Almost every new business engagement starts online. Some clients find lawyers by searching for a particular type of expertise through a search engine, check out a lawyer’s background and experience, then initiate a conversation that leads to an engagement. More often, a prospective client learns of a lawyer offline – through referral, word of mouth, or meeting the lawyer while networking – and then proceeds to look up the lawyer’s credentials online. Either way, before moving forward with an engagement, a prospective client is going to spend time researching the lawyer’s website biography, LinkedIn profile, and other publicly available information on the Internet. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon a lawyer who hopes to develop more business to spend more time auditing and enhancing his or her own online presence. As we move into the new year, here are 13 ways lawyers can build personal brands online.
1. ESTABLISH A NICHE
By focusing your online (and offline) activity on a particular audience in a particular industry, you can have a deeper and more contextualized conversation with members of that audience. The Internet is noisy. Your audience is being bombarded with information. If you can’t pinpoint their problems, and provide custom solutions, in a very specific manner, then they will ignore you. If you speak their language, they will listen.
Learn more about building a niche here.
2. BUILD AN ONLINE NETWORK WITH THOSE OPERATING WITHIN YOUR NICHE
When it comes to leveraging our connections online, the problem that most of us have is not that our network is too small, it’s that it is too big. There’s a concept called Dunbar’s Number that suggests that our minds are only able to process and manage 150 relationships at any given time. Accordingly, the goal of network building online should not be to build a large network, regardless of its composition, but rather a narrowly tailored network consisting of members of the industry you are focused on.
Learn more about networking building on social media here.
3. GIVE FREELY WITH NO EXPECTATION OF RECIPROCITY
Developing business and building a personal brand as a lawyer is the long game. For lawyers in it for the long haul, one of the surest, but certainly not the fastest, routes to advancement is through giving freely of knowledge and expertise in the marketplace of ideas. The consistent grind of putting out valuable content in places where key audiences spend time and attention is a path (not the only one, but one that has the potential to scale) to broadly building trust and a reputation for excellence. But this strategy requires you to give freely – sometimes for years – before you can have a reasonable expectation of reciprocity. Once that tipping point happens, however, the dividends start flowing and don’t stop. There’s a long tail to the long-term game of building a powerful personal brand online.
I go deeper into this issue here if you’re interested.
4. PUBLISH CONTENT ON OUTSIDE PLATFORMS
One of the challenges you’ll face as a lawyer getting started with a content marketing initiative is breaking through to the audiences you hope to reach. Until you’ve established that you’re someone worth reading or listening to, you’ll lack a certain amount of credibility with your audience. It’s not that you’re not credible – it’s just that among all of the alternative content options available, it’s sometimes hard to break through. A reader who jealously guards their limited mental bandwidth will look at you and your content with a certain amount of skepticism.
A great way to build credibility is to leverage “social proof” through association with influencers who already have credibility with those you’re trying to reach. Social proof is a term from psychology that refers to your level of perceived credibility. Are you attached to brands or institutions that others already perceive as excellent? If so, that affiliation encourages others to perceive you as someone of high quality, too.
In the context of content marketing, this means that if your writing appears in a well-respected outside publication, as opposed to an internal publication such as your law firm’s blog or newsletter that has low barriers to entry, people are likely to view you as “pre-vetted” and more credible and, as a result, will be predisposed to listen to you.
Bottom-line: Publish on websites and in trade journals that members of your niche audience pay attention to as a way to reach new readers. Don’t just preach to your own choir.
5. INVITE YOUR CLIENTS INTO A STORY
You’ve likely heard this advice before: Lawyers and law firms should tell a story through their brands. But what you may not know is that the story you want to tell online is not your own, but rather that of your clients.
Clients are self-interested, just like us. We want to talk about what matters to us, but members of our audience want to hear about what matters to them. This causes a disconnect in most brand messaging which prevents messages from breaking through. That’s why it’s so important to craft a brand message online (and offline) that is clear, simple, and focused on your audience’s needs and interests.
