Double challenge: learn a new area of the law and market it successfully. What worked and what didn’t while growing from one attorney to four.
Ben Neiburger struggled after leaving the largest law firm in the world to start his own practice. He had to learn a new specialty, market himself as an expert, and attract clients. He initially had difficulty with all three endeavors, but now has more business than he can personally handle.
Striking Out on His Own
“The first challenge was when I started my practice in 2003. I had just left the law firm of Baker & McKenzie (the largest law firm in the world at that time) and decided to go into business by myself. Unfortunately, the type of work I did at Baker (domestic and international employee benefits for large corporations) did not translate to a one man shop. So, I needed to start my legal career over in a completely new subject matter. “Initially I went into partnership with a friend of mine from law school. I helped him with his real estate and bankruptcy practices. I remember sitting in my office one day with a newly purchased laptop and a phone list from Baker & McKenzie staring at the phone intently waiting for it to ring. “Eventually (another long story), I decided to concentrate my practice in estate planning and elder law. The big challenge was, not only how to learn this area of law in a short period of time, but to market myself as an expert and attract clients in this area. This area of law is rather special in a marketing sense because not much of the business that you do is repeat business. After all, you do not need to redo your estate plan that often, you do not need to do Medicaid planning more than once, and of course death and probate do not repeat. Therefore, each referral or new client is almost a ‘one-shot deal’ with not many repeats. However, over the past 10 years I have developed quite a referral base from prior clients for their extended family, friends and business colleagues.”
Ben realized that there was no one size fits all when it came to marketing. His marketing technique had to match his unique style and play to his strengths. He also found that he did extremely well when he concentrated on giving quality customer service. Ben had to test out multiple techniques and contractors until finally figuring out his winning formula.
“When marketing a new law practice, there are many things that somebody can do to attract business. What I discovered is that the marketing techniques I used needed to fit with my personality and my strengths. For example, I absolutely hate writing legal articles. I would rather get my fingernails pulled out than have to write in a scholarly journal with lots of footnotes. However, I do not mind writing for the general public and in a way to help them solve their own problems. What I do love doing is public speaking. I’m naturally good at this and so I use that to my advantage.”
Use Your Natural Talents
“I joined a local Chamber of Commerce and told everyone that I met at the Chamber of Commerce meetings that I give speeches in elder law, estate planning, guardianship, probate and that I do the speeches for free. Through my contacts at the Chamber of Commerce I started getting speeches. Because my public speaking skills are excellent each speech generated additional speeches. Now I give between 20 and 30 speeches the year. A good portion of my business comes from the people who have been in the audience of where I speak. As time went on, I started speaking more and more in front of other lawyers, and educating other lawyers about my area of law. Medicaid planning is very complex and high risk. I made sure that each of my speeches to lawyers not only gave them content but also gave them a warning about what a high risk they were taking on by going into this area of law. The natural result is that the attorneys who are smart decided not to do this area of law and would refer clients with these problems directly to my practice. Because we do an excellent job at providing substantial legal services as well as excellent customer service, we get a lot of repeat business.
Be Detail Oriented
“One of the essential things that puts us above most other attorneys in this space is that we are known for returning a call or an email within 24 hours. While that sounds silly, most of our clients need us to hold their hands during some of the most frustrating and scary times of their lives. If you do not provide the customer service or manage their expectations regarding communications, they will go away and not refer their friends to you.”
Testing Different Techniques
“We did a paper newsletter (U.S. postal mail), email blasts and direct mail. We also did senior expos, silent auctions and placed ads in different community guides. The newsletters were a great success, the email blasts not so much so, and the rest were dismal failures.”
