Setting Your Law Firm Marketing Budget in 2021 and Takeaways from the ABA TechReport - Personal Injury Marketing Minute #6
In this podcast, Allison C. Shields Johs, Esq, discusses her recent article 2020 Websites & Marketing. The article covers the websites and lawyer marketing portion of the ABA 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report, and some basic things solos and small firm lawyers can do to improve their marketing in 2021 as things become more virtual. The podcast also covers: – the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division, Legal Technology Resource Center and the TechReport 2020 – how to set a marketing budget for your law firm by allocating resources and setting goals – how can law firms reach clients by investing in their website, creating short videos, using social media and by obtaining referrals – Allison’s new course and a book she coauthored with Dennis Kennedy: Make LinkedIn Work for You: A Practical Guide for Lawyers and Other Legal Professionals. See all episodes or subscribe to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute here: https://optimizemyfirm.com/podcasts/. Links: LinkedIn Essentials online course: https://kennedy-idea-propulsion-laboratory.mn.co/landing/plans/106740 Make LinkedIn Work for You paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Make-LinkedIn-Work-for-You-Profesionals-paperback/dp/1734076321 Make LinkedIn Work for You Kindle edition: https://www.amazon.com/Make-LinkedIn-Work-You-Professionals-ebook/dp/B081VLGY8Q/ Allison’s website: www.LawyerMeltdown.com Allison’s blog: www.LegalEaseConsulting.com 2020 Websites & Marketing: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2020/webmarketing/ ABA TechReport 2020: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/2020/ Transcription: Lindsey: Welcome to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute, where we quickly cover for the hot topics in the legal marketing world. I’m your host, Lindsey Busfield. And today we’ll be talking about the all important 2021 marketing budget. Joining us today is Allison Shields Johs, the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc. Allison works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies, to improve marketing, productivity, and profitability across the board. The American Bar Association recently published her article that provides a valuable in-depth review of 2020 marketing in websites. Thank you for joining us today, Allison. Allison: Thanks for having me, Lindsey. I’m excited to be here. ABA TechReport 2020 – Websites and Marketing: Lindsey: Well, your article, the 2020 websites and marketing provide several insightful statistics regarding law firm marketing plans and behaviors. Can you talk to us a little bit about what the purpose of the article was, who it was intended for, and where you got your statistics? Allison: Sure. So one of the things that I do at the American Bar Association is I am a member of the law practice division, which is actually now newly, I think this year or last year free for any person who is an ABA member. So if you are an ABA member and you’re not a member, I’ll give a little plug for the LP division, definitely check that out because it’s no additional cost as a member and there’s a ton of resources within LP. And one of those is the LTRC, which is the Legal Technology Resource Center. And I am on the LTRC board. And one of the main activities that LTRC is responsible for during the year is conducting this legal technology survey every year, which comes out in a number of different volumes. And what happens is LTRC sends out this survey to a cross section of lawyers in different sized firms all over the country to get information on what they’re using in their firms for legal technology. And so then after we get all of those results in, we look at the different volumes and we have different people do what we call our tech reports, our articles on some of the pieces of the report that we think would be helpful for a broader section of lawyers to have access to, even if they haven’t actually participated in or purchased the survey results itself. So the survey results is a paid item, but these tech reports we do and we put them out for free, for different people to look at. So my volume that I usually concentrate on is a volume that has to do with websites and marketing. And so all the statistics in my tech report article come from that legal technology survey that we did this year. And this year was kind of odd because as people were taking the survey it was right in the middle of the pandemic. So it’s hard to know if they were speaking to kind of what their firms had done before, as opposed to what they were doing right now. So I think it will be interesting to compare and contrast with next year’s survey. And a lot of times with the tech report, what we do is, is try to look at some trends that we’re seeing over the past couple of years. So I think it’s really going to be interesting to see what the results are for next year. So it’s really intended for a wide audience. I think this year we didn’t get really a statistically big enough sample of the larger firm lawyers to respond to the survey. So my article mostly covers basically solos to essentially really firms of 50 lawyers or fewer. I mean, we did have some lawyers from bigger firms that responded, but I think for my article, and frankly for my purposes for what I do as consultant, it’s mostly within that anyway, solos up to firms that have about 50 or so attorneys. And it’s really to try to give them an idea of what else is happening outside of just their firm in the legal space with respect to legal technology. How are lawyers using technology? What are they finding helpful? What platforms are they using? How are they using their websites? All kinds of things, the other volumes go into things like cloud computing and all sorts of other things. But this one focuses specifically on communication website and marketing. Lindsey: For this survey that you conducted, what are some of the types of questions that you asked of these law