How To Improve Your Horrendous Law Firm Marketing Efforts

“Get out there and do some marketing!!!!” shouts the managing partner at you.

“Don’t just sit there — get out and do it — bring in some clients dammit!!!”

“Yes, M’Lady,” you respond with alacrity. “I will get right on it.”

And so you go out and:

  • Duly write a long article touting your expertise in Montana Utility Regulation. You have citations, research, and a ton of time and effort. A great job!
  • Go to a conference and duly, well, duly, do what is it you are doing there? Perhaps seeking out that guy you already know and saying hello to him. Then after clinking glasses you wander around the room three times with a look on your face that you hope doesn’t seem empty and fearful. Finally, you slink out.
  • Agree to speak on a panel and pay — money — for the privilege of doing that. Wow, no one could object to that could they? Your managing partner will be so proud.
  • Have a marketing meeting with your colleagues. And you talk about all sorts of ideas you “will” do right away.
  • Ping people on the internet with spam or semi-spam or anything, just to show activity.
  • Spend a lot of time with someone from the media and get quoted in an article. Wow! You are quoted in the newspaper. You can’t wait to tell your managing partner and show her the article too. Woohoo. That PR is really paying off.

There is so much more of this. I could go on and on and on….

Bottom line is that you are showing a flurry of activity but completely wasting your time and, worse yet, wasting your firm’s money too. None of this will do anything for you, except perhaps if your managing partner isn’t that perceptive, it will give her the illusion of progress.

There are a few things that actually work. One of them is this. It is really easy to do:

  • You call up an existing client — yes, one you already have — and you suggest having breakfast to talk about your client’s business — not “your” business, but your client’s business.
  • You have that breakfast and you learn as much as you can about your client and the industry your client is in. You find out what your client’s organization is trying to accomplish and what your client — personally — is trying to accomplish.
  • And then — armed with this extraordinarily valuable information — you try to help your client achieve their business goals.

Trust me here, please. Skip all the other stuff and just do what I just said. You will be amazed at the results.

How To Out Perform in the Real Estate World

I start my thinking with a book I read by Howard Marks (of Oak Tree fame).  The book is called The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, and gives a good deal of thoughtful investment advice from a long-term successful investor.  By the way if you buy his book because of my article I think I get a penny from Amazon.  Just sayin…..

Anyway, Marks asks a question at the outset of his book, which is ‘do you want to outperform in the first place?’

Of course you want to outperform you might say, but that answer is very flawed.

In order to “out”-perform what must you do?  The answer – as Marks points out — is both obvious and at the same time quite worrisome:

You must be ‘different’

You must take a – huge – chance in not following the herd.  You have to be different or by definition you will do the same as everyone else and thereby not “out”-perform.

And – like it or not – if you are ‘different,’ there is a chance you will outperform and there is also a chance you will underperform.  This is mathematically tautological.

Now consider the implications of this in your organization.  Does your organization – or its clients – tolerate failure?

What happens if you outperform?  Probably a bigger bonus or economic upside.

What happens if you underperform?  Is it loss of your job, loss of your clients, going out of business?

If the downside of underperforming is worse than the upside of outperforming, then – obviously – you should not try to outperform as it is just plain old foolish.

So, therefore, the first thing one must do is decide if you want to take the risk and try to outperform or play it safe.

Marks makes this point in his book as well – that a company should decide up front if it wants to try to outperform or not.

And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with trying to be average.  Consider that Warren Buffett tells all of us (dumb investors like me) to just put our money in an index fund.  We are not striving to outperform –we seek to be average.

To conclude this first part of my article, if you want to try to outperform and your organization will not tolerate underperformance, then you should quit and go to another place with a different risk/reward tolerance.

So, now that you have decided you do want to outperform how should you do it?  Here are my thoughts – some of which have appeared in prior articles:

  1. Be ‘different’ – as stated above.   You simply cannot do what everyone else is doing.  And boy is this scary.

  2. Avoid the four classic food groups of real estate – those are almost by definition destined to be average.  Unless you have a special angle (i.e., you are ‘different’ within the four food groups) you will end up average on a long-term basis.  Perhaps if you really do this type of investing ‘better’ you might move the needle a little bit in the outperformance direction but I suspect not that much.

  3. Don’t try to time the market.  Sooner or later you will get nailed.  This is just long-term gambling.

  4. Build a Power Niche.  I won’t get into it here, since I have spoken about it so much in prior articles, but the essence of a Power Niche is creating something ‘different’ and ‘owning’ it.  It is the only thing I have really seen that is likely to drive outperformance on a long-term basis.  Strangely, most people just won’t listen to me here or if they do they just cannot understand what a Power Niche is.  Or even if they do they won’t spend the time to build it.  And the irony is that it is so easy to do.  If you want to talk about this in depth, feel free to give me a call.

  5. Cultivate a way of thinking that when ‘everyone’ tells you that you are wrong or stupid or worse that this means there is a decent chance you are really onto something.  I have done this myself.  It is almost like a bell-weather for me.  When everyone gangs up on me, saying ‘Bruce you have lost your marbles!’ that is a sign that I either have a brilliant idea or a really stupid one.  At that point, I dig deeper to hopefully keep the brilliant ideas and dump the dumb ones.  I mean who would build a law firm based on a hedgehog that stands for love?  Somehow I didn’t do too badly with that idea – an idea that everyone told me was ‘insane’ at the time I came up with it.

  6. Finally – I am putting below my list of “don’t’s” in driving long-term performance that I put in my previous article.  I think most of those ideas are useful to the goal of outperformance so it is good to have them all in one place.

I hope this is helpful and I wish everyone reading this the best of success.