Find and Retain Talent
“In addition, my wife who did most of my marketing and design left my business in 2011 to pursue her own business. I really do not have good graphic design skills, and needed to replace my wife with a professional who could perform these services for me. I had met a gentleman who had just broken off from a large ad agency who said that he could help rebrand my practice and create a theme that would drive all of our business and all of our advertising if I would just pay him a big pile of money. At that time I wanted to change the name of my firm from a firm name that included my last name to a firm name that was a brand (which eventually became “Generation Law, Ltd.”). This new marketing guy redid my whole website, redid my branding and told me how truly wonderful all of his work was and how visionary he was. I didn’t have the ability to determine whether or not he was doing good work for me or not. I later found out that the $15,000 I spent with him was mostly wasted. In addition, this person’s lack of knowledge about website creation and SEO really hurt me in getting my branding up to speed. Within the last 18 months, I found my current outside marketing person who I’m very happy with. He redesigned my website appropriately, set up my social media, blog posts, writing and other general online outreach that has been very successful at getting the brand out and getting more business to come in to my door.”
Successes and Failures
Ben sticks to areas where he excels in his practice and he outsources the rest. Ben has succeeded and failed in multiple marketing endeavors but he continues to build a thriving practice because he capitalizes on his strengths and he learns from his mistakes.
Speaking Engagements and Online Marketing
“I succeeded in speaking engagements based on my natural talent for speaking, and always trying to convey to the audience information that they can use to solve their problems. Consumers come to lawyers to solve a problem, not to get more knowledge about the law. My efforts online using social media and blogs have succeeded because I hired an expert to do those things for me. All day long he does these type of things, and has become very good at it. I spend most of my time managing my firm and practicing law. Delegation in this instance was very helpful.”
“The paper email newsletters were very successful because I sent out a brief, highly stylized, one-sheet newsletter printed front and back to everybody on my address list. However, the cost to do the mailings eventually became prohibitive as my contact list exceeded 6,000 names. Currently, I have 10,000 contacts in my database. “I get most of these contacts by collecting business cards at networking events, which I do frequently, along with collecting the addresses of anybody who calls into the office. I still think that direct mail in this way to known contacts is very successful because the amount of paper mail that goes into people’s homes now has drastically decreased. This increases the likelihood that they will actually read what you send them. However, you need to balance that with the cost of sending things out. “The electronic newsletters are successful in that they remind people that you exist. I do have a feeling that most people delete the emails when they come in. One of the big mistakes that I made with the electronic communication is that at one time I had 3,000 email contacts to which I sent email newsletters. However, for a year or so I stopped sending out electronic newsletters. When I started to send them out again through Constant Contact many of the email addresses had changed and I got flagged as a spammer. Three different times Constant Contact shut off my database and access to email on the pretense that several people complained that I was spamming them. “What this really did was make me to rebuild my email list from scratch. It was sobering because I used another mail service to contact these 3,000 email addresses and ask them to opt-in to my new newsletter. The opt-in rate was less than 5%. This was a dismal failure. The lesson learned is to continue to use your list and maintain it. Email lists get old very quickly.”
“Offering services through charity auctions was also a dismal failure. What I learned is that people do not value things that they do not pay a lot of money for. I remember one auction when I actually met with the family who told me they would get around to calling me for their estate plan because they got my services “real cheap.” Needless to say, they never called. What I concluded was that I’d be working for them for free and they wouldn’t appreciate my services because it wouldn’t have cost them a lot of money.”
“Another dismal failure was senior fairs. These are those expositions that invite seniors over for free food to look at a bunch of vendors. What I discovered is that all the seniors who go to these senior fares are essentially doing Halloween shopping by trying to collect the best pens, trinkets, keychains and other things that lay on the tables. None of them called and the contacts that I got through the senior fair did not pan out. What I learned was that the attendees at the senior fairs were not my market. “For elder care services the actual market are the adult children forcing the elder to do something, not the elder him or herself. That was the monumental error and once I discovered that I stopped doing senior fairs. The other thing that I discovered is that if you are ever an exhibitor at a senior fair don’t use golf pencils. The seniors love the pens that click. They do not like pencils, and especially do not like pencils without erasers. Apparently as they went by my booth I didn’t have good swag and the golf pencil was the ultimate insult. I ended the day with almost as many golf pencils as I started with.”
