Last week on Twitter, I posted this innocuous (I thought) statement: “Writing and speaking tend to be time-sensitive activities with low immediate payoff.”
And then the firestorm started. It seemed that people just had to remind me that writing and speaking are good long-term strategies for business development. To which I’d respond, of course!
When you write and speak in your area of practice, you create objective evidence that you know the subject on which you were writing or speaking, and you demonstrate that others want to learn from you. Is that valuable? Absolutely.
When a potential client or referral source compares two biographical sketches, one with a long list of publications and presentations and one with a short or nonexistent list, guess who looks better? The long list builds credibility immediately, even if the person reviewing the list lacks the knowledge to make any kind of substantive determination about the lawyer’s competence.
Objective evidence of competence, built through publication and presentation lists, is valuable. Done well, that work can deliver dividends for years, both as reputation enhancement and as good content for following up with new contacts.
If you’re looking to bring in new business as quickly as possible, writing and speaking are unlikely to deliver the return you’re seeking.
Preparing a publication or presentation usually takes a lot of time. When you know how, you can limit the time required to some extent (you may even be able to have a junior colleague do some of the heavy lifting for you) and you can shape your work product to be both informative and marketing-friendly. But before you put your name on a publication, or before you stand up to speak to an audience, you’ll put in a lot of time to make sure you have everything straight. It isn’t light duty.
Most lawyers find that speaking generates contacts but usually not an immediate influx of business and that writing rarely even generates contacts. That’s because there’s a distance (physical or conceptual) between you and your audience, even if you’re writing and speaking to the ideal audience. There’s a barrier that a potential client would have to scale to consult with you about a specific matter. And most people simply won’t scale that barrier in the ordinary circumstance.
So, in summary, writing and speaking can help you to build a great reputation, and you can harness the benefit of your work in a variety of ways over time… But you probably won’t see a quick uptick in your business. Does that mean you should not write or speak? Absolutely not. Every lawyer can benefit from writing and speaking, if that work is done well and with an eye toward its use in marketing.
But too many lawyers get stuck in the trap or wanting to build such a good reputation that clients will seek them out. It’s a nice fantasy, and at one time it might have been closer to reality — but not now. Just as a wise farmer plants crops that will mature at different times, you should plan marketing activities that will deliver results at different stages. And you must recognize that, in most instances, writing and speaking are long-term strategies.
So, what’s a short-term strategy?
If you need business today, close your email right now and go meet with your clients, former clients, and those who have referred you business in the past. When you finish those conversations, meet with people you know well who need your service but haven’t yet given you business. Talk about what’s going on for them, share what you’ve been working on, and explore where need meets ability. Listen more than you speak. Hour-for-hour, those conversations will deliver a bigger and faster payoff almost every single time.
Writing or speaking vs. building relationships? You must do both. Choose which activities to do when based on what your goals are. Just don’t convince yourself that you can sequester yourself in your office and write a great article that will deliver a steady stream of clients to your door right away.
(Incidentally, if you aren’t following me on Twitter, you might want to begin, since I share useful resources there on a daily basis. Follow me @juliefleming.)