (and client) generation so you have a way of knowing if your marketing plan is succeeding or needs more work. If you’re just getting started and don’t have a good starting point, just come up with an educated guess to start.
You can (and should) refine your goals over your first few quarters.
While there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to display and represent “bad”, “good,” and “great” numbers for generating new leads for your firm, what we’ve found helpful is to define “stoplight” metrics that define what you consider bad, good and great. Below is a sample.
Dark Green (DG): “Excellent” – Exceeded your goal by a healthy margin
Light Green (LG): “Good” – your goal, or ideal number of new leads
Yellow (Y): “Warning” – short of your goal, attention required
Red (R): “Critical” – far short of your goal, serious attention required
Below is a sample of stoplight metrics from a law firm marketing plan.
A key to assigning stoplight (or any) metrics is setting proper expectations.
If you practice in a highly competitive market (in terms of practice area and geography), and are working with a modest marketing and advertising budget, your expectations and metrics should reflect that.
Conversely, if you practice in a very niche space and plan to invest an appropriate amount in marketing, you can set the bar higher.
A good law firm marketing agency can help you set proper benchmarks. And–if you’re in your first 6 months of a marketing plan, know that whatever metrics you define are an educated guess, and may have to be adjusted (down or up) based on the results of your campaigns.
Finally, New clients.
Leads are good, but really your law firm marketing plan’s purpose is to yield new clients.
As you likely know, not all leads are created equal. Some prospects are time-wasters or tire-kickers.
Others are serious about finding a good lawyer.
You should track how many leads you generate, and how many new clients you generate. Then, you’ll be able to track conversion: the rate at which you convert leads, prospective clients, to actual clients who put down a retainer.
Conversion rates vary wildly between firms and practice areas. Some consider a 10% conversion amazing. Others shoot for 20%. Others for 50% depending on the marketing activities (i.e. referrals shoot for 60%, advertising for 40%, etc.).
It all depends on your market and your goals.
It’s more important that you, over time, track and calculate conversion than you necessarily define a perfect conversion rate goal right away. (We’ll cover tracking results a little more later.)
WHAT: Components of your Marketing Plan
So, we’ve clearly defined the purpose of marketing plan.
Next, onto the substance: the What’s.
The What’s of your marketing plan is the actions, projects, initiatives and campaigns of your plan:
Ongoing email marketing
A one-time advertising campaign
Search Engine Optimization
These are all What’s, or the tangible components to your marketing plan.
Each What should specifically drive to one or more of the Why’s in your marketing plan.
Below is an overview of the most-used, and most-effective components of a law firm marketing plan. While not necessarily a complete list, below is a “menu” of marketing initiatives that serve law firms very well in achieving their goals for marketing and growth.
For most law firms, referrals are the primary marketing activity and source of new business.
People who know, like, and trust you are likely to refer their friends or colleagues your way when there is a need for the services you provide.
But, consistently generating new sources of referrals takes time and effort. It takes things like:
Be active in professional associations
Take clients / colleagues to lunch or dinner
Go to networking events
Present at CLEs
Two ways to work on networking are:
1) Expanding your professional network to increase your reach; and
2) Keeping in touch with people in your network to stay top-of-mind.
While many firms focus on expanding their network to increase the potential pool of referrals, staying top-of-mind with people already in your network should not be overlooked.
A colleague may have a case to refer your way, but if you are not in touch every so often, you might slip their mind. So, setting a regular rhythm to reaching out to colleagues, going to dinners, etc. can help.
One tool we recommend to help stay top-of-mind is Contactually, a helpful CRM.
Your law firm’s online presence begins with your website. So much of the other components of marketing plan, like SEO, PPC and email marketing (which will cover shortly), tie back to your website.
Even if your law firm marketing plan is modest and most or all of your new business comes from referrals, you need a polished, modern website.
A website that:
Is easy to navigate and find the resources a visitor is looking for
Is mobile-friendly and looks great on any device
Makes it easy to get in touch with you firm (by phone or via a contact form)
Includes “social proof”: testimonials or case studies from your clients
Is personal: Avoids stock images of courthouses and gavels, and includes pictures of your team and your office
Has definitive pages for each lawyer and practice area in your firm
Is search-engine-optimized: Getting found starts with a website that is configured to be found by Google
The cornerstone of any web-based law firm marketing campaign should be content.