firms? Allison: It’s everything from how are they using email or if they’re using email as a marketing tool, what are they using it for? Who’s doing the marketing in their firms? Is it lawyers that are doing it? Is it outside people? Is it internal marketing staff? Do they have a website? What kinds of things are they using their website for? What kinds of information is available on their website? Are they using AdWords or pay per click marketing? Are they using social media as a marketing tool? And if so, which platforms are they using? Who’s using it? How often are they using it? What kinds of things are they posting? Do they have a blog? I mean, it’s all those sorts of questions. Setting a Marketing Budget: Lindsey: So what is your take on how important it is to have a marketing budget, as opposed to just winging it or not factoring in marketing into the budget at all? Allison: I think not having a budget means that you’re winging not only the budget, but you’re winging your marketing, which, listen, as a consultant, I see a lot and it’s not just solos, it’s law firms who do the same thing. It’s as if they don’t factor marketing in at all. They’re only thinking about other inputs and outputs, but that means that their marketing is going to be kind of haphazard. And I think by doing a budget it forces you to sit down and think about A, what are our goals for the firm for the year, and B, where do we have to allocate resources to reach those goals? And what are the marketing steps that we have to take in order to reach those goals? So it forces you to make choices. And I think sometimes it’s almost more important the things that we decided not to do, then it is the things that we decide to do. Because there are so many things, we get bombarded with so many messages now, and so many opportunities, so many different things that you could do with respect to marketing, and nobody can do them all. And so you have to sit down and think about who are my clients, where am I going to reach those clients? What are the messages that are important to those clients? And what’s the best way for me to deliver those messages so that the client or potential client is going to get them. But it also forces you, I think, to think not just about the end client, but also about your referral sources. I mean, and we forget about those as kind of target markets, who is it that we need to be in front of Who’s going to send us most of our business? Is it other lawyers? Is it different kinds of professionals? Is it just friends and family that I get most of my referrals from? And how am I reaching those people? And I think forcing yourself to do a budget, even if the budget is extremely limited, that helps you decide I only have this very limited pot of resources. And I say resources, because to me, budget is not just money. It’s also other resources, the time and the effort that you put in. And especially if you’re talking about smaller firms, solos and smaller firms, their resources are going to be more limited Speaking to the multitude of options that you have for your marketing plan, what would you consider to be the most important aspects of a balanced marketing plan? What major umbrellas should people be focusing their resources into? I think that’s a hard question to ask because I think the first thing, you kind of have a backup a little bit and think about really getting to know who you are and who your potential clients are. And I lump referral sources in with that too, to figure out well, what makes the most sense, and where is the best place to reach those clients or potential clients where they are. But I also think it doesn’t make sense to put all of your eggs in one basket. I mean, if you look at the survey from this year, a lot of the lawyers who responded to the survey said that significant portions of marketing were focused on event based marketing. Well, we have a year like 2020, and COVID threw events out the window. So what’s my backup plan or what am I doing to support those events that I can at least then pivot those other aspects of my marketing to focus on something maybe that we’re doing in place of events. So you don’t want to make it so that all of a sudden the rug is pulled out from under you and you’re starting from scratch, maybe, in the middle of the year or three months in, and suddenly you don’t really have time to focus on pivoting the marketing so much or starting over from scratch because you’re pivoting everything else. You have to pivot your entire practice to be virtual and in the cloud. So I think that the word in your question that is really relevant to me is what’s the balance and the balance of where we’re focusing our time and energy and how I’m using my human resources. Am I going to burn people out if I’m relying too much on one person or on one platform or on one marketing avenue, like events. Investing in Your Website: Lindsey: Absolutely. As a result of 2020, I know a lot of people are putting more into the digital basket. Let’s do talk about websites for a little bit. And I know that you looked at some websites, statistics in your article and websites and digital marketing can be an overwhelming conversation for a lot of lawyers. What do you see as the most important aspects on a website particularly to invest in? Allison: So I think first of all, having a website, so if you look at the statistics, there are still a significant number of solos or even smaller firms that don’t have a website at all. And I think that that’s really imperative, especially now, it doesn’t have to be the most elaborate complicated website in the world, but you want to have a space on the web that you own. So all of these other things that you’ve mentioned, you know, and that I mentioned earlier, the social media and all of these other things that you might be doing on the web, you want to have them really direct it back to something that you own, because you never know what’s going to happen with these other platforms. So you don’t want to rely on, I’m big on LinkedIn, but you don’t want to rely on putting everything on LinkedIn because