Each year I publish an updated answer to a question that most attorneys and law firms continue to struggle in answering. Namely: “How much should I spend on marketing my law firm?” There are a number of reasons that is can be difficult for the average firm to answer and here are some of the considerations and questions you need to ask yourself and the reasons why:
NOT ALL LAW FIRMS ARE THE SAME
Most AM Law 200 firms will spend significantly less on marketing than a smaller law firm and for good reason – their brand is largely established. This is why they typically spend a fraction (around 2%-3% of revenues) compared to 11% of revenues amongst all small businesses in the US today. These larger firms also commonly rely on their practicing attorneys to bring a book of business with them to the firm when they arrive – instead of heavily marketing for new business growth. For these reasons and more, small law firms have commonly spent twice the amount (4+% of revenues) on marketing compared to their larger AM Law 200 counterparts. But the size of your firm is only one consideration because you also need to consider…
DOES YOUR FIRM NEED GREATER VISIBILITY, BRAND BUILDING, OR BOTH?
Most attorneys that buy visibility through advertising fail to understand that consumers today need to be able to quickly distinguish you from other attorneys in order to make easier buying decisions. Just because you may be visible, doesn’t mean you are known, familiar, and trusted which are the hallmarks of a strong brand. This is why in every market across of the US, most of the well-known attorneys get higher conversions rates for each subsequent dollar of visibility spent along with more clients, cases, and revenues compared to other lesser-known attorneys. The bottom line is that most small law firms have a brand deficit and therefore the expectations of your brand when discovered are held to a higher standard…even by other attorneys when vetting you. And for that reason alone, you will need to spend more to get your brand established over time – the less familiar you are relative to your competition, the more you will need to spend on branding…period.
HOW FAST DO YOU WANT TO GROW YOUR PRACTICE?
A younger and skilled attorney should expect to spend more on marketing than somebody who is winding down their practice and retiring soon – both are considerations of business growth. Ultimately how fast you want to grow is up to you. Most attorneys will set their own limitations and then blame the market when they fail to grow…and are frequently wrong. If you want to grow faster than your competition, you need to invest in your marketing and the most effective way to help do this is to set your marketing budget for what you WANT to earn in the coming year and NOT based on what you earned last year. For example; if you earned $500K last year and your goal is to earn $750K this coming year, your marketing budget should be based on a percentage of $750K and not the $500K you already made. At 10% of revenues, this works out to a difference of $25K which I can assure you when invested properly in your marketing, should produce better results and higher revenues. Remember, as the old saying goes; you cannot steer a tanker by observing its wake.
HOW COMPETITIVE IS YOUR MARKET AND PRACTICE AREA?
Some practice areas (ie Personal Injury) are simply much more competitive for new client acquisition than others (ie Insurance Defense). For this reason alone, it is not unusual to find Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, and even Family Law firms spending in excess of 10% of their “expected” revenues on marketing – especially in mid to larger-sized markets. Conversely, I find that many transactional firms will spend in the 5%-10% range – again, depending on how quickly they want to grow.
HOW MUCH REFERRAL BUSINESS DO YOU WANT TO GENERATE?
Most attorneys know that referrals are the highest converting and best business you can generate over time…but most good referral networks take time to generate, cultivate and mature. There are some very simple and effective ways to help keep your referral base growing and to help keep you “top of mind” with your referrers; most of which require time, resources and money to produce. Remember: there is an old principle in marketing that the value of your customer will decrease by 10% for each month you do not actively stay in front of them. So unless you have already built a significant referral base that will not potentially migrate elsewhere on you, expect to spend more on your marketing.
SO WHAT IS THE MAGIC NUMBER?
Over the past decade of working with countless firms across the US, I had created a rather elaborate benchmark and chart display to show attorneys what they should expect to spend based on all of the primary factors. But in the end, I have simply used the following 3-Step formula and it has worked well for nearly every firm that has used it:
1.) Determine your desired revenues for the next 12 months and times it by 10% to get your baseline marketing budget.
2.) Consider INCREASING your budget percentage if you:
- Practice Personal Injury and/or
- If you practice in a city with over 750K people and/or
- If you are in the early stages of building your practice and/or
- If you want to grow your revenues/clients each year by greater than 20% YOY
3.) Consider DECREASING your budget percentage if you:
- Practice transactional law and/or
- If you practice in a city of less than 750K people and/or
- If you are in the winding-down stages of your practice and/or
- If you do not want to grow your firm’s revenues YOY
So in summary, most firms should spend in the range of 5%-15% of their “expected” revenues and simply make adjustments to the percentages of revenue based on the factors listed above. So when in doubt after factoring in all of these considerations – you will not hurt yourself or your practice by sticking to 10% of expected revenues and you should know in 12 months if that was enough or not…
Once you have your budget in place, the next factor is the best way to allocate it for maximum results – contact me if you need help on that front…
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