Your law firm marketing plan should include generating an ongoing stream of content that will be useful to others.
Content is useful for for a variety of marketing goals including:
Generating more website traffic via SEO
Building and engaging with a social media audience
Staying top-of-mind with referrals via email newsletters and social sharing of content
You should generate and publish content in a variety of mediums that talk about the practice areas you excel in.
Content marketing is magical in that it accomplishes two very different goals of most law firm’s marketing plan:
One: It establishes your firm and your lawyers are experts in a given area.
Often potential clients read your blogs and your whitepapers before they call you (or before they realize that they should call you), and great content does wonders for credibility.
Your prospective client will be well along the way of hiring you before they even pick up the phone.
Two: Content marketing is an effective way to generate new business.
Coupled with SEO (which we’ll cover next), the content you write can be “picked up” by Google’s crawler, and may show up in a search.
For instance, if you write a great article about tenant’s rights in Massachusetts, that article may show up in a relevant google search and found by thousands of potential clients.
You may ask: What format is best for my content?
A blog on your website will serve as the bedrock of your content marketing strategy.
Blogs are easy to write and publish and instantly available to the world on the Internet. Blogs on your firm’s website should link (and relate) to the particular lawyers and practice area pages on your website.
Get into the habit of publishing a blog weekly (ideally), or a few times a month (at a minimum.)
It may sound hard, but you’d be surprised. Once you get into a regular habit of writing, its starts to come easily.
What to write about? As always: Write about what you know.
Think about what kinds of questions clients and prospective clients ask when they call you.
In fact, keep a running list of questions you’re asked before and while working with clients on the types of matters you handle.
Each one of these will make a great blog article. (And chances are: thousands of potential clients are googling these very questions.)
As an aside, ideally your website should have a built-in blogging platform, so you can quickly create and publish blog posts without much hindrance.
If multiple attorneys in your firm are writing blogs (and they should be!), you should link each blog to the Profile/Bio page for that attorney, so your readers can learn more about your team and their expertise.
Start with regular blogs. As your content marketing plan evolves, you can write or repackage blogs as whitepapers, case studies, eBooks and other kinds of “premium content”.
You can also hire a legal-centric marketing agency to write for you about your practice area.
This is a great way to keep the content coming every week. We also recommend supplementing this outsourced blogwriting with your own blogs, written by you. (After all, nobody knows your practice area as well as you!)
Content marketing and Search Engine Optimization are intrinsically related.
The Google search engine, as you may know, constantly scours the internet (in a process called crawling) for content (web pages, blog posts) and attempts to index it against search keywords.
SEO is the deliberate process of making your content found by google and, hopefully, showing up as far up the list on a search page as possible.
For a law firm, the goal of an SEO initiative is for your web pages, blog posts, and your web site in general to show up at or near the top of a relevant search. For instance, if you practice bankruptcy law in Illinois, you want your firm to show up when someone does a google search for “bankruptcy lawyer Illinois”.
The act of SEO is an ongoing process. It’s achieved through a combination of:
Content publishing (namely blogging)
On-site optimization – making sure every page and post on your website is optimized to be found and ranked by Google, and
Link-building: Generating quality links from other sites to your site (including directories)
A key thing to know about SEO is that it’s a long game.
From the moment you begin executing on an SEO campaign it can take 6 months before you start seeing results. (Results in terms of increased traffic and new leads.)
But once you do, those results often last, and pay dividends on an ongoing basis (provided you keep up your SEO efforts and your Google position isn’t overtaken by a competitor.)
And you don’t have to pay each time someone clicks on a link to your website when you show up in an organic google search, unlike PPC, which we’ll cover next.
SEO is an art and a science. And, it is more than simply writing and publishing blogs every week.
For many law firms it makes sense to hire a legal marketing agency to plan and execute an ongoing content and SEO strategy.
Pay-Per-Click advertising, or PPC, is essentially advertising within a search engine (most notably: Google).
If you’ve ever done a google search and noticed that the first few results are prefixed with the subtle word: ‘Ad’: These are sponsored results.
Advertisers, such as law firms, are paying to appear there, and must pay a small fee each time someone clicks on that ad.
Google search ads intentionally look like an organic, or non-paid result. (This is how Google makes 90% of its revenue.)
