Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

April, 2004

SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

Using Your Staff to Build Your Practice

By Pat Yevics

We have discussed staff issues many times in this column, but they have mostly been related to “problems” with staff. This month, I would like to talk about how staff – all staff – can help you market and develop your practice. If you do not have any staff, you can apply some of these tips towith your family and friends. These people are already a part of your firm or life – why not use them effectively? Remember: in client development, everything counts. Make it count for something good.

Did you know that generally:

  • existing clients represent 80-85 percent of next year’s business?
  • existing clients will refer 50 percent of your new clients?
  • it takes six times as much time and effort to get a new client as it does to keep a current client?
  • 20 percent of clients are responsible for 80 percent of your firm’s business?

This is why it is imperative that you spend 80 percent of your marketing effort time building relationships with current/past clients and 20 percent of your time on building your reputation. Most of your time should be spent keeping current clients happy, and your staff can go a long way in helping (or hurting) you in this endeavor.

In his book Selling the Invisible (for review from previous column go to www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/marketing/invisible.htm), Henry Beckwith makes the point that marketing is not merely a department but in fact your business and that everyone in your firm is a marketing person.

It is very important that your staff, no matter how small, have the same commitment to quality service that you do. If this is not true, then you have the wrong people on your staff. It is also important that your friends and family understand how you define quality service. Your staff often have as much (if not more) contact with your clients than you do as they routinely interact with clients and referral sources. The number one reason that clients leave a firm is because they were disappointed with the service they received, and much of that service will come from other people in your office.

Before giving any tips on how you can involve your staff (and family) in marketing the firm, you have to share some vital information with your staff. We have said that quality service is critical to keep clients happy, but does your staff know how you define “quality client service”? You must be able to write your definition. What does it mean to you to provide quality service? How do you expect your clients to be treated? Once you commit this to paper, you need to share it with everyone in the firm and perhaps even with your family. Some of the items that need to be addressed when considering client service include phone and e-mail etiquette, how to treat clients in your waiting area, client confidentiality, accuracy of correspondence and billing and the small ways in which clients are made to feel special. This commitment to quality should be the same for everyone in the firm. Your staff should have it as part of their evaluation.

Tips to Help Your Staff Help You Help Your Clients

  • Where we are headed: You must share the vision you have for the firm. What type of clients do you want to have? What type of clients do you NOT want to have? You need to explain to staff all the services you provide and those that you may no longer want to provide. If you find that you do not know who you want as clients, then you need to make this determination.
  • All for one and one for all: Staff must be made to understand that they are integral to the success (or failure) of the firm. This is especially true with solo and small firm practitioners. In a small firm, there is no latitude for mediocrity. Everyone has to operate at a high level including the staff. It is your responsibility to help them see how they contribute to the firm’s future.
  • Staff know people who need services: Some might think that there is no way staff could refer the firm good business, but never underestimate the connections or associations staff may have outside of the office. Letting staff know what type of client you want and what services you offer can assist them if they meet people who may be in need of legal services. All staff should also be given business cards and encouraged to use them at social or business functions.
  • Communication is the key: It is very easy to communicate in a small firm and that can make it easier to involve staff in future growth. Your office should meet on a quarterly basis to talk about the firm’s new clients and to discuss how they came to the firm and determine what needs to be done to keep the clients happy. This will be time well-spent. This meeting can be done at a staff lunch or breakfast.
  • Give staff more (not less) responsibility: A good way to involve staff is to assign various marketing tasks. Some of those tasks are writing press releases and maintaining firm client mailing lists. Staff will often welcome a new responsibility if they see the value in it. One excellent way to connect with clients is to send them articles from the newspaper or the Internet or other publications that may be of interest to them. Staff could be encouraged to review various newspapers and publications and forward articles of interest to you for mailing to clients. This helps you keep in touch with the client and it involves the staff in the work of the clients.
  • Adopt a “meet-and-greet” policy: Always introduce your staff to clients. This is pretty easy in a small firm, so take advantage of it. Clients will be more willing to take assistance from others when you are not available if they have been “formally” introduced to the other members of the team.
  • The receptionist as king: The person or persons who answer your phone and greet clients when they first come to your office can have a huge impact on their level of satisfaction. It is important you train the receptionist or anyone in the office who may answer phones in how you expect the phones to be answered. You should also discuss how questions are to be answered and messages are to be taken and delivered. Depending upon your particular practice or situation, you can assign the receptionist the responsibility of following up to make certain that all calls were returned or questions answered.
  • Go team!: It may sound hokey, but for people to feel a part of the success of the practice they have to feel as though it is a team effort and that everyone contributes. How about getting t-shirts or hats or some piece of apparel with the firm name on it? Most firms have a casual day at least one day a month on which staff can wear their team outfits.
  • Invest in training: Find training for staff to improve their skills in client service, telephone techniques, software training and other areas that will help the firm enhance the service that is provided to clients. Staff can be taught to maintain databases, create websites or web blogs, write press releases, answer phones, handle problems and many other areas that will go a long way in dealing with clients. It is a great investment to consider some of these alternatives. Let your staff know to come to you if they find some opportunities. You might want to consider sending some staff to the Solo and Small Firm Practice Section’s Solo Day on November 6, 2004. There are sessions on marketing and client service that could be used as a training opportunity. Consider teaching staff how to “network” and distribute business cards. (You might even want to learn this yourself.)

If you do send staff to some training, make sure that they report back to the entire staff (you are a small office, remember) some of the valuable lessons learned.

These are just a few simple ways to encourage your staff to help with the growth of the firm. In a small firm, every single employee is a key player. If you have people who are not willing to be a cheerleader for the firm and help you provide great service to current clients while looking for ways to develop new clients, they may be more of a liability than an asset. You work too hard to allow that to happen. The right people, given the right training, opportunities and encouragement, can make all the difference.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2004

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