You should build your law firm’s contact database as soon as you can because using your database in law firm marketing is a fundamental plank in every marketing strategy. Only a few years ago lawyers didn’t appreciate how their firm’s database could help market their firm but today more law firm principal’s understand that having a usable database is key to driving your marketing plans.
To help your firm to build, or possibly even create a contact database, we have outlined below some practical tips and some traps to avoid.
Why do you want to build your database?
As we have suggested many times in previous articles, you are better off to appeal to those people who already know and trust you, that to advertise and seek work from strangers. The best way of seeking work or appealing to the group of people who already know you is to communicate with them often with information they need and regard as valuable so they make contact with you when they need legal help.
You also want to leverage off your existing database by having those contacts already on your contact list recommend you to others. This increases your chances of attracting new leads and with that, more new clients.
A good analogy is being on a boat and fishing with a net. The bigger the net the greater the chance you will catch more fish – provided you put it in the right place.
What is a law firm’s contact database?
By definition a database is basically a collection of information organised in such a way that a computer program can quickly select desired pieces of data. You can think of a database as an electronic filing system.
In the context of a law firm, what exactly do we mean by this? A database is essentially a list of names that enables you to quickly identify and communicate with the people on the list – say by sending newsletters or distributing blog posts, Christmas greetings or other messages whenever you want to. It is a very valuable marketing tool and is fundamental for every law firm. If your competitor does not have a usable database list, be happy!
To build a law firm contact database, usable with modern technology and marketing methods, it is only effective if the list of names includes an email address. Many firms may do a check with their accounting software and it might reveal that the firm has 10,000 client records or more. Having these details without the ability to quickly and inexpensively communicate with the names on the list is key. You could post a letter to a list of 10,000 people and with the cost of stamps at $1 per letter that’s $10,000 before we get to the labour cost of dealing with a mail out of that size.
So a name on a list needs to have an email address for it to be financially worthwhile.
Most firms have not invested sufficient resources over the years to maintain their client list’s properly, or in some cases, at all. Many are in a mess. It may not even exist. Don’t lose hope if you are in this boat because a usable marketing database is essential for your future marketing strategies and there are some tips we can help you with to get you moving or started.
A list of what?
We suggest you start to build your law firm’s contact database by creating a list of names in an excel spreadsheet. In that list we suggest you create a number of columns: first name, last name, email address and phone number.
You can make the list more sophisticated and add columns that detail industry groups and other data but if this task is new for you it’s better to get the basic data done first, then you can make improvements later on.
For those who are new to this and are unfamiliar with excel, find a staff member who has a good working knowledge of it. If that doesn’t work in your firm put some feelers out for a smart university student who you trust and who is able to assist. You need to trust them because your list is a very valuable asset. Naturally your IT person would also be able to help here.
The data in these columns needs to be clean. That is, based on the columns above, your list should read like this; Jan… Smith… firstname.lastname@example.org… phone number… It should not read (and we have seen this). “Jan otherwise known as Betty….Smith please note her other surname was Jones when we acted in her family law matter in 2010… number and her after hours number is silent so please etc etc…”
Put simply, this is not a place for explanation. Just the data and only the data.
Once your list has been completed you need to check for and remove duplicates (an easy function in excel – you can google it). Then check for people on the list that you don’t want to market to – and every firm has them! Then you need to check and remove any competitor law firms and people who have permanently moved overseas who are for these purposes irrelevant.
Don’t make hard work of this – What not to do
The task of getting your contact list together does not need to be hard work. If it seems like it is taking up too much time we suggest you give us a call. We have helped many firms and it may simply be you are going about it in an inefficient way.
Don’t delay your marketing
Some firms want to get their list perfect before they start using it. The problem here is that if it takes 3 months (or more) to get the list perfect you are delaying your marketing. Even if the list isn’t perfect, start with what you have and keep working on your list rather than delay your marketing until your list is perfect. Any delay provides opportunities for your competitors to attract “your” work. Our advice is to start with what you can and make improvements to your list as time goes by.
Searching through old files can waste a lot of time
You can waste many hours by sending staff to the file storage area and getting them to harvest email addresses by searching old files manually. An assessment needs to be made about how long it will take to harvest individual email addresses by going through old files. You may be better off to search electronically as we suggest below.
Email addresses only are still usable
Just because you have an email address without a name, such as admin@… doesn’t render it unusable. Sure it means that communications cannot be personally addressed but it is still worthwhile to use. You contact list doesn’t have to be perfect, just usable. The same goes for other details like phone numbers and names. It goes without saying however that you are unable to send an email without an email address.
Asking staff if they will help you (you shouldn’t need to ask – and staff shouldn’t refuse)
We are aware of some firms saying that their staff wont allow access to their computer’s or provide any assistance in the gathering of email addresses (even though their computer is connected to the firm’s server and therefore is its property). Essentially this is a cultural issue. However, it is ridiculous to think staff can refuse to help or provide email addresses from their computer. It’s understandable they don’t want a firm newsletter to be sent to their ex mother in law. The solution here is to gather the information but give the staff an opportunity to delete names they don’t want the firm to contact. It also needs to be remembered that any firm newsletter needs to have an ability for any recipient to opt out should they wish to do so.
Practical tips – building your law firm’s contact database
You should harvest as many email addresses as you possibly can. The first place to start should be your accounting software system which will contain all current and probably most former clients. Most firms use Microsoft Outlook to send emails so you can capture addresses here by checking your saved contacts.
If you have a LinkedIn account/s you can easily harvest your contacts here. In addition to all this, you need to capture your referrers. In all likelihood there is no list of referrers so the only way you can compile a list here is to manually create it. To do this ask your staff to come up with a list independently, with help from everyone, you should capture all these names.
You should enlist your staff to help here too, by identifying all potential referrers friends of the firm, relatives of staff members, suppliers and targets and creating a big list.
If the firm or other staff have Facebook accounts you could gather Facebook friends as well.
If you are still having trouble trying to build your law firm’s contact database, please give us a call. We have encountered database issues many times. If you think it’s taking too long or that the staff are making ‘heavy weather’ of it, it probably is. Rethink your strategy or seek help. It may be that a cheaper and more efficient solution is available. If you are interested in using Lift Legal for your marketing, we have a set of guidelines we send our clients to help with this harvesting process – to simplify the process.
Once you have your list sorted you can move to the next phase of your marketing strategy and have get list working for you. Use your database like the valuable asset it actually is.
About the author
Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.