The fancy mahogany desk is assembled, the state-of-the-art computer set up, and the phone installed — your new home office is set up perfectly. Now what?
The number of paralegals making the decision to start a freelance paralegal business is growing at an increasing pace. Although experience and expertise will go a long way, for any business to succeed it’s essential to create and implement a strategic marketing plan.
A business strategy begins by listing your goals and targets — identifying where you want to get work, what type work, and how much of it you must have.
This will require planning for everything from public relations, print collateral, advertising, seminars, direct mail, and the website, to planning the execution of your marketing plan, developing a newsletter, and creating new business proposals.
Along with your goals and targets, list the strengths you can build on, weaknesses you can improve on, opportunities you can pursue, and competitors (i.e. threats) you need to be aware of. This exercise is sometimes known as a SWOT analysis. It will help you identify areas of your business needing attention.
In the past decade, websites have become essential, cost-effective marketing tools for many businesses, including those in the legal field. Websites are a superb marketing tool. Some consultants claim it is not unusual in today’s world to get as much as 75 percent of your new business from people who call you and say, “I heard about you online.” It is not unrealistic for your website to become your biggest marketing tool. Every single webpage should list your phone number, mailing address and e-mail.
In addition to national and local papers, you also should consider advertising in paralegal association or bar newsletters, trade journals, directories, professional websites, and other community publications.
Advertising is good only if it produces results. You must run five to ten ads before you are going to see any results, so consistency is necessary, but monitor your results regularly and don’t be afraid to change the publication you are advertising in if you are not getting results after a reasonable amount of time and ads. If your ad does not make the phone ring, you are using the wrong publication to reach customers for your services. In either event, try another media if the one you use does not produce results.
Printing fliers and brochures is a relatively easy process with the prevalence of inexpensive graphic design software and a FedEx Kinko’s on every other street corner.
Collateral material can be as simple as a postcard including a list of your services, your credentials, and your contact information. You can leave these postcards in attorney drop boxes at the courthouse, post them on law school bulletin boards, pass them out during your local paralegal association meetings, or even leave a stack at restaurants and cafés near large law firms. Think about the area you are targeting and specifically the people you are targeting, then make fliers or send out mailers like a postcard. For example, if your target clients are women going through a divorce, perhaps you might want to target a women’s-only gym. Create a large, full-size poster for your business and arrange to display it in the gym. Target women — single women or women going through divorces. Women talk, women have friends, and women get divorces. The domino effect can create quite a bit of business. Fliers and other print collateral are great to have, should anyone request them, but they will not bring new business in on their own. They are only good as a ‘leave-behind item’ after you have visited with a client or prospect.
Association Involvement and Networking
Attend bar and trade association meetings where there are plenty of opportunities to meet potential clients. To fill your nets go fishing where the fish are. If you are a frequent face at professional association events, it’s easier to get to know the potential customers. Your most useful marketing tool is networking, and word-of-mouth referrals. Almost without exception, word-of-mouth referrals and networking will provide you with the most exceptional opportunities.
While your best marketing is in-person networking, make sure you are meeting with potential customers, not just other paralegals. Telephone prospective clients and ask to meet them at their offices. If possible, take the prospect out to lunch or dinner. The point of the exercise is to start building a relationship; people hire paralegals they like and know. The better the client knows you, the more likely they are to hire you.
Also, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with current clients and former employers. Your best referral sources will be your current clients. You must ask your clients to refer you, be clear about what kind of work you are looking for, and remember to send them a handwritten card or nice gift when they do refer you business.
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