who knows, if they’re going to change things and you’re going to lose your content. So you want to have something you can control, which is your website to send people back to that being said, as far as looking at your website, I would say the first thing to focus on is going to be user experience. If somebody gets to your website and they have trouble finding what they’re looking for, they can’t even tell if you’re a law firm, they can’t find your phone number. They don’t know if you’re a local to them. And I know talking to personal injury lawyers, you’re not going to get a lot of people who are going to travel very far, necessarily to work with a personal injury lawyer. You want to work with somebody who, who the local court system, who is easy for you to get back and forth to, or for them to get back and forth to you. You know, we’re doing things virtually now. That’s not going to be a hundred percent in the future. People like to be with a personal injury lawyer, who’s in their area. And so if I can tell that when I come to your website, and I can’t find that information easily I’m going off and looking at at the next one right away. So you want to be clean and simple and easy, easy navigation, use words for your navigation that your clients or potential clients are going to understand right away without you having to explain them. So that’s number one. I think that user experience, and part of that I would say is making sure that your website is mobile friendly. Look, everybody’s virtual now, everybody’s not necessarily accessing your website on their desktop or laptop computer. Everybody’s got a little computer that they carry around in their pocket all the time now. Nobody’s, without them. And people are used to using that for everything from ordering meals to grocery shopping, and even to looking for a lawyer or wanting to contact a lawyer. So you want to make sure that that website user experience on a mobile device is great, which means it needs to be mobile responsive. And then obviously your content. You want to look at from the perspective of the client, put yourself in the client’s shoes, what is the most important thing that the client wants to know? If they’re searching for a personal injury lawyer. And make that content easy to find on your website, explain to them… to me, most frequently asked questions are the easiest to put together for a website in terms of content, but also probably some of the most useful content than you could possibly put on your website. And it seems second nature too you because you know all the answers, but you also know the same questions that you’re going to get from the client the first time they come in, who’s never had experience with a lawyer. And you also, I think some of that is disabusing them of the notions that they may have gotten from other people who also have never seen a lawyer and don’t know what they’re talking about, or on the flip side who have seen a lawyer, but their issue is completely different. They’re in a completely different jurisdiction. None of what that person said is going to apply. So I think for personal injury lawyers, a lot of times that education component, and explaining things and demonstrating how helpful you’re going to be when they come into your office, whether that’s in-person or virtually, by having that kind of information on your website, goes a long way to sort of convincing a client that you’re the lawyer for them before they ever even pick up the phone or fill out your contact form on your website. Lindsey: Absolutely. And especially in the personal injury field, somebody who is approaching a lawyer is probably pretty uncomfortable. They’ve been through a traumatic experience and they need to know that they can at least trust the person who’s supposed to be advocating for them. And in a lot of ways that website is the first introduction. It’s the first face that they’re going to see of this law firm. And it is incredibly important that they feel that they have a connection and that this lawyer that they’re going to be working with not only understands the law, but can also connect with them on a personal and human level. And so I absolutely agree that having the FAQ’s readily available shows that they understand the types of questions that a potential client could be asking as they approach them. So I think that that’s definitely helpful information. And lawyers are really great at practicing law, especially the lawyers that we work with. They’re fantastic lawyers, they really care about their clients. They care about their communities, but they don’t necessarily have the know-how to tackle a website. At what point should a firm decide to hire a consultant to help them with that piece, as opposed to trying to learn the ins and outs and manage it themselves? Allison: I mean, to me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for most lawyers to try to do the technical aspects of their website themselves, if they’re not already very technically inclined and have experience. I mean, there are plenty of people out there who can relatively inexpensively get you set up on a platform like WordPress, that then you can take over from there to add the content on your own, but you really want to get the initial design done so that it’s professional and that it’s coded properly and get the basic elements in place so that Google is not going to penalize you and make sure that you have all those things set. And then you can worry about the content. I mean, some times content can be outsourced as well, but I mean, if you’re looking to budget and figure out where, where to put your money, the initial setup, I would, I would definitely have outside help. And then you might want outside help on maintenance to a certain extent that can also be done relatively inexpensively, just to be sure that the site is updated properly and that the mechanics are working correctly. As you go along, if the busier that you get and the more that you can concentrate on actually practicing law and bringing the money in, the more resources that you’re going to be able