Most lawyers do the exact opposite. They might communicate a story, but do so in a way that is muddled, complex and self-interested. They speak in generalities using jargon because they are afraid of turning someone off, and as result they never turn anyone on. They focus on their own story. They’re motivated by the desire to be perceived as smart. Clients don’t care what law school you went to or what awards you’ve won. They tune out complex language. They’re not going to bail out a lawyer who can’t communicate clearly. They don’t want to hire a super lawyer, they want to achieve a super result. They want their lawyer to speak their language, which is the language of business, and more specifically the language of their business.
Bottom-line: Tell a story with your brand, but keep the plot focused on your clients, not yourself.
6. POSITION YOUR CLIENT AS THE HERO AND YOURSELF AS THE GUIDE
In almost every story there is a character who is the “hero” and another who is the “mentor” or “guide.” In The Karate Kid, Danny is the hero and Mr. Miyagi is the guide. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is the hero and Yoda is the guide. The guide has “been there and done that” and provides wisdom, tools and resources to help the hero defeat the bad guy, win the race, or otherwise overcome the challenge the hero faces.
If we think about the story we tell through our personal brands, when we talk about ourselves, our background, and our awards and accolades (at least when we lead with these things), we’re positioning ourselves as the hero of the story we’re trying to tell. The problem is that clients see themselves as the hero of their own story. They’re not looking for another hero. They’re looking for a guide to help them along on their own journey. If you can position yourself as the steady hand behind the scenes who can help clients solve their problems and overcome their challenges, you’ll tell a much more compelling story (i.e., one your clients are interested in hearing!) through your personal brand.
7. BUILD AN EMAIL LIST
Much has been written about the demise of email marketing. Ignore this noise. Email is still one of the most valuable and effective ways to spread the word about your law firm and your practice, and to keep potential clients engaged with your personal brand. Social media is great for distributing content and making connections online, but social media platforms come and go, and if all you have is a big Twitter following but no email list, then communicating with your online network is dependent on the platform. If, as often happens, the platform restricts the distribution of free content (and starts charging for broader distribution via paid ads), then your ability to reach your audience is hampered. By building an email list, you’ll always have direct access to your audience free of gatekeepers.
8. CREATE A LEAD MAGNET
The best way to build an email list is to provide potential clients with something valuable, which I call a “lead generator,” on your website. Website visitors can access the lead generator in return for their email address. A lead-generator is a resource, such as a downloadable PDF document or a series of instructional videos, that is of intense interest to members of the audience you’re targeting. A lead-generator does not often lead to immediate new business. It’s more of a transitional call to action. in that it invites someone to engage in a conversation with your firm over time. It’s a cup of coffee, not an engagement ring.
A lead-generator is something that provides value and establishes you and your firm as an authority in its field. When creating a lead generator, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: It should take no more than 5 hours to create, and no more than 10 minutes to consume. It needs to have a strong title and be chock full of great information. After all, you’re asking someone to turn over something valuable (their email address, time and attention), so you need to provide them with value in return.
The purpose of the lead generator is to pique the potential client’s interest with the “What” and the “Why” of a problem or opportunity they are facing, and then position your firm as the guide that will show them “How” to achieve the outcome they are seeking.
9. ESTABLISH AN EMAIL SEQUENCE
The purpose of capturing email addresses with a lead-generator is to implement an automated email drip campaign through which you can send potential clients regular, valuable emails.
Onboard new subscribers into your personal brand and law firm’s brand with a strategic campaign consisting of six to eight emails sent over two to three months that invites them into the story you’re telling as a firm. It’s a pre-written “nurturing” sequence that triggers when someone subscribes to your list. The sequence introduces your firm, explains how you help clients solve problems, continues to provide valuable information, and positions you and the firm as an authority. It’s a funnel that leads to new business.
The final email in the sequence should be a soft call to action. Don’t ask for the potential client’s business – simply suggest having a deeper conversation about issues of relevance to them. It may be an opportunity to schedule a free consultation or perhaps an invitation to an educational seminar or webinar. The form this call to action takes is up to you, and should be based on your comfort level and existing resources.
