Preparing to Create a Marketing Plan

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to set a marketing plan for your legal services. Many lawyers don’t have a marketing strategy, much less an action plan. They use the “Threshold Method.” They take any business that crosses the threshold into their office.

Some attorneys write down marketing goals, but they put about as much thought into them as they do their new year’s resolutions. They resemble a wish list more than a plan. A wish list is better than nothing. At least if you stumble onto one of your goals, you’ll recognize it.

Some lawyers actually write down a plan of marketing activities for the year. This year they plan to give four speeches, attend three conferences and take four clients to lunch per month. At least they have some activities to aim for. They get off to an optimistic start, but their efforts tend to dwindle in a couple of months. Their numbers are specific, but their target audience is not. They lose momentum because they don’t have a focus.

A good marketing plan works like a treasure map, guiding you toward your goal. It gives you specific instructions, with landmarks that will help you gauge whether you are making progress toward finding what you are looking for. You know what you are trying to get to because “X marks the spot.”

You need to do some preparatory work, surveying the landscape before you create your treasure map. Get clear about the treasure you are seeking, and what kind of “X” it will be buried under. The steps described below will get you ready to map out a good plan.

Step 1 – Analyze your existing business.

    Give a grade to your existing and former clients. We want to find more of the “A” and “B” clients, and figure out how to avoid the “C” and “D” clients.
    “A” – Wish they could all be like this.


    Interesting work. Good volume and ongoing. In my sweet spot of expertise and interest. Pleasant and reasonable people to deal with. They appreciate my efforts. They pay promptly and don’t quibble over the bill. Give referrals.
    “B” – Good clients, but something is off a little.


    Perhaps their work is not in my sweet spot, or it’s low fee or boring work. Perhaps they are unsophisticated users of legal services and are surprised at the bill or the time involved. They pay, but don’t really have an appreciation for the value they are getting. May give referrals.
    “C” – Several things don’t fit.


    Very fee sensitive. I wind up writing off some of my time. They pay but not timely. I have to dun them. I don’t really enjoy their work, or never know whether there will be more. I get last minute notice of their needs. If I were flush with business, I would refer them to someone else.
    “D” – Pain in the neck.


    High maintenance. Unreasonable expectations. Self-created crises. Frequent phone calls. Want the lowest rate. Pays slow. Client creates a lot of stress on our office. Tries to renegotiate the fee. Doesn’t give me all of the info I need.

Where did the “A” & “B” clients come from?

    If networking or advertising, what kind? How long were you involved with that group or campaign?
    If referred – what kind of referral source? Other attorneys? Former clients? Friends or family? Other vendors of products or services to same market?
    How did you get to know the referrer?


    If speaking or writing – what venue? What topic?

Step 2 – Describe your ideal client.

    What kind of work do you do for them?


    How else do you really serve them?


    What industry are they in?


    What title or level does the hiring decision-maker have?


    What size is the company in terms of annual revenues? Number of employees?


    If an individual, what income level, estate size, injury level, or other threshold does the client exceed?


    What feels good about working with that kind of client?


    How does working with them align with your passions or interests?

Step 3 – Identify your client’s need or desire.

    What complaints, worries or problems do your best clients bring to you? What do they say? What questions do they ask? What is their pain?What is your client’s dream? What are they hoping to achieve that you can help with? How do you make that individual’s life better, easier, less stressful or more fun?If the client is a company, answer the above about the hiring decision-maker personally first, then about the company.

Step 4 – Identify what sets you apart from your competition.

    List special expertise, experience or background that you have, connections you have.What is the niche of service you provide? Determine the niche you will market to. You don’t have to turn away business outside that niche, but you need a market focus. Make the marketing niche as narrow as you can.

Step 5 – Develop your marketing answer to “What do you do?”

    “I help (

type of person or company

    ) with (

their problem

    ) by (

what you do for them

    )” or “I help (


    ) to (

what they want to achieve

    ).”Example: “I help parents get through divorce without making it even worse.”For tips on crafting your statement, read

“Get Remembered”

    in the archives of

The Practice Manager


Step 6 – Identify where to come into contact with people in your niche market.

    What industry organizations or trade associations do ideal clients in your niche market belong to?


    What country clubs, sports clubs, social clubs, online networks or special interest groups do they belong to?


    What articles, magazines, trade publications, Listservs or blogs do people like them read?


    What conferences, seminars, conventions or trade shows do they attend?


    What non-profit boards are they on? What non-profits do they support?


    Who do they turn to for advice or referrals?


    Who are the blabber-mouths that love to tell everyone about the best restaurant, the best movie, the best hair stylist, the best lawyer?

Step 7 – Identify where to come in contact with referral sources.

    Where do they work? What do they do?


    What organizations do they belong to?


    What conferences and trade shows do they attend?


    What blogs or Listservs do they comment on?


    What networking groups (in person or online) do they get involved in?


    What needs do they have? How can you help them? What referrals can you give them?

Step 8 – Identify the most comfortable/enjoyable marketing activities for you that will put you in touch with potential clients and referral sources.

    What hobbies or other activities do you enjoy that can be done regularly and in large groups?What organizations can you become active in and consistently attend which have potential clients or referral sources attending?Do you like to write? What are some frequently asked questions can you answer? What developing issues or current events can you discuss? What innovative ideas or perspectives can you share? What publications might be interested in your article? Trade journals are always looking for free articles by reliable sources. Newspapers need new articles daily.Are you comfortable with public speaking? What organizations and venues would be receptive to your talks?

If you have answered all the questions above thoughtfully, you now have some good clues to finding your treasured clients. With this preparation, you are ready to write a real marketing action plan with step-by-step instructions. Happy hunting!

© 2009 Debra L. Bruce

Debra L. Bruce is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC (, a law practice management coaching and training firm. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming a professionally trained Executive Coach. She is Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and past leader of Houston Coaches Inc., a chapter of the International Coach Federation.


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