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Clients come and go. They finish their cases and move on. Sometimes they even die. And there you are with a hole in your schedule and the same recurring bills.
It takes a constant stream of new clients to replace the old ones and to build your practice for the future.
Face-to-face networking is great. Whether you do volunteer work or participate in networking events, the contacts you make and the referrals you generate represent a powerful personal connection.
The problem is that those contacts often don’t last. People forget. They get busy. They move on to other things. Even if someone gets your card, it might end up in a drawer with all the other cards until it’s time to clean the drawer out to make more space for more cards.
On the web, though, Google fields 2 billion questions a day, including questions that lead, sooner or later, to hiring you as the searcher’s attorney.
You can use your professional website to attract those visitors, select the ones that are the best fit for what you do and the way you do it, and make lasting connections with them and, through them, their friends and associates.
Attract Web Searchers
Google and the other search engines’ indexing programs are becoming smart enough to “read” and evaluate content. In order to keep searchers coming back and viewing their advertisements, the search engines have to deliver up good results. That means that your way to attract search engines is to provide valuable content that people want to use and, optimally, share.
By creating content that answers the questions people are asking, you invite people to check out your site, to get to know you — the first steps toward becoming clients — in an easy, no-pressure environment.
Ensuring that the search engines find and index your content takes web-savvy writing (always for people first, search engines second) and a few tweaks to the way it’s coded to display on the web.
Select the Right Prospects
When people come to your site, they want to know, “Is this person talking to me?” Both you and your clients gain when you answer that question clearly and specifically for the right person for your practice.
Within that population of your ideal clients, you want to direct different types of content to different types of visitors:
- For first-time visitors you offer an introduction to you and your practice area.
- Prospective clients learn your philosophy and approach and whether you’re a good fit for them. They also learn what to do next and how to gain the most from a professional relationship with you.
- Your current clients stay in touch for a long-term relationship. Your tips for continued success even make it easier for you to help them.
- Colleagues and influencers learn reasons to refer cases to you.
Your content stays on your site through the years, continuing to offer its invitation to web visitors, prospects, and clients to build a deeper and more productive relationship with you.
Extend the Network through Social Media
Whether you yourself have any interest in Facebook, Twitter, or the other social media platforms, both search engines and human beings use “likes” and other social markers as testimony to the value of your content.
People share content because they believe it will help friends with their problems. Or they share it to build their own standing among followers, peers, and influencers. In either case, word travels like waves spreading out from a pebble dropped in a pond. The benefit is widespread, and you get credit, through your professional website, as the original source.
Here are some common traits of “shareable” content:
- “Interesting” — however the user defines it
- Persuasive about something the sharer already believes
- Timely, such as being tied to a breaking news item
The Holy Grail of sharable content is going viral — widely and impulsively shared beyond all expectation. That’s outside of most people’s ability to predict or control. That doesn’t discount the value of useful, inspiring advice or stories that help people make their lives better.
Your Professional Website: Networking on Autopilot
Making a face-to-face personal connection is a valuable way of attracting new clients to your practice. But there are only so many hours in a day and only so much bandwidth in anyone’s attention.
Your professional website widens your reach, automates aspects of your introduction, and makes it easy for your clients and online fans to make referrals. If someone is ready to deepen the relationship, your website tells more about you and makes it easy to contact you.
And it goes on working long after the networking event is forgotten.
Your professional website gives strength and power to your networking efforts.
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All day, every day, your professional website speaks for you. It talks to people who hear about you from satisfied clients, who find you through a search, and who click a link from some other site. When they arrive, they have already begun to evaluate you — not just your web skills, but your work ethic, your people skills, and how good you are at your job. It doesn’t matter that you just got your website set up in your spare time because you’re too busy doing great work for real clients. Web visitors assume that the site they find is a good indicator of who you are and what you’re capable of. Here are three of their top criteria:
1. Is There a Website?
Some professionals decide to forgo a website. Instead they opt for a Facebook page or Twitter feed. That may not be a temptation for you. Lawyers and medical professionals often default to professional and local directories. Social media and directories are fine things. It’s important to talk to your clients and prospects, and it’a important to be where people are looking for what you do. They can’t be the hub of your professional marketing. Centering your professional web presence on someone else’s site is like having your law office in a kiosk in a mall. It just looks transient and unprofessional. It also gives you no control over the rules, the presentation, or the longevity of your site. You need your own web real estate, where you can express who you are and give your clients and prospects a clear picture of what you can do. Having your own website also gives you more control over your clients’ information, for both professional and marketing purposes.
