If you have a successful practice, you probably already obtain many of your clients through referrals, either through past clients or colleagues such as attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors. Besides the fact that referrals are a much more cost effective means of attaining new clients than most other modes of marketing, referred clients who retain you tend to spend more money on your services and are less likely to second guess your expertise if any issues arise throughout the course of the representation.
Why referrals don’t happen
There are a variety of reasons why referrals don’t materialize as often as we like. Some potential referral sources may have concerns about competition if there is any overlap between their service offerings and yours. Getting beyond that, trust is the most important factor affecting referrals. Who wants to deal with blowback if something goes awry? Referral sources want to be assured that the person they introduce is professional, honest and has a high degree of expertise in his or her field.
In other situations, the potential referrer may have actually forgotten about you (due to lapse of time, not because you were forgettable). And lastly, many people don’t feel encouraged to refer because it may not be obvious to them that you are looking for more clients or would even be appreciative of it.
Drizzle into downpour
So how can you increase your inbound referrals? For one thing, you need to be worthy of referrals. Is your practice genuinely client focused? Are you able to consistently obtain favorable results for your clients? These issues are beyond the scope of this blog, but don’t underestimate their importance with respect to establishing long term relationships with rainmakers.
To further gain trust, you need to invest time to establish rapport and build relationships with potential referrers. Send them an email after your initial meeting; be sure to not only tell them more about your practice and expertise but also inquire more about what they do and if appropriate, what their professional interests are. Make an effort to forward them an article of interest or subscribe them to your blog. You can even offer them an opportunity to guest blog or write an article on your site. Are you a member of a group of professionals? If it makes sense, invite them to a meeting.
Finally, don’t be bashful about asking for referrals. If you think your services are valuable and of interest to a referrer’s contacts, come right out and discuss the arrangement. You may also want to consider providing special pricing or accommodations to referred clients such as a free initial consultation (which you otherwise don’t provide). Whatever the incentive, make sure to keep it consistent with all referral sources. Keep in mind that as large as it is, the legal community can be quite small and if one referrer discovers that another has a different arrangement, they may steer their contacts elsewhere.
Your mission is only partly accomplished when you finally do receive a referral from a new rainmaker. Post-referral, be sure to thank the referrer, preferably on a handwritten note on your stationery and assure him or her that you will provide the referred client with the highest level of service and professionalism. Next, keep the rainmaker informed of the process, though be careful not to violate privilege or compromise confidentiality in any way. Upon successful completion of the representation, you should ask the client to share their experience with you and also with the rainmaker (if you do provide superior service, you will most likely come to find that you don’t even need to ask).
Making it Rain is a Team Effort
In most cases, running a law firm is not a one-man operation. Be sure to bring your entire staff onboard and get them involved in the process of courting referrals, and providing great service to clients. As your network of rainmakers expands, you may need the assistance of your staff to maintain a steady stream of communication with your referral sources. Be sure to set clear guidelines and expectations for how employees are to engage with rainmakers and purchase a few extra umbrellas—because it’s going to pour.
Fred J. Cohen, JD, is the founder and President of Amicus Creative Media, an attorney web design and marketing company, and a NYCLA member benefit partner. He can be contacted at 877-269-0076.