Developing Your Brand in 400 Hard Steps
Here is the truth: to a prospective client, most attorneys look the same, talk the same, and act the same. Every attorney reading this article has obtained excellent results, is recognized by some elite organization, and promises to be aggressive and caring. Part of this monotonous appearance is because Georgia’s ethics rules limit how we market ourselves. But the real problem is that many attorneys copy the messaging of other attorneys because they do not know what else to do. Doing so is a recipe for disaster, especially for a 34-year-old attorney like me. This article will help you break this dangerous cycle and blaze a new path for personal and professional success.
Step 1: Seriously, Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Your “brand” should reflect who you are as a person and serve as a vehicle for reaching your ultimate goals. Spend some time and write down your personal values and what you want your life to look like in fifteen years. If you find it hard to get started, think about how you would like to be perceived by each group within your sphere of influence: your family, friends, clients, and professional colleagues.
This exercise helped me realize two important things unrelated to the actual practice of law. First, I want to not just provide for my family financially, but also be physically present, especially for my daughter. This means that I need to build a firm that provides the flexibility to be with my family while still meeting the needs of our clients. Second, I want to “pay forward” the mentoring and guidance that other lawyers have selflessly given to me. This means that I should also take the time to give back to the profession whenever I can – like writing this article. I also realized that I care deeply about working on cases that have a broader implication – like our defective tire cases that highlight the broken tire recall system or class actions that show how companies steal billions of dollars each year without penalty.
Once you determine your core values, building your brand becomes more manageable as you now have a structure to drive decisions about your practice areas, what clients you want to work with, and who you should hire. When Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieg was asked if he would do anything differently if he could start his company all over again, he could only come up with one item:
“If I could go back and do Zappos all over again I would actually come up with our values from day one. We actually didn’t always have values. It wasn’t until about five years into it that we rolled out our values.”
Zappos sold their business to Amazon for $1.2 billion, and he still wishes he had established the companies’ values at the very beginning. Why? Because he witnessed the impact of establishing core values for his company. And the data backs him up. Companies with a high sense of purpose outperform others by 400%.
Step 2: Define Your Ideal Client
The most successful companies create ideal customer profiles to help them better understand the way their customers think and act in order to more effectively design their products, communication strategies, and make operational decisions. These are sometimes called “avatar” clients. Your legal practice is no different. Without knowing who your ideal client is, your branding and marketing efforts are effectively throwing darts and hoping to get lucky. It is easy to say that you want admitted liability trucking wrecks with catastrophic injuries. However, this tells you very little about the actual clients you want to work with. We have to dig much deeper.
Here are some questions to help define your ideal client:
- If you could work on one case every day for the rest of your career, what would it be?
- What kind of person has the problem that you enjoy solving?
- Marital status?
- Education level?
- Income level?
- What attracted your existing clients to your practice?
- Which clients do you least enjoy? Why?
- What are the behaviors and characteristics of your biggest problem clients?
Once you have your ideal client in mind, start to ask questions about their lifestyle and problems:
- Where does your ideal client live?
- What questions does your ideal client have?
- Who does your ideal client turn to for advice?
- What problems does your ideal client face?
- How does your ideal client learn?
- What does your ideal client value?
- What does your ideal client need to know to solve his or her legal problem?
- What platforms does your ideal client turn to for entertainment?
Right now, you may say to yourself, “Matt, my clients come from all walks of life, and I don’t care where they buy groceries.” Here, it is important to remember that your clients may look very different, but I can promise that your very best clients share common characteristics that you must discover. Talk to your clients (and referring counsel) in detail about how they chose you for their case and what their lives are like. You will quickly begin to see patterns emerge.
Once you have a clear picture of your ideal client, your “brand” will begin to emerge organically as you seek to identify and solve the problems of your ideal client. For the Wetherington Firm, that resulted in a branding that attracts young professionals in Georgia who want their cases to not only help themselves, but also change corporate behavior moving forward. I ultimately landed on the phrase “causes, not cases” to describe our mentality and mission. In talking to our ideal client, we focus on showing how we live our values inside the firm and the broader impact our work has on the world. You may hate that messaging or find it confusing. But, I love it and you will find something that you do too.
Step Three: Distribute Your Message to Your Ideal Client in an Authentic Way
Here’s the beauty of this process. By spending time finding your core values and ideal client, it will be easy for you to speak honestly to the people who are the best fit for your services. No one cares where you went to law school, how many millions you have recovered, or how much you “care.” They only want to know if you can solve their immediate legal problem. For your ideal clients, this is easy! By telling your unique story and sharing your values, you will put yourself on the winning track to earn their business every time.
Figuring out where to distribute that message also becomes easier. Yes, you still need to complete a Google My Business profile and maintain a presence on social media, but your real marketing time will be spent where it matters – talking directly to your ideal client. For some people, this will mean writing articles for their website, for others, it will mean involvement in a community organization. It might also mean spending time further developing your relationship with existing referral sources. Whatever it is, by following the process laid out in this article, you can speak confidently and genuinely as you grow your brand and business. Finally, we will end this article the way we started with three truths:
- Your unique values and life experiences make you perfectly situated to help someone with a life-changing problem;
- Simply by being true to yourself, you can inspire everyone you know to refer the exact cases you want to your firm;
- The world needs more lawyers who give a damn, and you can fill that void.