One of the key fundamentals of marketing is to know your competition. If you are an estate planning or elder law attorney, have you taken the time to survey your competitive landscape? Do you know who your top competitors REALLY are? You want to define your true competition so you can finely tune your marketing messages. In other words, your marketing should help you BEAT the competition ... but in order do that, we first need to know who (or what) are your true competitors.
Let's take a quick look at some of the easy answers.
- LegalZoom (and other online, do-it-yourself document services): According to their website, LegalZoom's documents have been accepted in all 50 states, and they boast more than 1 million satisfied customers. A Kansas customer with one real estate deed transfer can create a "comprehensive" living trust package at LegalZoom for $553 (plus $14.99/month for ongoing support).
- Financial Advisors: How many financial advisors do you know who say they practice estate planning? How often have you been approached by a financial advisor asking you to draft specific documents for their clients, based, apparently, on their legal advice? Yes, some of these "allied professionals" are somewhat competitive.
- Other Attorneys: Do you know which other firms dominate in your area? We run a competitive analysis for our clients, showing which firms dominate in online search for their market area. The results -- right there in black and white -- are often quite eye-opening.
But be careful. Don't focus too much on these players, because they are not your true competition. I tell my clients not to worry too much about losing business to online document providers. The person who will trust their personal legacy and their financial life's work to an online document provider was never planning on coming into your office anyway. And if he did, you likely would wish he hadn't. I'd love to know the demographics of that user base, but I am pretty firm in my belief that they qualify as your "ideal" client on only very rare occasions. I believe the online document boom is bringing quasi-legal services to a previously un-served market. In other words, they are not eating into your market, but rather expanding it.
You will waste your time competing against online documents, financial advisors or even other attorneys. In fact, your marketing should position you such that each of those "competitors" actually become members of YOUR team (we can discuss how in a future blog post).
Your true competition is a little more challenging.
You are competing in the marketplace for the DISCRETIONARY TIME and SPENDING of your prospective client.
Let me rephrase, so you won't forget:
Your marketing competes for the Discretionary TIME and SPENDING of your prospective client.
Consider these numbers -- the average U.S. household spends .06 percent of their time purchasing all professional and personal care services, as compared to 3.65 percent of their time in leisure / recreational activities ... or .36 percent of their time purchasing consumer goods ... or 1.91 percent of their time watching television. If you want to know more about how and where Mr. and Mrs. US Consumer spend their time, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.
Remember -- if you want people to invest their discretionary time attending one of your marketing workshops, you will have to give them a compelling reason to do so. If you want them to schedule an initial consultation with you, even a FREE one -- remember that the cost is never FREE to them. The cost is the allocation of their discretionary time. Again, you are going to have to give people a compelling reason to invest their limited discretionary time in listening to you, and eventually planning their estate.
Would you like to know how the U.S. Consumer spends their money? After paying for food, housing, clothing, transportation, health care, entertainment and insurance, the average U.S. Consumer has $5,127 left over for "everything else." (Click on the image for a full-size view of that eye-opening infographic.)
Now, these numbers are based on averages, and your ideal client is not the average U.S. Consumer -- you are typically marketing to an older, wealthier demographic. But I think the point is well-taken that dollars spent on legal services must be allocated away from other discretionary expenditures. Your marketing message must be compelling if you are to "beat" that kind of competition!
The Moral of the Story
Don't worry too much about LegalZoom, over-stepping financial advisors or the law firm across town. That is not your true competition. In fact, to the extent that these "competitors" help get your prospective client's attention focused on the need to do estate planning, they actually are helping you. Consider them on your side. Of course, you will want to differentiate yourself, your firm, and your services from these other players ... but you are all up against even more formidable foes.
Your marketing must cut through the clutter, get noticed, get remembered, and be compelling enough to overcome the endless demands people have on their TIME and SPENDING.
How do you do this? You will need a systematic approach, strategically deployed. You will need compelling messages that resonate with target markets. The old "Attend a FREE Estate Planning Workshop," is not going to cut it. If that's your approach, I assure you, the competition will destroy you!