Here’s an actual email1 I received from a consulting client at the Center for Practice Management.

Dear Erik,

I think it is time for me to ramp up my firm’s online marketing efforts, but nothing I’ve done so far seems to work. It’s almost frustrating enough to make me miss the Yellow Pages.

Sincerely,

Sleepless in Search Engine Land2

And my reply3.

Dear Sleepless,

I’m sorry to hear about your frustration with online marketing. The place I would start with this is thinking about what keeps your clients up at night. To get your gears turning, here’s a list of things that keeps me up at night:

The horrifying movie (“Creep”) my wife inexplicably made me watch the other night

Undiagnosed illnesses that are secretly killing me

Carolina fans sobbing4 at the Village Draft House across the street 

The ill-advised espresso I had at 8 p.m.

Diagnosed illnesses that my doctor is not concerned enough about5 that are secretly killing me

Worrying that my offshore accounts set up through Mossack Fonseca will be discovered

Wondering if this NC Lawyer article will get my column cancelled

You get the idea.

Your clients have a list of things running through their heads when they lay down in bed at night, too. Some of those things are issues you and your law firm can help with. That’s where your marketing efforts need to start; knowing intimately what your clients are worried about and helping provide the answers.

In the world of law practice management, lots of problems can be solved by the time-honored tradition of throwing money at them. Two notable exceptions to this strategy are, 1) not having enough money to throw at problems, and 2) not understanding your clients’ concerns well enough to answer their most important questions. The former means you can’t hire folks to help you and the latter is too specific and entwined with your personal expertise to outsource.

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to spend some dough to have somebody help you market your firm, there are a million marketing consultants out there just itching to rebrand you, design a new logo, update your website, establish a social presence, and make your firm more “SEO friendly.” They will help you spend several to many thousands of dollars, there will be lots of meetings with lots of buzzwords, and at the end of their process, you will be able to see the evidence of their work. Your name will be in a bigger font on your website, your new photo will make you look younger and slimmer, and your new logo will be the envy of … well, nobody but you and your marketing consultant care about your logo.

None of this, however well-designed and beautiful, will help with the underlying reason you hired a marketing consultant in the first place: to move the needle on your firm’s revenues.

Why not?

It’s not that the marketing folks are bad people6 or bad at their jobs. It’s just that they spend all of their time and considerable sales prowess to know how to sell to you—their client—but they almost never know how to help you sell to your clients. They know what keeps you up at night.

The online marketing tactics (logos, website redesigns, pay-per-click advertising, blogging, Facebook ads, etc.) are more or less useless without first knowing clearly what keeps your clients up at night. And that is information that nobody in the world can or should know better than you.

So, before you open your wallet or launch into a new pay-per-click campaign, take some time and think hard about your clients and what information they really need right now to help them sleep at night. You figure that out and turn it into an actionable marketing plan, and you’ll start sleeping better, too.

Sincerely,

Erik

(Endnotes)

1 Not even remotely an actual email.

2 Nobody signs their emails that way. It’s weird and creepy.

3 Nope. Not really.

4 Seriously, Carolina fans, cry me a river. Try being a Boston College fan and then tell me how heartbroken you are.

5 Why doesn’t she seem more worried?

6 Well, some of them are probably bad people. I mean, statistically.

Erik Mazzone directs the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association.

This article appears in the May 2016 edition of North Carolina Lawyer. NCBA members, access a virtual edition of the magazine online.