Winning clients for your new law firm
When I started Stephenson Law I didn’t have a single client. I hadn’t been in private practice long enough to build a client following, and I had no sales experience.
So how did I build a business that made £17k in its first month and over £1m in its second year?
This article breaks down the steps I took to win clients for my new law firm. If you're interesting in discovering how you can do this for yourself, you can check out my "How to Start a Law Firm" course here.
Who is your target client?
Every law firm needs clients to succeed, so the first thing you need to do is figure out who you want your clients to be.
As a start up law firm it would be ambitious to try and get the likes of Facebook or Coca-Cola on as clients but, equally, don’t underestimate how many big brands are willing to work with small businesses. One of my very first clients was Clarks (the shoe company), and I had no pre-existing relationship with them – I just emailed their Chief Legal Officer to introduce myself and ask for a meeting.
It can be difficult to define your target client when your business has barely started, and you’ll probably agree to work with other clients because you won’t want to turn work away. It’s also likely that your target client will change over time. But I recommend writing down the parameters of your target client and then a list of companies or people that meet that criteria.
Why should they work with you?
What can you offer your target client that will make them want to work with you? Hopefully you’re a competent lawyer, but there’s lots of competent lawyers out there. What makes you different?
The answer is YOU. At the beginning, when it’s just you and an unrecognisable brand, what you’re selling is YOU.
Think about why you started your law firm? What’s your story and what drives you? As we all know, there’s so much more to being a good lawyer than knowing the law, so what is it about you that makes you the best lawyer to work with? If you can’t answer those questions, you’re going to struggle to convince clients to work with you, so spend the time to properly think about it.
Plan of action
You need to know who you need to speak to and how you’re going to contact them. You need a plan of action! Fortunately, you can find pretty much anyone on LinkedIn, so it’s not difficult to find the person you need to speak to.
My starting point was my network; never underestimate the value of your network. Hopefully you’ve been using LinkedIn for a while and are connected to the majority of your network but, if that’s not the case, get on it! Make sure your LinkedIn profile is fabulous and connect with everyone you’ve ever worked with (clients and colleagues), went to university with and met in a professional context. You need to allocate some time every day to nurturing and growing your network.
Next, identify anyone in your network that knows the person you need to speak to and can introduce you.
It’s up to you how you want to ask them for the introduction, but it’s possible you might feel a bit uncomfortable asking for help. But my experience was that people are generally very happy to support you in your new venture, and the reality is that you’re not going to be able to make it work without asking some people for help, so you need to go for it!
If you don’t know anyone who can introduce you, you need to think about how you’re going to make a cold approach. You can either try to connect with them on LinkedIn or send them an email; their email address may be listed on their company website, or there are websites such as Crunchbase which you can subscribe to and access lots of useful contact information. If you want to go ‘old-school’, you could try phoning or sending something in the post, but those aren’t techniques I’ve ever used.
The first message
Responding to someone who accepts a LinkedIn connection request with a generic sales pitch is frowned upon. But my view is that there’s nothing wrong with sending a personalised message introducing yourself and offering a chat if there’s anything you can do to help them. If they don’t reply, don’t send another message.
The best way to build relationships on LinkedIn is to create content that they’ll find interesting and engage in their content.
If you decide to send an email, you want the email to strike the right balance between giving them enough information to want to meet you, but not putting them off with too much information or by coming across as too ‘salesy’. My view is that it’s ok to send one follow up email because emails often get buried. I wouldn’t send any more than that though. Time to move on.
Whatever method you choose, it’s important that you don’t just tell them what you do – you need to explain what you can do for them and how it will help them. You will probably have to make some assumptions, but that’s ok if you do your research. Always end the message with a call to action – a zoom call, or a coffee.
The first meeting
If you’ve persuaded a potential client to meet you, that’s brilliant! Now you have to persuade them to instruct you.
I’ve done hundreds of ‘first meetings’ and no two meetings are ever the same; so be prepared, but not over-prepared. You need to be able to think on your feet and react to meeting as it evolves, and if you’re overly wedded to a pre-prepared script it’s not going to work. It’s a good idea to memorise the key points you want to cover.
The most important thing to remember is that the person you’re meeting is a person, and people buy from people. Building rapport with someone you’ve just met is a skill you can develop, even if you’re an introvert and feel uncomfortable meeting new people. You’ll probably feel nervous and excited – like you’re going to an interview – but you can harness those emotions to help you.
During the meeting make sure you do more listening than talking. The only way you’re going to be able to explain how your business can help is if you understand the problems they are facing. Ask lots of questions: about them, their team, their business and their challenges. Listen to what they have to say and think about how you could help them.
It might be the case that you can’t help them, in which case you should be upfront about that.
Trying to sell services to someone that doesn’t need them is not a recipe for success, but being honest will build trust in the relationship and could mean they come back to you if things change.
If you believe you can help them, explain why as succinctly as possible. Don’t give them a monologue sales pitch; make it as conversational as possible. If you have some marketing material to share it will help avoid the need to explain every detail to them – just make sure it looks amazing!
Closing the deal (or not)
In an ideal world you’d be instructed there and then. But, if you’re not, try to end the meeting with an action plan. A follow up email, or a second meeting; something to keep the conversation going. Make sure the action is with you, and keep that conversation going for as long as both of you are engaged in it.
Often a potential client is interested in working with you but the timing isn’t right, so you need to keep in touch enough so they don’t forget you, but not so much that you become a nuisance! If you have a newsletter you could add them to it, or you could diarise regular check-ins.
And sometimes a client just isn’t the right fit and one or both of you will decide not to take things further. That’s perfectly normal, and it’s much better to acknowledge this in the early stages than waste time trying to make it fit. Not every client is going to be right for you, and you’re not going to be right for every client.
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