Your law firm can create a Google AdWords campaign and begin advertising for certain keywords in certain areas.
The cost of each click varies based on how many other advertisers are also paying for, or bidding on that keyword. (The process of which advertisers show up in which order is beyond the scope of this article, but in short, with each search a split-second auction occurs.)
So, using our previous example, you may be able to create a AdWords ad, or paid search result, to show up when someone performs a Google search for “bankruptcy lawyer Illinois.” Each click could cost you between $3 to $300, depending on the practice area and location.
An effective PPC campaign is more than just ads, however.
You must define search terms, create ads and create landing pagesthat people who click on your ads will be taken to.
Then, you must constantly test and improve upon each ad and landing page (a process called A/B testing).
This ensures the greatest Cost Per Acquisition, or CPA (cost per new client), and an optimal amount of leads in exchange for your monthly advertising budget.
The “downside,” if you can call it that, of PPC advertising is that it costs money, every click.
The upside is: Instant traffic.
You can create an AdWords account and create an ad and start showing up in Google searches today.
You can be taking on new clients tomorrow.
Unlike SEO, PPC is the “short game,” and something that can start yielding a return on your marketing dollar almost immediately. (For many law firms an ongoing PPC campaign is an effective long-term strategy for lead generation.)
Managing a PPC campaign is time-intensive and meticulous, especially when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of evaluating Impressions, Cos-Per-Click, Click-Through-Rate and Cost-Per-Acquisition.
For many law firms it make sense to hire a legal marketing agency to build, monitor and manage their PPC campaigns.
SEO or PPC?
When it comes to SEO vs. PPC: Which should be included in your law firm marketing plan? The answer for many law firms is: both. Both vary in effectiveness based on your practice area and location, and both come with their upsides and caveats. We recommend that you obtain guidance from a reputable and legal-centric marketing agency before taking the plunge into SEO and PPC.
Email marketing, sometimes called drip marketing or lead nurturing is another staple of a law firm marketing plan.
It tends to be a low-cost and highest-ROI way to get new prospective clients.
You want to, starting right now, begin building a database of email addresses.
Individuals who may, are or have used your firm in the past.
Often people who find your firm are interesting in learning about a particular area of law, but are not ready to hire a law firm yet.
By getting them in your email database, you can nurture these “Marketing Leads” (leads not ready to talk yet) with relevant content until they become a “Sales Lead” (someone who is ready to talk to your firm.)
The effectiveness of this kind of lead nurturing varies by practice of law, of course.
For example, it’s effective for business law, which tends to be more of an ongoing, relationship-based practice, versus personal injury, which of course is only necessary for a short amount of time after an incident.
However, you should not discard email marketing if you are in a practice area like personal injury or criminal defense. Former clients or potential clients may still refer business your way, where email marketing serves to stay top-of-mind with them.
You’ll use the other components of your law firm marketing plan, such as your blogs and your videos (which we’ll talk about next) to push through your email marketing engine and keep your clients, prospects and followers close, and keep your firm top-of-mind.
We recommend creating a simple monthly newsletter for your law firm. Get in the habit of publishing a newsletter every month, and keeping your followers informed. Each month, your newsletter should include:
This month’s content: Blogs and other content published this month.
Announcements: Big cases you’ve won, new attorneys that have joined your team or any other newsworthy announcements.
News: Your commentary on recent news, case law or other goings-on in your practice area.
A Call to Action: Don’t forget: compel your audience to call your firm if they have questions or need assistance.
Social marketing may also have a place in your law firm marketing plan. At the very least: your law firm should have a company page on the major social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+).
Your plan may include a concentrated effort to build followers and nurture your audience in the same way Email Marketing does.
For many law firms, the place for social in their marketing plan is for distribution.
Each time you write a new blog, a new whitepaper, record a new video: they will “push” it out via their social pages to increase the exposure and thought leadership.
By and large, Social Marketing can be thought of as an “enhancer” to the other components of your overarching law firm marketing plan.
Putting it All Together
While not an exhaustive list, the list above are they key components to a successful marketing plan.
And–you can see how each aspect relates to another. PPC and SEO generates leads and followers. Followers can be nurtured by email marketing. All of which tie back to your website, where visitors can contact you.
