How to grow your client base with a business development plan

All firms must work hard to generate business, particularly where a shortage of time, financial resources or dedicated expertise is met by fierce competition. Priya Dhokia looks at how you can create a tailored plan and sets out strategies you can invest in to bring in more work.

Most smaller law firms do not have dedicated marketing or business development teams. It falls to individuals to market themselves, develop their own business and grow their practice areas.

But this can lead to initiatives being haphazard with no tangible benefit. To be successful, business development needs to be strategically planned.

Strategic planning helps you focus on the goals you want to achieve, build on your strengths and fill any gaps, so you remain competitive.

So what should a good plan look like?

Start with a SWOT analysis

First, you need to set goals. Visualise where you want to your firm to be in five years’ time.

Next, those responsible for bringing in work should be tasked with creating strategic plans for each practice area, which can be monitored throughout the year.

An easy way to start is to carry out a SWOT analysis for each area.

1. Strengths

Look at your firm’s strengths: the things you do well and where you excel.

Identify what gives you an edge over your competitors and consider the unique selling points that set your firm apart.

Then think about how you can build upon your existing strengths:

  • can you take something you do well and make it better?
  • can you easily generate more business from within the firm or through existing relationships and how do you go about doing this?
  • what can you do to build upon the existing profile of your firm with a view to expanding your target market?

2. Weaknesses

Consider your weaknesses: the things you don’t do well and where you need to improve.

Once you have established what is not working, you can come up with solutions.

The right solution might require you to provide more staff training, adapt your approach towards the things you are doing or even make a change in the leadership team to ensure your goals are reached.

Identifying gaps in your service will help you think about how to fill them.

Perhaps your competitors are selling their services in a way you aren’t. It could be that those services are being offered in a more attractive light. Maybe you need a wider reach.

Look at how you position yourself in the market and think about how to improve that communication:

  • think about connecting with more people in the community by joining local networking groups (such as your chamber of commerce)
  • review your website and assess whether you are conveying what services you offer and what clients look for in a user-friendly way
  • consider advertising or writing articles in local magazines
  • use social media to tell people about your firm

3. Opportunities

Start by looking within your firm to see whether there are any existing conditions, based on your strengths, which you can build on.

Then review your strengths to consider how you might turn your weaknesses into opportunities.

Are there any obvious opportunities to generate new business, both from new and existing clients?

This will help you maximise opportunities for cross-referrals between departments in your firm, generating referrals from clients and expanding your network of referrers.

When reviewing potential opportunities, you can measure your performance against your competitors to gain insight into your competitors’ thinking and way of doing things.

4. Threats

Thinking about your threats requires you to look at the external factors which could cause harm or hinder the performance of your business.

This is where benchmarking can help. Every year, the Law Society asks firms of all sizes to complete a Financial Benchmarking Survey.

The survey looks at the decisions made by your competitors over the past year. It provides insight into industry trends, economic changes, market conditions and how competitors are dealing with those threats.

Gaining insight into your competitors’ way of thinking helps you check whether you are consistent and helps you identify any gaps.

One of the key trends the survey looks at is how economic conditions affect any changes to fee income amongst your competitors. This allows you to compare your pricing with competitors to remain competitive.

Consider your business development strategies

Once you have completed your SWOT analysis, you have the start of a good business development plan.

Next, consider the different business development strategies available and think carefully about how to incorporate these into your plan.

Think carefully about the types of strategies you wish to target and how those are likely to generate new business.

Think critically about the cost of any strategy and weigh this up against the likely increase in business generation.

Maintaining a consistent approach is important. By focusing on a few key areas and doing these activities consistently, you will be able to measure their success over time.

So what are some of the key strategies that you can invest in to grow your firm?

1. Build strong relationships with existing clients

Building strong relationships with clients, based on trust, is the key to attracting new ones.

When looking for a lawyer, people will ask for recommendations from their family and friends – the people they trust.

Clients will recommend you to others if they can see the value you add and trust what you say.

It is therefore important to evaluate your overall client experience, from the client’s perspective.

The client experience is so much more than your ability to resolve the legal issues. It is about the delivery of your service and clients will look at:

  • the value you add over other lawyers
  • how you communicate and how often
  • how informed they are
  • whether you take the extra care to ensure they fully understand everything
  • whether their needs have been met

Ask for feedback, consider how you can improve and implement it. By seeing things from the client’s perspective, you will be able to build better relationships.

2. Grow your referrals network

Look at where your existing referrals come from and nurture these relationships.

Plan how to target those referrers throughout the year and schedule meetings in advance, ideally with the decision makers.

The meetings should be structured to focus on exploring how they might be able to refer more work to you and how you can refer work back to them in return.

Aim to form relationships with firms that don’t specialise in your area of expertise to generate further referrals.

This can extend to looking at your firm as a whole and developing a strategy to build relationships with companies where you can cross-refer more generally.

Following up meetings by email is an easy way to nurture your relationships and keep the conversation going online.

Referrers need to trust in your expertise and be reassured you are a safe pair of hands.

Reminding your referrers about the ways you can help each will help build trust and keep you at the forefront of their minds.

3. Maximise your online presence

Clients will look at your website, online reviews and legal directories to build a profile of you as a lawyer.

It is important to enhance your online profile and demonstrate how you set yourself apart from your competitors.

Focusing on writing thoughtful articles or offering insight on legal matters in the press will help you become a thought leader and an authority in your area of expertise.

It will also help you to deliver regular content to your network through social media or newsletters to remind them of the ways you can help.

I want to know more

The Financial Benchmarking Survey 2024 collected financial data from 147 solicitor firms across England and Wales, with a combined income of over £1.5 billion.

What do these findings mean for firms? And how can they inform how you run your business?

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