Business development
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Writer’s block? 10 steps to help lawyers engage online

Let us begin with a number. O.51. It doesn’t sound significant does it? But it is at the heart of the marketing and business development challenges faced by every law firm in the UK.  In a survey carried out in 2014, a calculation was made of the number of knowledge pieces written and posted online by the top 200 UK law firms. [Source: Passle.net]. This figure was then divided by the number of lawyers at those firms. The answer? 0.51 knowledge pieces per lawyer per year.

Is it a fact that the legal sector does not regard content creation as important? I doubt it. Most lawyers understand the relationship between content creation, brand awareness and thought leadership. If you ask a solicitor if the market for new clients is getting more or less competitive, I suspect you already know the answer. The legal industry is facing unprecedented challenges and competition.

So what might be the principle reasons for this collective constipation?

1. I don’t believe that work is won by posting online content.

Lawyers have traditionally relied on tried and trusted methods of winning new work such as word of mouth and third party recommendation. But what happens if the phone has gone a little quiet of late and those methods have not borne any fruit?

In my experience, many firms are now winning work through online engagement from Google searches, Twitter and other related channels. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is playing an increasingly important part in their marketing and business development strategies. One of Google’s ranking factors is a measurement of the ‘truthfulness’ of a website and this is directly impacted by the quality of their content. If you have little or no content, you are at a serious disadvantage.

The majority of your work should still be won by recommendation and word of mouth from new and existing clients. But remember that your value to your business is your knowledge and expertise. Of course you are not going to give that away for free, but consider how you engage with your target client pool or industry sector. Wouldn’t some of those in your target groups want to know of your continuing expertise in your chosen field or sector? Wouldn’t a journalist in your field want to talk to you about your expertise and broadcast that knowledge?

2. I haven’t got time

Being seen as a part of a larger business development strategy, is usually the starting point for getting fee earners to engage in the process of online content creation.

If you can demonstrate that a particular article, comment, post or piece of thought leadership resulted directly (or even indirectly) in a high value client instructing your firm, then the penny usually begins to drop as to the value of posting online. Time is more likely to be set aside for content creation.

This is not about posting every day. In my experience, fee earners will be scared off by unrealistic expectations of content creation. Most solicitors will not welcome the advice, ‘make time to do this every day and make it a habit’. They won’t. However, a content creation strategy and timetable can help to add structure and discipline. Creating a firm wide culture where content creation is deeply ingrained into every part of the business development and customer relationship management (CRM) process is more likely to create those habits.

3. I’m not tech savvy and do not have Twitter, Google + or Facebook accounts.

If you believe that this is beyond you, get some professional help. Opening these accounts is relatively straightforward and there is plenty of helpful guidance online. Take advice from colleagues who are already engaged in posting online and begin slowly. However, bear in mind your firm’s social media strategy – do you engage and broadcast individually, as a department/sector, as the whole firm, or all of these?

4. I’m worried about putting the reputation of my firm in danger

Have a clear, understandable and relevant social media policy that reflects the culture of your firm. If you are a firm with clients in the media industry, your content may be very different to one specialising in complex derivatives and your social media policy should reflect that.  Communicate your social media policy to all relevant fee earners and support staff and ensure that it is trained into them. Reflect the culture of your firm in that training. Many firms now have an online content mediator or have created mentoring or buddying strategies to provide comfort.

5. I don’t know where to go to look for the content.

This should not be a significant concern, but frequently is. Start with the end in mind and set yourself clear objectives. What challenges do your clients, targets and prospects face and how are you going to provide them with solutions to alleviate that pain? Which organisations would benefit from hearing your expertise? With those questions in mind, think about the places your clients and potential clients congregate for their news and information. This is likely to be the main broadcast news outlets, as well as boutique industry publications. Create a list of sources of information.

Remember it’s not just existing clients you are targeting with your broadcasts – it is (to an even greater extent) your target clients, prospects and potential third party referrers. Consider how you can get them to sit up and take notice of your content and value your expertise.

You don’t always have to have a prompt to write content. Inspiration may come from other areas of your life. And in many ways, that is what you should be aiming for – your own original copy, rather than a comment on someone else’s. The more original content that you have that is directed back to your website the better.

The aim is for others to comment on, approve and recommend your content. The goal is that your thought leadership is just that - leading thought in your chosen field.

6. Content creation is the job of the marketing and business development departments.

Not every firm has that kind of resource, and even if they do, they rarely create the content. But here is one way that they can. If you are too busy to write your own content, then set aside some time to talk about latest developments in your field with your BD or marketing colleagues. Record your conversation on a smartphone or similar device and ask them to create the outline of an article, blog or case study for you to approve. The marketing and BD teams should be stimulating you to create the content, moderating it in line with the firm’s social media policy and culture and assisting you with getting your content online.

7. I might make a mistake in the law and look a fool.

This should not be a barrier to content creation. If you are concerned that your legal content might be incorrect, set up a moderating system for others to read and approve your content before it goes live. For legal content, this can be done through your colleagues of equal or greater experience; for general commentary this can be moderated by a fellow fee earner or colleague.

You should be encouraging your junior and even trainee solicitors to get involved. In the end, the regular creation and broadcasting of content is about habit forming. The earlier you begin, the more of a habit it becomes. The other enormous advantage of starting early is the library of content you will eventually have created next to your name. When it comes to SEO, you will improve your chances that your name will appear next to your chosen expertise.

8. I am not a skilled copywriter and my posts will be boring.

This is a natural and understandable concern. However, if you are passionate about your area of expertise, this will be reflected in your writing. It is important to remember that for the most part your content should be short, relevant and targeted. Most of the best online content is just that, pithy. If you are worried that a long article will take up valuable fee earning time, concentrate on bite sized pieces of advice, case studies and top tips for your clients.

9. I am concerned that content might be perceived to be controversial or lacking impartiality.

This is where a moderation process and buddying is essential. Have a watertight system in place for approving and agreeing content before it is broadcast. Once you are satisfied that you are not breaching protocol, don’t be afraid to express opinions. Remember the goal is to engage your audience.

10. I work in an area of law that is unsuited to online commentary.

This will depend upon your area of specialisation. There are very few clients who do not interact in some way online. Not all content needs to be directly relevant to your specialisation. Remember, it is also intended to be read by third party referrers and influencers who could be introducing you and your firm to new work streams. Content that is too technical for a wider audience, may still be read and commented upon by others in your peer group, journalists or other outside commentators.

For more on how to create a successful online marketing content strategy and win new work, contact David Bittiner at The BD Consultancy. david@thebdconsultancy.com