When starting a professional practice, or indeed any service-oriented business, here are your seven most important marketing tools (in no particular order of importance — they are all “must-dos” in my book).
Like most professionals, you have tons of competition and no real way to differentiate your service offerings from theirs. Having shopped around for legal services myself, I can tell you that, like most clients, given the choice between (a) an attorney with rock-bottom fees but an attitude I cannot relate to and (b) an attorney with higher fees but whom I feel is trustworthy and will be listening to my needs instead of offering the same “cookie-cutter” service every other client gets, I opt for attorney b every time. People do not buy your professional services, they buy you. It doesn’t matter how brilliant an attorney you are if your personality routinely turns people off. If you really don’t have a personality, take a Dale Carnegie course; hire a lifestyle coach or consider going to charm school.
Web site / online listings
Do not post a Web page on someone else’s Web site. Hire a Web developer and create one of your own. Your Web site should contain a list of the services you provide, some things you don’t do (so you won’t waste a prospect’s time, nor they yours), some free information that’s actually useful, your hourly rate and any “flat fee” you offer for certain services, and something that “humanizes” you by sending the signal you can be approached without fear or trepidation. Next, list your business on the searchable directory for your specific service on your state and local trade association Web sites. Lots of people start here (not the Yellow Pages) when looking for specific services. Be sure to include a link to your Web site.
When trolling for clients, focus on “referral sources” — people who are regularly in contact with your desired clients and can send lots of business your way. If you represent people who are buying franchises, taking a few local franchise brokers to lunch will generate lots more business than taking out a newspaper ad hoping it will be read by someone looking to buy a franchise.
Involvement in organizations
By all means, join a trade association or two, for educational opportunities and the chance to find like-minded peers you can use as a “sounding board” when you have tough client-handling questions. But spend lots more time joining organizations where potential clients will be hanging out. Look for organizations that have lots of members who may be potential clients, have few or no other providers of your service as members, and have a low “flake ratio” (ratio of flaky people to total population).
E-newsletter or blog
Send regular e-mail blasts to clients, prospects and others who have accepted your invitation to receive free, important information about changes in the environment of your specific service area.
You can write articles for local newspapers and trade journals, but it’s a lot better (and less time consuming) if they are writing about you. If your services are local in nature, run for public office (even if you lose), volunteer for a local board or committee, sponsor a charitable cause; do anything that’s not illegal, immoral or embarrassing to get publicity. If your services are not local in nature, consider “branding” them by writing a book, appearing regularly on radio and TV talk shows, or, if you’re a lawyer, taking on high-profile “pro bono” case that generates lots of media attention.
Start giving talks and speeches for local organizations. Scour every local newspaper and publication for announcements of organization meetings. Call each organization’s “program director” and volunteer to speak — free — at an upcoming meeting. Be sure to speak about something their membership is interested in right now, not necessarily what you know.