to devote to letting somebody else do some of it. So where you might come up with content ideas or have a conversation on the phone, I do that with some of my clients where we’ll talk about some issues and I’ll draft for them and then they approve it, but they’re not sitting there doing the writing, or we’ll take pieces of things that they’ve already done. One of my favorite ways to content for a website or a blog for a law firm is to look at cases. Maybe they’ve done briefs, or maybe they’ve done an explanatory letter to a client. And that can turn into three or four blog posts or three or four pages on their website of explanatory content. So to repurpose what they’re already doing is a great way to be economical because it’s the same information that you’re going to be giving clients over and over, the same kinds of issues that they’re going to encounter. So it’s an easy way to get things going without you having to devote so much of your resources. Video Marketing: Lindsey: In your article, you mentioned a couple of other things that people can tap into that haven’t been exploited as much. So one of the things that you talked about was videos and how few lawyers have been using videos. Can you speak a little bit to some of the other opportunities that not everybody has jumped on quite yet? Allison: Yeah, so, I mean, I think video is definitely a big one. Look, everybody’s attention span is shorter than ever. And I have seen some lawyers start to use it. I think short videos are probably the best, if you can do a short clip on something that somebody can absorb relatively quickly, and videos on social media get great traction. So if you’re using social media in conjunction with your website, having your own YouTube channel, maybe creating playlists on a YouTube channel for specific aspects, so if you’re a personal injury lawyer, maybe you have a playlist that has to do with slip and fall cases, and a playlist that has to do with automobile accident cases. One of the least used social media by lawyers so far has been Instagram. So if you can think of a creative way to use Instagram, especially if you are looking to target clients who are younger, I was talking to a lawyer recently, he told me there’s nobody under the age of 35, who’s using Facebook anymore. So if you’re looking for clients under the age of 35, Facebook might not be the best use of your resources. I think LinkedIn is always great for lawyers. So personal injury lawyers, you’re not in a business to business type practice, you’re in a business to consumer type practice. So a lot of lawyers in B to C practices tell me, “Oh, we’re not sure that LinkedIn is a great option for us.” But frankly, you’re probably getting a lot of referrals from other professionals, which means LinkedIn is a good place for you to be. And instead of trying to target your message to the client, the potential client, you’d be targeted to the professional and showing them how you can help their clients or help them. And that’s a great way for you to get visibility and to market yourself too. Allison Shields Johs & Dennis Kennedy’s New Book on LinkedIn: Lindsey: Absolutely. And I know that you are a wizard when it comes to LinkedIn. And I believe you have a book as well as a course that are going to be available here all about LinkedIn. Tell us a little bit about that. Allison: Yeah. So I have a friend and coauthor who I’ve written a number of books on LinkedIn with, his name is Dennis Kennedy. And our most recent book is called, Make LinkedIn Work For You: A Practical Handbook for Lawyers and Other Legal Professionals. And it’s really kind of a hands-on tool to walk you through how to maximize your LinkedIn presence. It goes through what we call the three building blocks of LinkedIn, which is your profile, your connections, and participation. And it’s really all about strategy based on who you are, what kind of practice you have, where you are in your career, and what you want to get out of LinkedIn. So we try to really show you how to use a strategy instead of just kind of winging it. And then we built an online course, which was just released recently in December of 2020 that was based on the book, and that’s called LinkedIn Essentials. Online Course: LinkedIn Essentials: Allison: And that’s an online course. It’s nine video lessons, so you can do it at your own pace. And what I really like about the course is that each lesson also has a worksheet that goes with it. And so the worksheet not only reinforces what we talk about in the video lesson, but it also gives you concrete steps for you to take on your own LinkedIn based on what your goals are. So the worksheet, you fill out the worksheet and then it tells you to go do certain things on LinkedIn. So if you go through the whole course and do all the worksheets, you’ll actually have accomplished something at the end of it, instead of just sitting in watching a course. Lindsey: That is super helpful, especially when you’re going through nine lessons. I used to be a teacher. So the whole worksheet concept definitely speaks to my heart. And it gives you a visual reminder to really reinforce the plan that you are taking so that you have intention with your LinkedIn strategy and really any strategy that you’re using. Where can people find your book? Allison: So the book is available, you can get it in either paperback or Kindle edition. And actually if you have Kindle Unlimited, you could probably get it for free through Kindle Unlimited on Amazon. And then the course is available, it’s online, I would probably have to send you a link to explain how to get there. Lindsey: We can put it in the notes, in the comment section for the podcast. Well, great. Thank you so much for joining us today. This has been incredibly informative and as lawyers look to create their 2021 marketing plan moving forward into a very successful year, I’m hoping that they can use some of this information to really help them be intentional on how they are managing and planning their budgets. So thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope you have a great day.