5 ways to improve your firm’s marketing in 2015

18 February 2015 By
Amy Burton-Bradley marketing tips for law firms

Small firms have a lot to learn from the sophisticated marketing departments of large law, writes Amy Burton-Bradley.

Recent research into Australasian law firms’ marketing and business development (BD) efforts found 40 per cent of respondents were classified as “small firms”. The Taking the Pulse study, a collaboration of Julian Midwinter & Associates and the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association, classified small firms as those with fee revenue of up to $3 million a year and most (90%) had 10 or fewer lawyers.

The biggest marketing and BD challenges of small firms included a lack of time to develop business, lack of money to spend, and problems differentiating themselves in a crowded marketplace.

The study also revealed that:

  • 87 per cent rated their marketing and BD function as either “under-developed” or just “adequate”
  • 57 per cent did not have a marketing and BD plan in place
  • 66 per cent did not have a dedicated marketing or BD person or team
  • 51 per cent had a current annual marketing and BD budget (excluding staff salaries) of $20,000 or less.

Meanwhile, successful firms had “sophisticated” marketing and BD functions. Many of them (43%) expected more than 10 per cent revenue growth in the coming year and revenues greater than $10 million.

The study outlined critical marketing and BD success factors of sophisticated firms that small firms can easily adopt. Here are five that don’t necessarily cost a lot to implement and will make a positive impact – but they do require focus, dedication and consistency.


  1. Develop a marketing and BD plan

The vast majority (88%) of sophisticated firms surveyed had a marketing and BD plan in place, and 71 per cent reported this plan was also tied to their firm’s wider strategic plan. Most of these firms (83%) also had separate BD plans for some or all practice groups.

Only 38 per cent of small firms reported having a marketing and BD plan.

Lawyers Weekly Discover

Advice to small firms

It all has to start with a plan. Even allocating half a day for the group to thrash out ideas, consider approaches and document a few agreed action items – and then getting on and doing them – will make a positive difference to business growth.

Simple is best, and there’s lots of free marketing-plan templates on the web to get you started.

To monitor progress make “marketing and BD” a standing agenda item at weekly team meetings. Use the time to check in, share intelligence and leverage opportunities.


  1. Measure marketing and BD activities

Almost all (97%) of sophisticated firms measured the effectiveness of their activities – either all activities (54%) or some activities (43%).

Just over a third (38%) of small firms did not measure the effectiveness of their activities at all.

Advice to small firms

Some of the fancier metrics and KPIs in place in larger multi-office firms may not be appropriate for smaller firms. But all firms need to be able to measure and assess the impact of their activities.

One simple way to measure the success or impact of a marketing and BD campaign is to ensure that whoever takes an initial enquiry (receptionist, secretary or solicitor) asks the prospect, “where did you hear about us?”

This will tell you if it’s advertising, referral relationships or your website that is bringing in the enquiries. It’s simple, but it can be easy to forget to ask when first engaging with a client.

And small firms do have an advantage over larger firms: if a marketing and BD investment is going nowhere, your nimble size makes it far easier to call a halt early than in larger firms which tend to be encumbered by bureaucracy.


  1. Set marketing and BD targets/KPIs for lawyers

60 per cent of respondents from sophisticated firms reported that some or all lawyers had individual marketing and BD targets or KPIs.

More than two-thirds of small firms (69%) reported that they did not have targets or KPIs for lawyers’ marketing and BD efforts.

Advice to small firms

It’s even more critical for small firms – who tend not to have a dedicated marketing and BD person – to ensure that their lawyers are encouraged to engage with and contribute to these critical activities.

Marketing and BD should not be in addition to “lawyering”, but rather an integral part of the job and formalising it in KPIs is one way to reinforce this message.

And if you want more of a particular behaviour or contribution from your lawyers, make sure you notice it, then recognise and reward it. Recognition at weekly meetings would be a good place to start.

Keep in mind that if your firm is only in business to enrich partners, it’s going to be hard for non-equity team members to care or feel enthused about BD.


  1. Provide marketing and BD skills training for lawyers

The vast majority (97%) of all firms surveyed indicated their firm’s growth strategy relied on the effectiveness of individual lawyers’ marketing and BD activities.

Yet only 23 per cent of small firms said they invested in training lawyers in marketing and BD skills, compared to 71 per cent of sophisticated firms.

Advice to small firms

The best return on investment you’ll get on your marketing and BD spend is if you invest it in improving your lawyers’ client relationship management and sales skills. It is so important in a professional services business to upskill those frontline team members who deliver your “product”.


  1. Have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD

Sophisticated firms (86%) were much more likely to have a person or group dedicated to marketing and BD than small firms, which can really help support your lawyers’ individual efforts.

Advice to small firms

With small budgets, a full-time marketing professional is simply not realistic for many smaller firms.

Perhaps look at outsourcing selected needs (for example, have an external consultant facilitate and structure your all-important strategy session and planning). Or empower motivated team members to develop their roles by providing budget relief or developing a hybrid role – this team member could be a receptionist interested in events management, or a senior associate interested in producing regular website content.

Partners can’t be expected to do it all, as legal work must take priority. But if someone in your team is keen, has the aptitude and shows initiative, giving them the freedom and resources to get on with it will bring benefits to all.

Yes, there are a few things to do here, but you don’t have to do them all at once. Adopt versions of the sophisticated firms’ habits that work for you, and you’ll find it makes a positive difference to your 2015.

Amy Burton-Bradley is a partner at Julian Midwinter & Associates.

5 ways to improve your firm’s marketing in 2015
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