Attorney Marketing and the
Expanding your client base may depend on how
you answer people who ask, "How's it going?"
This article was published in
the October 2006 issue of AZ CPA magazine
As a professional, you may view the process of
attracting new clients in the much the same way that most people think about
hanging wallpaper: it’s messy (and thus anathema to fussy, fastidious
professionals); it almost never turns out the way you intended; if you have to
do it, do it by yourself; and if you can avoid it entirely, so much the better.
In response, I would argue that, at least in my
experience, hanging wallpaper is a lot worse than prospecting. In my sporadic and clumsy attempts
to get new clients, I have never lacerated an index finger, fallen from a
ladder, had my wife appear at a critical moment to ask how it’s going, or, in
the space of a single afternoon, undone two year’s worth of residential real
But I digress.
Let’s go back to the part about “do it by
yourself.” If you assume that the growth of your practice depends solely on your
activity and efforts – going to receptions where you have to
talk to strangers,
lunch with potential
referral sources, and so on –
it’s little wonder that busying yourself with mindless work for useless clients
keeps your marketing plans relegated to the trash heap of good intentions.
To free yourself of that lone ranger mentality and
to remove the yoke of having to initiate all of your marketing opportunities,
consider that, nearly every day, opportunities to grow your practice are laid squarely
at your feet by friends, clients and other acquaintances who ask the simple
question, “How’s it going?” (which, depending on your age and socioeconomic
profile, may be rephrased as “how are you,” “how’s business,” “are you keeping
busy,” or “’tsup”).
If you whiff on that question — e.g., “fine,”
“good,” “hangin’ in there,” “if I don’t find some decent help, and I mean soon,
I don’t know what I’m going to do” – not much good is going to come out of the
exchange. But consistently answer it effectively, in a positive, compelling way,
and you’ll be on a straight road to the Promised Land.
Here are three scenarios that illustrate how you
can create a bandwagon effect that can prove alluring to your best potential
Scenario One: A Compelling Present
At a dinner party a few years back, I sat at a
table with a fraternity brother whom I had not seen in a while. Tony is one of
the best and most connected guys I know, and he has always been generous, albeit
discerning, in sharing his precious connections to help people get ahead. While
we were in the catching-up-with-each-other phase of our conversation, he asked,
in a moderately interested tone, “So how are things going?”
Allow me to break away from my tale for just a
moment to point out that questions like Tony’s represent a critical moment in
such exchanges, and how we respond sets the tone for everything that follows.
“How are things going?” is a socially obligatory question, often asked in lieu
of something more original and without a care as to the answer. A one-word
reply, even a positive one — “good,” “great,” “awesome” — doesn’t give the other
person much to sink his teeth into and generally serves to put the brakes to
what could be a very productive conversation, causing your discussion to careen
off in another, less rewarding, direction.
Now back to Tony.
Believe me, I did not have a mercenary motive for
how I answered his “how’s it going” question. I wasn’t wearing my marketing hat
at that moment, nor was I looking at Tony as a referral source. But it just so
happened that, earlier that day, I had reviewed my income statement for the
just-completed quarter and, thanks to the Almighty’s providence, it had looked
So instead of giving Tony my usual monosyllabic
reply, I said, “Tony, I've been in business since 1993, and last year was my
best year ever, last quarter was my best quarter ever, and last month was my
best month ever.” Tony’s posture and the way he looked at me seemed to change a
little bit. After a brief pause, he asked if I knew a certain attorney. I told
him that I knew of him but had never met him. Tony told me a few things about
the attorney and where he wanted to take his practice and suggested that I give
him a call. I did, the attorney returned my call (I suspect that Tony played a
role in that), and the story had a happy ending.
The happy ending had little to do with me or my
marketing prowess, such as it is. It had a heck of a lot to do with an innocent
experience that taught me a lot, i.e., that a positive, compelling description
of your present and recent past, told with some measure of enthusiasm, creates a
bandwagon onto which potential referral sources can climb – if they believe
you’re headed in the right direction.
Scenario Two: A Compelling Future
Another way in which to involve other people in
your marketing efforts is to respond to their “how’s it going?” question with a
compelling account not of the present, but of your future.
Here’s how one of my clients, David, enticed some
of his best clients to help him achieve his practice growth objectives. It’s an
approach that rests on the “birds of a feather” theory that holds that people
tend to associate with people who are a lot like them. Over a period of a few
weeks, he scheduled lunches with six or seven of his favorite and most
successful clients. When they asked how he was doing, David responded with
something like this: “Things are going great. In fact, I’m coming off of one of
my best years ever. My practice grew by 17%, and I’m going to use that momentum
to grow it by 25% this year.” He then went on to describe what he was going to
do with the extra income his practice growth would generate – buying a place in
Park City, sending his son to Stanford, making a big contribution to the
church’s building fund, and so on.
David told me that, more often than not, before he
ran out of impressive things he was going to do with the money, his clients
would interrupt him to ask, “How are you going to do that?” David’s response:
“I’m going to target prospects that have these characteristics.”
He would then start describing his ideal client –
by age, industry, income level, ambition, character, personality, shoe size –
until his client would again interrupt him, this time to say, “Well, you should
talk to …”, and then he would give David a name or two. (What made it easy for
the client to think of someone was that David’s description of his ideal
prospect sounded an awful lot like that lunch guest – similar age, income level,
ambition, character, personality – and his lunch guest’s best friends.) To which
David would reply, “Great, I’d love to meet him. You set up the lunch, and I’ll
Now, this scenario required some (but not much)
practice and orchestration on David’s part, but it was well worth the effort, as
this “cloning” of his best clients actually caused his practice to grow by more
than 25% that year and again the following year. The keys to making it work:
a compelling vision for the
a plan to turn the vision into
a standard for attracting
referrals only from his most valued clients, and
the tendency for people, when
given a list of personal qualities, to automatically search their mental
database for acquaintances who have those qualities and then to blurt out
Scenario Three: The Will to Ask for Help
In his excellent book, Winning With People,
John Maxwell writes about the powerful properties of telling people that you
need them. That didn’t expressly come up in either Scenario One or Two, but it
easily could have, with equally satisfying results.
If Tony hadn’t recommended that I call his attorney
friend, I could have told Tony that I wanted to keep my growth curve alive, that
doing so would probably require more than my meager abilities would produce, and
that I needed his help in achieving my goals. Being the kind of person Tony is,
he would have agreed to help.
If David’s client hadn’t asked, “How are you going
to do that?”, David could easily have said, “I’ve never achieved that kind of
growth before, and I can’t do it on my own. I need your help. The people I want
to attract to my practice” – begin the recitation of that client’s personal
qualities – “are ambitious, own growing companies, are in their thirties and
forties, live at Troon, drive cars that cost more than most people’s houses” and
so on. Names are soon to follow.
In another of his books, The 17 Indisputable
Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell asserts that “One is too small a number to achieve
greatness.” That law applies to building your practice. You can try to go it
alone, looking to your own efforts to achieve 100% of your practice growth. Or
you can share, with the best people you know, your current success and your
vision for future achievement.
Unlike hanging wallpaper, involving others in your
marketing efforts works better every time.