2. Design Counts
Watch a movie from a 20 or 30 years ago and notice how embarrassing fashion changes can be. Hairstyles that were a mark of sophistication and beauty now seem just funny. On the web, both the design and capabilities change even faster than hairstyles do in the real world. You don’t want your site to be the most avant-garde in web fashion, but you also don’t want it to look as if no one has updated it in the past five years. Your ideal clients are looking at your site, asking, “Is this person talking to me?” Your site’s design is a big part of the answer to that question.
3. It Matters How It Works
If a prospective client gets lost on the way to your office, can he or she look up a map quickly on your website using a smart phone? Can they easily get in touch with you with a basic question or to find out whether they have a case? Like everyone else, your clients and prospects are busy and on the move. They want transparency and personal contact. Great web content and functions can accommodate their needs, answering frequently asked question without requiring one-on-one exchanges for every question. Providing quick and simple avenues to basic answers is one way of building confidence in your competence.
Your Professional Website Testifies to Your Competence
People come to your site looking for answers to several specific questions:
- Who is this person?
- Do I like this person?
- Can I trust this person?
Your website is answering their questions all day, all the time, in both words and images, features and functions, and even in whether you’ve staked out a share of the web for yourself.
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A friend of mine in the legal services field told me that she didn’t think she needed a website. She was too busy to do it herself, and she didn’t know where to go to get it done for her, other than those spammers who call or email with big promises and no accountability.
Even though I could have created an effective website for her, I thought she might be right that she didn’t need one. She had a few decades under her belt in her field and had more work than she could keep up with.
Although the top practitioners of every profession have a website at the center of their client communications, it’s certainly true that not everyone needs one. Here are five reasons you may not need a professional website for your practice.
1. You Don’t Need to Build Your Practice
For an attorney nearing retirement, enough work is enough work. If that’s where you are in your career, you probably don’t need to upgrade your website.
On the other hand, if you’re still trying to build long-term stability and sustainability to your income, a professional website will help you do that.
2. You Don’t Need to Expand Your Clientele
Maybe you’re a corporate employee or a contractor with a long-term position with one or a couple of clients. If you can depend on those clients for your bread and butter over the long term, you probably don’t need a website.
On the other hand, if it would upset your lifestyle for one or a handful of clients to die, go out of business, change providers or no longer need your services, you probably want a stream of clients coming through your door. A professional website can help you.
3. You Have Enough Work from Referrals
Word of mouth is the most powerful means of acquiring new clients. The only problem with it is that it is such a time-intensive endeavor. But if you have already built such a strong network of personal contacts constantly sending clients your way, you may not need a website.
On the other hand, if you would like to spend more time on your practice — or even on vacation — and less time cultivating clients face to face, your website can be helping you with that. A lot.
4. Someone Else Handles Your Marketing
Attorneys working with large law firms have the advantage of the firm’s marketing efforts. No doubt, it will include a firm website among a number of other initiatives. In that case, you don’t need to have a professional website for yourself.
If you are a member of a small firm or a solo practitioner, your website is more important for you than for most lawyers.
5. You Don’t Need to Optimize Your Marketing Investment
Maybe there’s someone who has a bottomless marketing budget. No matter what you do to get out the word about your services, a professional website can give people a place to go to learn more about you, to discover your specialties and competence, and to learn how to contact you.
If by chance you don’t fit these categories, let me help you develop a website that will work for you full time.
Tara Hunt, author of the 2009 social marketing book The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business, said in an interview with Rosemary O’Neill at Successful Blog:
Individuals understand how to build Whuffie [social capital] because every relationship is important to them – especially when they are starting out – but brands are still thinking in terms of mass market. They don’t know how to invest in one relationship at a time.
Rosemary and Tara may be talking about makeup, food, and other products, but what they’re saying applies to anyone selling services as well in this social-media-saturated environment. You’ll need to adapt this advice to your unique situation as an attorney, but don’t discount its value because of that.
People want to do business with people, more than with institutions. The personal relationships you build, offline or online, through web content, newsletters, or social media (the right social media for your audience) will build your stream of clients for long-term growth and security.