So, how do you know which of these components (or others) should be in your law firm’s marketing plan?
The best practice depends on a few factors, including your marketing budget, your practice area, your geography and the competitiveness within it.
If your law firm has seen quantifiable success in any of these: it definitely makes sense to keep these in your marketing plan.
And it may very well make sense to add to it.
A competent legal marketing agency can help guide you on what components are likely to yield results–and which are a waste of money and time.
Now that we’ve covered the Why (purpose and goals), and What (components of your marketing plan), we’ll talk about How.
How is the execution: How exactly you’ll execute on your law firm marketing plan on a regular basis.
In your written marketing plan (and in our sample marketing plan), you should have a place, or a checkbox for Operationalized.
Meaning, you’ve actually put that component into practice.
Saying that you’ll start writing blogs is only useful it actually happens, of course.
So if your law firm marketing plan calls for a blog weekly, make sure it happens.
So, create a recurring calendar appointment in your Outlook, or a recurring to-do in your Practice Management software to write and publish that blog every week.
The same goes for each component of your marketing plan.
Once you’ve identified the components of your plan, the What’s, it’s time to determine how often and exactly how you’ll go about each one.
Take PPC, for instance.
We’ve (briefly) covered the ongoing process that needs to happen for PPC to be effective: Creation and testing of ads, search terms and landing pages. PPC–like all marketing–is not set-it-and-forget-it.
Your PPC campaign needs ongoing attention or its results will wane over time (or never start.)
How often will you review PPC performance, optimize ads and swap out landing pages? Who will do this? The same goes for SEO.
SEO, as another example, is especially sensitive to consistency.
In order to achieve results with SEO, such as reaching the first page of a Google search for “Indiana divorce attorney,” you need to be diligent about creating SEO-optimized content on a regular basis.
It takes endurance and commitment. Who will write blogs each week? If you plan to source blogs from multiple people in your firm (which–again–is a great idea), who will manage the content schedule and make sure content is published on time?
Bring in an Expert
If your law firm marketing plan is made up of multiple components (and it probably should be), you may find it challenging to consistently execute on it, week after week.
You are running a law firm after all!
In many cases it’s a good idea to bring in an expert. When doing so, we highly recommend bringing in an actual legal marketing agency.
Web site designers and SEO companies are a dime a dozen… and all of them have probably got a law firm or two in their client list. That doesn’t necessarily make them experts in legal marketing.
Effective legal marketing takes deep knowledge and extensive experience. Planning or executing a marketing plan for a business law firm in Idaho is much different than for a personal injury law firm in Manhattan.
Make sure your marketing agency can help you craft a marketing plan that works in your market.
Tracking Your Results
Finally, it’s important to track the results of your marketing plan.
The only thing you know for absolute certainty with your marketing plan is: it will change.
And the only way to know what you should change, what’s not working and what is: is to track your results.
As the leads and clients start rolling in from your new law firm marketing plan, you need to know where they came from.
Did they come from an organic Google search (SEO), or a paid advertisement (PPC)?
Have they been receiving your newsletter for months before finally calling?
Which article was the one that compelled them to finally pick up the phone? Is that Facebook ad you’re paying for actually getting any leads?
You need to be able to see, in a single place, every lead that has come in, and where they came from.
Your prospective clients will come in primarily by calling you or via a Contact Us form on your website.
Make sure you setup web and call tracking so you can see both, in one place, and identify where they came from.
Form tracking and call tracking software will make this process easy. Ideally: your web hosting platform will have this built in.
Writing and Executing Your Marketing Plan
There you have it: The anatomy of a killer law firm marketing plan: and how to execute on it.
If you’re inspired to get to writing your own marketing plan (and we hope you are!): good for you.
Get started right now! Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just start planning and writing the Why’s, What’s and How’s.
Write or fill in what you can, and revise and add to it later.
You can fill in the blanks, using this article as a legend–or write your own borrowing the most applicable pieces for your law firm. The existence and consistent execution of your marketing plan matters more than the format.
Sample Law Firm Marketing Plan
To help you get up and running with a marketing plan for your law firm sooner, we’ve developed a sample you can use.
About the Author: Dennis Dimka Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Dennis is the author of Law Practice as a Service: How and Why to Move Your Law Firm to the Cloud, and was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2016. Follow Dennis on LinkedIn.
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