The Real Estate Philosopher’s List of Don’t’s for Long-Term Real Estate Investment

Don’t do the following:

  • Don’t let the animal spirits in the market change your underwriting.  Those clients who tell me mournfully:  “Bruce – I haven’t done a deal in over a year,” don’t let that push you to do something foolish.  Not doing deals is a bummer – doing a bad deal is a terrible, awful, horrible bummer that you regret for the (sometimes many) years you are stuck dealing with it – not to mention what it does to your long-term track record.

  • Don’t try to time the market.  You just can’t do it.  The goal should be long-term value creation knowing that in the short run market swings will help or hurt you.

  • Don’t put yourself in a high-overhead situation where you are pressured to do deals that are not good ones

  • Don’t rush off to different geographies if the market you really know gets too expensive.  This is consistent with Warren Buffet’s admonition “If you can’t run your own business successfully it doesn’t make sense to then enter a new business you know nothing about.”

  • Don’t ‘hunker down’ – I would never advocate that as it implies you are trying to time the market based on the theory that it is too high now and it will go lower and of course you will know just the right moment to jump in.  Of course keep on looking for good deals, which are harder to find and/or require different intellectual capital to unearth.

  • Don’t sit by and let the brokers be the ones creating the value.  Instead of hoping brokers – or others – will call you with deals, I advocate that you be the one who “creates” the deals by figuring out a market – an assemblage – a change of use – or another way to “create” the value in the deal.

  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is better to chase higher yields with higher risk.  If you do this, you haven’t really changed the risk profile of your business – it is really the same thing in the end in terms of expected upside.  The goal, of course, is to take advantage of situations in which the risk/reward does not balance but instead tips in your favor.

  • Don’t continue to do what you have already been doing.  The definition of insanity – we all know – is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.  If doing the same thing day after day doesn’t result in deal flow, then try something else.

  • Unless you have a special strategy, considering avoiding the (four?) basic real estate food groups.  Everyone is looking at them and it is doubtful you will find a great risk/reward there right now.

  • Follow the view that “competition is evil,” so avoid competition as much as possible.  As Michael Porter (and other great thinkers emphasize) it is much more important to be “different” than to be “better.”

What Books To Read To Become A Rainmaker

I have been quite successful in making “rain” at my law firm. However, I didn’t just sit down one day and “figure it all out.”  I learned from others.

This started with me reading innumerable books on sales, marketing, and business strategies. Some of these books were fantastic, and some were a complete waste of time and I found myself wondering how or why they were published.

Luckily for you, you don’t have to do what I did. This is because I am making a list of the “best” books I read on marketing, sales, and business development. If you read these books, you will get some great knowledge that you can put to use:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie – Dale Carnegie talks about a key phrase in selling. He says that you have to “arouse an eager want” in whomever you are speaking to and whom you want to do business with you. If you can do that, the world is your oyster. If you cannot, you are back to begging people to do business with you.
  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin – Seth Godin discusses how virtually everyone instinctively assumes, quite logically, that it is critical that one’s marketing plan should “not offend anyone”… “not be too different from other marketing plans except in ways that seem to be very safe and non-threatening” … and “not” But that is absolutely WRONG. Your marketing plan has to STAND OUT, just like a purple cow would stand out from brown cows, or you will get nowhere at all, and you will just be irrelevant and forgotten.
  • The Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne – This book is about removing yourself from competition and creating your own space to do business. It points out that competition is bad and leads to “red oceans” (red with the blood of competitors fighting and clawing for market share). Instead of staying in that “red ocean,” you should swim away to find your own “blue ocean” with untapped potential where you don’t have to compete.
  • Start with Why, by Simon Sinek – Sinek writes that there are three possible themes for a business: what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. And the most powerful of the three is the third, and this is because “why” is inspirational. It is because if someone tells you “why” he is doing something, it might get you eager to do it too. I urge you to listen to Sinek’s Ted Talk as he says it a lot better than I am saying it here.
  • Tilt, by Niraj Dawar – In this book, the author discusses a shift in competitive advantages. How for decades, businesses sought competitive advantage almost exclusively in “upstream” activities related to product-focused advantages and how today, these advantages are rapidly eroding. This does not mean that competitive advantage is a thing of the past. Rather, its center has shifted. As marketing professor Niraj Dawar compellingly argues, advantage is now found “downstream,” where companies interact with customers in the marketplace. Another way to say this is — alas — marketing is of a lot more importance than substance — kind of a bummer?
  • The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo – Steve Jobs was the ultimate master at presentations, and this book gives you some ideas about how to make fantastic presentations, including his idea of a “passion statement.”
  • The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dickson and Brent Adamson – This book talks about how the most successful salesmen are not the buddy-buddy types. Instead, to the surprise of many, the most successful are the ones who learn everything about the client’s industry and then they “challenge” the client’s thinking — even to the point of arguing with them at a pitch and being a moderate-level pain in the neck. Clients come away from the meeting thinking that they learned something useful.
  • How to Master the Art of Selling, by Tom Hopkins – This book is kind of old but timeless. You will learn an incredible amount about selling in his book. He is a true master of this game. Despite my thousands — yes, thousands — of pitches, and my studious studying of marketing and sales, I read his book relatively recently, and learned a ton.
  • Influence, by Robert B. Cialdini – This is a book about persuasion. It explains the psychology of why people say “yes” — and how to apply these understandings.

Finally, there is one over-the-top incredible book for me to recommend to you. It is by far the best book ever written on marketing. It is called:

If You Want to Get Rich, Build a Power Niche

Yes, it is my book written by me, and I am joking above (sort of) about it being the greatest marketing book ever. However, it is a compendium of everything I have learned about marketing over the past 10 years, including my takeaways from the above-referenced books. One small problem is that it is not published yet. I hope to have it out later this year. Stay tuned!

In the end, I hope these books help you on your way to becoming a solid rainmaker.