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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Marketing Plans are a Waste of Time… mostly

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Need one of these? Not really...
Need one of these? Not really…

As you achieve greater seniority in your legal career, more and more the “m” word will start to appear in your day to day vocabulary.

“Have you done any marketing this month?”

“I’m just off to do some marketing…”

“We’ve got a marketing meeting soon.”

My favourite amongst these (in a purely sarcastic sense) is the “marketing plan”.

Unless this is your first article on this site (and if so, then what’s been keeping you?) you’ll know that I am not a big fan of planning over action.

One such manifestation of inactivity disguised as activity is the much celebrated “marketing plan”.  Done wrong, a marketing plan is not only a complete waste of time, but will also helpfully kill your enthusiasm for any kind of marketing and sap your time and strength in the process.

Problem 1 – The Time Involved

As with many plans instituted by lawyers, the marketing plan generally involves:

  • lots of people;
  • many meetings;
  • significant time.

This would be wonderful, if the marketing plan actually did anything but as we will see it’s generally not equipped for that.

As a result, much time that would otherwise be spent actually developing relationships and expanding networks is, instead, spent filling in tables and calculating budgets.

Problem 2 – Inactivity Disguised as Activity

After sitting down for a couple of hours working on your “marketing plan” I’ll be that you feel really positive.  In fact, you probably feel like you’ve got it all under control, and your rainmaking is about to begin.

Except for one problem – you haven’t actually done anything.

There is research that shows that the more we talk about doing something meaningful, the less likely we actually are to get in and do it.  Same goes for marketing.  The process of developing a lovely marketing plan with pretty colours, actionable goals and measurable outcomes leaves us feeling like we’ve done a great deal – but in reality we have not.

And the time spent on that process has, of course, exhausted what little tolerance we had for doing non-file work in the first place, and so the actual implementation of our fresh-off-the-press plan has to take a back seat while we catch up on work.

Then, as it sits in the drawer festering, we lose the motivation altogether and sink back in to all the habits that we had before – most of them not involving any kind of habitual, deliberate business development activities.

Problem 3 – Over-reaching

The final issue with most marketing plans (at least for today) is that they over-reach.

We habitually over estimate the time we have, the budget we have, and the energy we have to actually put in to practice the plans we draw.

So when we commit to writing 4 articles, meeting 10 new people, developing 1 new referring, catching up with 15 existing clients and submitting a tender in the space of a single month – we have pie in the sky dreams.

Then reality bites, and we find that we fall at the first or second hurdle.

The problem with that is that the moment we fall off our plan, we have a tendency to go off the plan altogether.  Think of taking a diet – many people start, do OK for a while, and then have a lapse of some sort.  Often that lapse becomes permanent, with the person telling themselves that they can’t do the diet, or the diet is stupid anyway, or some other kind of reasoning the end result of which is that the diet comes to an end.

Same with marketing.  The moment we’re off track, we have a tendency to stay off it.

So What’s the Solution?

My thoughts on a better approach will be in the next article.

But before you hear mine – what are yours?  What solutions can you think of for this issue of the marketing plan dilemma?  For such a common tool among lawyers it is woefully ineffective, and so some of you must have a better system.  I’d be really happy to hear it in the comments below.

Happy Lawyering!


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  1. Couldn’t agree more that many attorneys spend so much time planning how they’re going to grow their firm that they don’t actually have or make time to implement the steps. I think the most important thing is to say “here’s the one or two new things I’m going to start doing” and to do them. Making a “plan” that goes out months or years is a waste of time.

  2. Absolutely accurate Chris. Most law firm marketing plans shouldn’t be much more complicated than “get more clients, do good work, get paid well”.

    One piece of advice I give to all my client’s about law firm marketing: “Implementation wins”.

    Its not the cleverest tagline, clearest strategy, most detailed plan, cleverest ad design, prettiest logo colour or comfiest leather lounges in reception that makes one firm better at marketing than another. It’s the firm that is best at implementation.

    1. Decide on a marketing action
    2. Implement the marketing action
    3. Measure the success of the marketing action
    4. Repeat and/or Next action
    Simple as that.

    I look forward to part 2 of your article!

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