Eric Johnson would like to know:
Where does DIY makes sense for a small law firm in marketing & how should law firms bring certain marketing matters in-house and when and what should they outsource?
This is a very popular question.
My TL;DR answer is: Do the things that you are good at in-house and outsource the those that you aren’t to someone who is knowledgeable, transparent and accountable.
Let’s take a closer look.
Nobody knows your practice like you do. That is, nobody should know your practice like you do. You should know your strengths, weaknesses, competitive advantages and your target clients better than anyone. Obviously, many lawyers haven’t even asked themselves these questions and those who have, don’t regularly re-examine their answers.
In an ideal world, you are the best at serving your clients, developing and managing your business and all of the sub-skills. In this ideal world, you also have time to effectively do all these things too. Obviously, most of us don’t live in this ideal world.
Just as, “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” so too does the lawyer who does pro se marketing without knowledge, skill and experience in business development.
But I think it’s worth framing my answer to the in-source vs. outsource question from this perspective. Ideally, you do all the marketing tasks that you have the ability and time to effectively do yourself. Since it’s unlikely that you’ll have the skills and time to do everything, it makes sense to prioritize activities based on your ability and time. Obviously, this list will vary wildly from lawyer to lawyer.
Let’s look at the example of word of mouth referrals and email marketing.
Word of Mouth Referrals
Attracting clients from word of mouth referrals should be a priority for every lawyer. However, the way that word of mouth referrals happen is continuously evolving. And the internet has played a large role in this evolution as it is changing the way people search for lawyers and information.
It should be obvious that word of mouth referrals start with providing excellent client service. And for some lawyers, that might be enough. But more often than not, merely providing great service simply isn’t enough. Referrals require nurturing and nudging.
In the internet-age, nurturing and nudging can take several forms. For example, it can come in the form of email marketing. And so, you will have to ask yourself whether you have the knowledge and skill to effectively market to your referral sources via email. Chances are that, even if you know the basics, you won’t be able to as effectively execute an email marketing campaign as someone who has years of experience testing and measuring email marketing stuff like:
- Open rates
- Click-through rates
- Attracting new subscribers
- Crafting subjects
If you know this stuff, you can probably handle your email marketing yourself. If you don’t, or if you don’t have the time to do it, you might want to outsource it.
As I wrote above, there is no quick list I can give you that will tell you what to in-source and what to outsource. Nonetheless, here are some of the things that I’ve seen lawyers tend to do well themselves.
Lend Themselves to D-I-Y:
- Speaking Engagements – This is one that is probably impossible to outsource. I say probably because I’m sure someone will give me some odd exceptional circumstance where they successfully outsourced speaking to their own benefit.
- Blogging – Blogging is the type of thing that you should do yourself. And if you’re not good at it, or don’t have time to do it, maybe you just shouldn’t do it at all. And if you decide that you need a firm blog and you’re not going to be the one who publishes it, make sure that you have complete editorial control of what’s being posted.
- Social Networking – No matter what marketing medium we’re talking about, authenticity is key. Online social networking is something you should do yourself. You don’t send a proxy to a cocktail party to network, do you?
- Video Marketing – It might sound obvious, but you should appear in your own videos (as opposed to hiring actors). Further, if you have the equipment for it and the background in it, perhaps you can handle production yourself. More often than not, outsourcing video production results in a better product.
Of course, there are others.
Again, the key is to do the things that you can do well and outsource the things you can’t.
For many lawyers, outsourcing carries an inherently negative stigma. For them, it is synonymous with ethics problems, transparency problems and performance problems. But outsourcing can also have huge benefits.
I think Sam puts it well:
I don’t think outsourcing, insourcing, or other kinds of -sourcing are an inherently bad idea. What is a bad idea is hiring anyone to do anything without due diligence.
Outsourcing isn’t inherently bad. Just bad outsourcing decisions.
In fact, lawyers outsource tons of stuff to their benefit:
- Email hosting
- Practice management software
- Cell phone service
- Court reporting
But when it comes to marketing stuff, all-of-sudden outsourcing is met with cynicism. But sketchy marketing service is really no different than sketchy email hosting. Both can harm your reputation and get you into ethics trouble (think client confidences).
To me, the keys to outsourcing come down to making good outsourcing decisions. This means:
- Figuring on “what” to outsource – As previously stated, not everything is a good candidate for outsourcing. And most of the time, the best situations are part do-it-yourself & part outsourced. Figure out what you can do yourself. That which you can’t do well yourself, outsource to someone who is great at it.
- Figuring out “who” to outsource to – Once you know what you want to outsource, you need to find the right person to do it. And this comes down to asking the right questions. Questions like:
- Can you show me examples of your work?
- What’s your experience working with law firms like mine?
- How will success be measured?
- What can I expect & when can I expect it?
- Why is it priced like this?
- How will you communicate with me throughout the process?
- How are you accountable for delivering results?
Again, you’ll need to decide for yourself, based on your skills and availability, what to outsource and who to outsource to. But there are things that generally tend to lend themselves to outsourcing.
What to Outsource, Generally:
- Web Design – If you don’t have a background in web design and development, outsource it. Crappy design has a much bigger impact on your marketing than you realize.
- Business Cards, Stationery, Etc – I know it’s tempting. But your homemade business cards and stationery make you look amateurish. You can have these made very professionally in an affordable way.
- E-Books & Whitepapers – While you should be able to produce the substance of e-books and whitepapers, hire someone to “make them look pretty.” Again, unless you have a background in design, get professional assistance. Design matters.
- SEM (PPC, Paid Search Marketing) – If you’ve ever managed your own Adwords account, chances are you concluded that paid search engine marketing doesn’t work. It’s not Adwords, it’s you. While paid search advertising isn’t right for every practice area and location, if you decide to test paid search advertising, get help from someone who knows how to do it.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – SEO is really an umbrella term for anything that can increase visibility within organic search results. It is both art and science. There are technical aspects, as well as, marketing aspects. If you have a technical background, you can probably make your site “search engine-friendly” without much headache. If you’re not, you might find yourself deep down the web development rabbit hole. It’s important to note that making your site search engine-friendly doesn’t encompass everything under the SEO umbrella. In fact, it’s just the foundation. But like everything else, there are some aspects that make sense to market and others that are better handled in-house. There’s simply no substitute for learning some basics about how search engines work so that you can make an informed d-i-y vs. outsource decision.
The key to making good DIY v outsourcing decisions is to get informed. You can’t possibly decide whether to handle something yourself or pay someone else to do it unless you have a pretty good understanding of what matters.
Finally, view your own abilities through a critical lens. Let’s face it, being a good lawyer is not synonymous with being a good web designer or marketer. In fact, the skills and personalities that make lawyers good at their jobs can be antithetical to those that make for good marketing. Also, be realistic about your time. Even if you can do something fairly well, consider whether it is worth your time to do it or pay someone else to do it. Time is not a limitless resource. You have to balance your skills and value of your time against the skills and expense of outsourcing.
Hope this helps. And as always, if you have feedback or questions, let us know.