By connecting with the new subscriber, and then nurturing them along with valuable information, you’ll have built up a level of trust and awareness that will make the prospect much more receptive to business development overtures.
You can learn more about building an email list, lead generator, and email sequence here.
10. HOST A WEBINAR
One of the main reasons that lawyers should focus on building their personal brands online is that technology allows them to scale their brands to bigger audiences. You’re a busy lawyer and can only be in one place at a time, so you need to find ways to distribute your ideas to bigger audiences without running yourself ragged.
For example, while public speaking is one of the best ways for lawyers to build powerful personal brands, there’s a big cost in terms of travel and time commitments. If you’re looking to gain exposure without the downside associated with traveling to speaking engagements, consider doing more webinars in 2018. A recent survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute found that 32% of professionals cite webinars as the tactic “most critical” to their success. You can host a webinar of your own, or better yet conduct one in conjunction with a company or trade association related to your practice niche.
11. ACT LIKE A PUBLISHER ON SOCIAL MEDIA
The time you spend on social media should be planned strategically. As a lawyer, your time is too valuable to proceed otherwise. Social media platforms, at their core, are virtually the same as every other form of media (TV, radio, print) in the sense that they are engineered to deliver content. The one big difference social media platforms share, however, is that they rely on user-generated content.
This presents a strategic opportunity for smart lawyers: If you act like a publisher or broadcaster on social media, as opposed to a consumer (i.e., a reader, listener or viewer), then you can leverage social media to your advantage in terms of gaining attention and building a network. Treat social media as a job, and not a form of entertainment. Be a publisher of content, not a consumer of it.
12. USE LINKEDIN VIDEO
When social media platforms roll out new features, they make a big effort to get users to adopt and start using them. Once the feature becomes popular, the platform starts to dial back distribution on the feature, and then charge users to reach a wider audience. For example, for several years after Facebook rolled out “Fan” pages (the pages maintained by businesses and organizations), a post published by the Fan page administrator would be pushed out to the feeds of 100% of users who previously “liked” the page. Now only about 15% of users receive such content. If a Fan page administrator wants to reach more people, it must “Boost” a post (i.e., pay Facebook an advertising fee).
In 2018, look for opportunities to play “social arbitrage” by pushing out your content via new social media platform features that allow you to widely distribute content for little or no expense. In my opinion the best opportunity on social media in 2018 for lawyers to build powerful personal brands is LinkedIn video. LinkedIn video was made available to most users in August 2017, and LinkedIn is making a hard push into the video space. Therefore, if you make and post video content (for example a webinar) on LinkedIn, it’s likely to be widely distributed and viewed.
13. MONETIZE YOUR EXPERTISE
The world of online entrepreneurship is booming. The “gig” economy, in which individuals are developing side projects and businesses that provide them with additional income streams, is growing. In 2018, consider plunging into this world by monetizing some of your expertise. Instead of simply serving clients one on one, share your expertise more broadly – one to many. Develop and sell an online course in which you teach the pros and cons of different business structures to new entrepreneurs. Start a podcast focused on the legal issues facing members of the niche industry you serve and find sponsors for your show. Write and sell an ebook. Not only will these “side hustles” produce additional income, but they provide great opportunities for lawyers to build personal brands online among new audiences.
WAYS LAWYERS CAN BUILD THEIR PERSONAL BRANDS ONLINE IN 2018
Never before has it been this easy and effective to produce and distribute great content that can lead to new business development opportunities. The Internet and social media provide unparalleled opportunities to meet new people and build strong networks. You, as a busy professional, can only be in one place at any given time. But your ideas can be everywhere online. You can’t scale yourself. But there are ways lawyers can scale personal brands online.
Ready to dig deeper and position yourself for success? If you’re new to my blog, take a moment and download my free Personal Brand Building Workbook that will help you assess your strengths and begin projecting them to the marketplace. If you are a current subscriber to my blog, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy.