Here is an exercise that will provide great value to your legal practice. Specifically, it will help you
- articulate your strengths to your ideal client and
- improve your services to your ideal client.
You have probably heard “there are riches in niches.” One of my biggest marketing mistakes was telling people we were a “full service” law firm. People rarely refer clients to generalists; they prefer to refer to experts. Three years ago we fixed this: we now describe our firm as a business law firm. Still, a “business law firm” is not much of a niche. It doesn’t differentiate us from thousands of other business attorneys. How do you differentiate yourself further, so referral sources think of you first in areas within your wheelhouse, without excluding potential clients you could serve even though they are not your idea client? This exercise shows you how.
How to Attract More Ideal Clients & Strengthen Your Offerings to Them
1. Identify the characteristics of your ideal client
The purpose of this is to visualize your ideal client for the remainder of this exercise. It doesn’t mean you only work with this type of client. For example, this is how we identified our ideal client:
- CEO or business owner
- company has 100-1,000 employees or $10-50 million in revenue
wants a long term relationship, not just a transaction
- wants big firm quality
- wants attorneys who are practice area experts, in the most common legal areas needed by their company (contracts, intellectual property, employment law, corporate, etc.), not a solo generalist
- wants value, not high fees nor the lowest fees
- does not need a big firm brand name, offices in multiple states, hundreds of niche experts, nor other features provided by big firms (these also necessitate higher overhead and costs)
2. To visualize this ideal client for the rest of this exercise, give the client human attributes
Put some “skin” on this person so you can picture the world from her/his perspective.
Here is an example based on the characteristics our law firm identified in step 1:
Brian Anderson owns and operates an internet company with $20 million in revenue and 200 employees. He lives in Bloomington with his wife and three children. He has a college degree. He married his wife 15 years ago. He works 50 hours a week, but some of that time is while driving or at home. His schedule is flexible, and he makes time for his kids’ sports and alone time with his wife. He spends his free time with his family and a few close friends. His family attends church. He exercises a few times a week. He is fascinated with what is “new and next.” He likes new technology. His first attorney was a solo in the suburbs. His current attorney is a partner at a big downtown firm, but he has never met the associates who do the work and they have never been to his office.
3. List the factors your ideal client would consider in deciding whether to hire you
For example, our firm identified these:
- Team – Our ideal client wants more practice area expertise than a business attorney who is a solo/generalist
- Excellence of Service – Our ideal client wants “big firm” quality, often implied by the attorney’s public visibility and thought leadership
- Fees – Our ideal client wants value—not the highest fees and not the lowest fees
- Alignment with Business Goals – Our ideal client wants a trustworthy attorney who puts the company first, knows the client’s business goals, and aligns the legal work with them, including the company’s budget
- Relationships – Our ideal client wants a trusted advisor, a long term partner, to help grow the company, prevent problems, and improve the quality of executive decisions
- Ecosystem Resources – Our ideal client wants a firm who has tools, resources, and events catered to privately owned, mid-sized companies
- Communication – Our ideal client wants frequent communications from the attorney
4. Rate yourself on those factors
Look at each factor and rate yourself high or low, from your ideal client’s perspective.
For example, under the factor of “Excellence of Service,” we gave ourselves a high mark. (As you will see in Step 5, we also gave our close competition high marks, so this is not a competitive advantage.)
You can easily do this on a sheet of paper, or have fun with the Blue Ocean Strategy Visualizer iPad app.
5. Rate your close competition on those factors
When thinking about your competition, consider those who your ideal client would be comparing you to. For example, our competition is not all lawyers, it is law firms with a team of attorneys who can help mid-sized companies with employment law, intellectual property, contracts, corporate law, etc.
6. Identify factors where your rating is high but your competition’s rating is low
These are your “competitive advantages.”
For example, this was ours:
7. Use your competitive advantages in your marketing message
Help your ideal client understand the key factors where you deliver more value than your competitors.
To illustrate our competitive advantages, we are developing marketing materials to illustrate our internal strengths:
Alignment with Business Goals: This is part of our internal process. For example, our intake process for new clients involves a conversation about their business goals and challenges (not legal issues), visiting their location, and talking through each item on our checklist for CEOs.
Team: This sheet illustrates how our firm is designed around the common needs of mid-sized companies:
This sheet shows how we are different from a solo business attorney and a large law firm, so business clients can decide if we are a good alignment with their company:
Our price is generally more expensive than a solo attorney, but we offer attorneys in key practice areas needed by companies. Our price is less expensive than big firms, but we don’t offer a wide variety of practice areas, national footprint, robust infrastructure, nor national brand name (which add to their operating costs, requiring higher fees).
8. Continue to strengthen your competitive advantages within your organization
Competitors may try to copy your competitive advantages. Continue to strengthen your offering in these areas; ensure your team does not relax in these areas. By doing this, you ensure your company maintains its competitive advantages, delivering value to your ideal clients in the ways they have come to appreciate.
Credits: This was written by Aaron Hall. This exercise was presented by Bill Mills of Executive Group; Bill credits Strategic Renewal for Business Units, a Harvard Business Review article by John O. Whitney.