Direct Advertising and Print Media
“I also found that direct advertisements and print media were not successful. Apparently, people are not purchasing very personal expensive legal services that help guide them through death and disability based on an ad that you place in a guide.”
Results and Referrals
“I also don’t know how successful some of the online marketing is currently because I get most of my business now from referrals. Almost all of these referrals have checked out my web presence and all the things that I have on the web. They use that as part of their decision-making process on whether or not to call us, or to use our services. I cannot distinguish between new acquisitions as a result of our online advertising vs. our online presence being one of the many contacts that our potential clients have before they actually retain our services.”
Most Successful Marketing Technique
It has been no surprise to Ben that his most successful marketing technique has been the one that he enjoys the most, and has a natural knack for doing.
Public Speaking and Relationships
“For me, the most successful marketing technique I have used is my speeches. I get most of my business as a result of referrals from people who have heard my speeches. Most of the time they come from other lawyers, accountants, and financial planners. I speak at their professional meetings and they use me as a resource because they have seen me speak. “I find that people retain professional services based on personal relationships. When you buy legal services, accounting services or engineering services the customer is not buying the firm that provides the services but they are buying the professional, the attorney, the accountant or the engineer to actually do work for them. This is who they meet, trust and who they want to do the work. “The bigger problem that I have now is that my speech marketing has been so successful that I have run out of time to accept new clients, and need to pass on new referrals to other members of my firm. Sometimes this creates resistance from the client who saw me speak, or had their accountant see me speak and personally recommend me, and they want no one else to do their work.”
Benefits and Drawbacks
“The greatest benefit from public speaking has been the client referrals. In addition, that is an activity that I truly enjoy doing. Not only the act of speaking and performing in front of an audience, but in giving them information that makes a positive difference in their lives. It infuses me with additional passion and enjoyment which allows me to provide better service for the people who need it.”
“The biggest drawback is that everyone who is referred to me or hears me speak wants me to personally work on their projects. There is not enough time in the day for me to service that business and I constantly need to manage the expectations of my clients as far as who they are dealing with and how the work is getting done. I need to tell them that I will be involved throughout their cases on a high level but I have delegated their matter to a very experienced staff member to make sure their work gets done in a timely manner and under budget. “This is part of the reason why I changed the firm name from a moniker that included my name to just a brand. That way people do not have to focus on having their work done by the namesake of the firm.”
Best Marketing Advice
Ben advises other attorneys to also play to their strengths and choose the marketing technique that aligns with both what they are good at, and what they enjoy. Lawyers also need to manage their clients’ expectations appropriately.
Use Your Strengths
“There is not one single way that you can use to bring in 20 clients. However there are 20 different ways that you can use to bring in a single client. You need to determine what marketing technique you personally like to use, and that is in accordance with your personality. “If you are a better writer than you are a speaker, then write more than you speak. If you are a better networker than public speaker, and you like meeting people, increase your alcohol budget and go out to drinks with colleagues and potential customers. If public speaking works for you, then speak more than you write. The lesson is to do what you like to do and choose the marketing techniques that fit within those parameters.”
Manage Client Expectations
“The lawyer specifically needs to know that people purchase legal services based on the attorney and not the company or the law firm. The lawyer needs to carefully manage client expectations about who is going to do their work and the limitation of the lawyer’s knowledge. Clients respect these limitations.”
Ben says that getting started with one’s marketing is the best move that any attorney can make. “Whoever told you that anything in life would be simple? For a lawyer starting out or changing practice areas, my advice is to just get out there. Go to community meetings, be social and be active with other people. Once they know and like you then they will want to know what you do. When they know what you do, and they have a need for what you do, they will hire you because they know and like you. “So, the first step is to get out there. The second step is to get out there. The third step is to get out there. Once you start moving, the rest of the plan will fall into place.”
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