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The start of a new year is an important time for reflecting and forward planning. Have you taken the time to consider what your firm achieved this year and how you will deliver your financial objectives in 2018? Marketing is a vital tool for any practice which needs to be properly planned and executed. As the legal profession continues to change there exists a real opportunity for lawyers to reach out to potential clients. Adopting a consumer-focused approach can enable you to stand out from the crowd.

Here is an effective 5 step framework for marketing success over the next 12 months:

1.     Set clear objectives

These should be specific, quantifiable, stretching yet achievable. They should enable your firm or chambers to stay focussed and on track, particularly important when there are so many demands on our time. You might be looking at increasing fee earnings in a particular legal area, or offering new services. You might be looking to increase repeat business from existing clients, or expanding your customer base. If customer service is part of your firm’s ethos, then high scores in customer surveys could be a key objective.

2.     Define your target clients

Who are you actually trying to market your services to?  Where will you find them and what are the messages they want to hear? Defining your target clients is vital to ensuring the effectiveness of any marketing activity. It should lead not only to what mediums you use to market your business but also the content and tone of voice. Think not what you would like to tell them, but rather what they need to hear in order to pick up the phone and find out more about what you can offer. Don’t forget existing clients – if they have lifetime value then you need to have the appropriate client management systems in place.

3.     Select the right marketing tactics

Tactics are all about the ‘How’. By now, you have identified what you are trying to achieve and who you are trying to talk to. The next step is to evaluate the most effective forms of activity – be it advertising or PR, social media or direct mail, online or offline communications. Don’t forget the GDPR regulations coming in to force in 2018 which directly affect how every company markets to EU citizens. Consider tried and tested methods but also something new. Live video streaming on Facebook might once have been the domain of music brands and 18-25 year olds, but video is now a preferred method of communication for many consumer groups.

4.     Decide on your level of investment

In personal life as well as in business you often hear the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’. Your level of marketing investment must be aligned with your strategic objectives. You cannot expect to achieve stretching targets without sufficient funds behind it.

There are various ways of setting investment levels – looking at what was spent last year or a percentage of turnover. The best way is to look at what you want to achieve, the tactics you want to undertake, and the investment required to complete them. Bear in mind that it does pay to shop around – when it comes to design services, website development, and PR there can be huge variations in cost. Local advertising might seem expensive per person reached, but it may be more effective than a national campaign with higher wastage.

5.     Review and refine your activities

The legal, economic, political and consumer landscape is constantly changing. All organisations, including legal firms, need to adapt in order to thrive. Monitor all your marketing activities on a regular basis including looking at metrics such as people reached, and new leads generated. Always refer back to your objectives to ensure you are reviewing the right information. Try new marketing activities and see what you learn. Then rewrite your plan for the rest of the year accordingly, to maximise the remaining time and money.

Effective firms strike the right balance between proactive and reactive marketing – between tenacity and agility. Ensure your practice has the skills, competencies, and plan in place to do just that in 2018.