Musings of Tony Gavin, Esq. | Intelligent Marketing Sensei

An SEO Question: Do Mentions Without Links have any Value?

SEO professionals have known for a very long time about the value of mentions online, with links pointing to their websites. Getting quality backlinks to your website is still the number one driver of lifting both organic rankings and traffic. Particularly as voice-activated search becomes more widely adopted, SEO professionals are considering the impact of mentions without links. I’m going out on a bit of limb here and saying that linkless mentions were always going to become a thing – with or without voice-based search.

Let’s go waaaaaaay back to 2011

In the closing months of 2011, I locked myself away for several months in the Philippines, with my friend and fellow nerd/geek, Chris Bennetts. At the time we were researching (between beers) what became a way of creating highly authoritative social media footprints in order to assist in driving SEO results. Admittedly, our system was for “people” who didn’t actually exist (and it worked like a charm) – but that’s a whole other story! We concluded way back then that linkless mentions would eventually play a significant role in search rankings. Here’s why…

Social signals and organic rankings

One of the things that caused Chris and me to go down the rabbit hole that we did was that there appeared to be some correlation between heavily liked content and organic rankings. We could see that many pages with high numbers of social Likes and Shares ranked well in search. What we didn’t know was if there was causation attached to that, in that the Likes and Shares increased rankings, or if it was simple correlation. It wasn’t until 2014 that the former head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, cleared that up.

Causation – vs – Correlation

Here’s a link to an article that I originally wrote back in 2014, on the issue of social signals and authority on Google, which I recently republished. It includes that video of Matt Cutts outlining Google’s (then) viewpoint on social signals. In essence, Matt was saying that the content was good to begin with – and that’s what it was ranking. The Likes and Shares were incidental. I’ve never really been fully convinced by that argument. What I am convinced of is that the Google algorithm is becoming smart enough to differentiate the value of a social signal, in much the same way that it can differentiate the value of a particular backlink.

Tiger Woods and sub-aquatic golf shoes

I often use the example with clients of me stumbling across a web page about golf shoes, and Liking it. Google knows (or should know) from my social media pages that I don’t play golf. I like to scuba dive in my leisure time. Unless the page is about sub-aquatic golf shoes, I don’t think that my opinion about them is really that relevant. On the other hand, if Tiger Woods was to stumble across the same page, and he Liked it, that would be an entirely different matter. If Greg Norman saw that Like on Tiger’s Facebook feed (I’m assuming they are friends on Facebook here) then himself visited the page and Liked it, that would be cause for excitement! Two golfing greats Liking a page about a particular type of golf shoes is something that golfers would want to know about.

By the way, I stole this paragraph from the article I wrote back in 2014. I’ve used the example endless times to demonstrate my point. Back to linkless mentions…

The linkless mention

Time has already proven right much of what Chris and I figured out back in 2011. It’s crystal clear to me that non-linked mentions will impact rankings in the long-term, as Google’s incredibly complex algorithm becomes even better at working out and understanding context and figuring out attribution. I’d be very surprised if their algorithm doesn’t contain the seeds of that already, with a heavy dose of artificial intelligence constantly “learning” more about the individual authority behind any sort of mention or signal.

What’s better: search or social?

Ah, yes. The divide between search and social is crumbling and has been for years. I know FOR SURE that the kind of content that I could (and often did) rank ten or even five years ago would not make into Google’s top 100, let alone the top three search results, today. I’m now focused on the discovery of my websites rather than just chasing search rankings. Whilst my websites rank like demons in search, I can tell you that blogs and social media now drives primary discovery of most of my web properties – and inquiries.

Organic search traffic is generally better quality traffic, probably because it’s so damned specific and people are actually LOOKING for that content. The differences between organic traffic and social traffic are in fact quite stark. Just the same, social provides one hell of a lot more visitation than search does, for me. Here’s an example using some stats from this website:

ORGANIC SEARCH TRAFFIC
Percentage of visits to website: 10.9%
Average Bounce rate: 12.82%
Average time on website: 22:38 mins
Average page visits: 13.10

SOCIAL MEDIA TRAFFIC
Percentage of visits to website: 57.8%
Average Bounce rate: 26.21%
Average time on website: 8:04 mins
Average page visits: 5.52

Back to linkless mentions

Damn! – this post sure has drifted a bit! Anyway, the point is that I believe simple mentions on the internet, in the right places, will increasingly be enough to drive traffic and visitation – regardless of link status. Google has always claimed that “content is king” – although that wasn’t actually true until quite recent times. It’s already crystal clear that Google’s artificial intelligence is becoming smart enough to consider non-linked signals and could very well be doing that already. Exciting times!

Hey Google! What are you doing with my Meta Descriptions?

According to Danny Sullivan, head of Google Search Liaison, Google will not be migrating the meta description length warning to their new Search Console. Those who follow my Facebook group, Marketing Secrets, might recall my (rather frustrated) rant from a few weeks back when Google announced that they’ll be displaying fewer characters for meta descriptions in search results – and at the same time refused to specify a recommended length. Given all of that, his new announcement is hardly surprising and is perhaps long overdue.

Google has been screwing with meta descriptions for a loooooong time…

I first recall seeing “odd” looking page titles and meta descriptions toward the end of 2011. At the time I owned an education-focused website and Google seemed to be offering alternative page titles and meta descriptions, apparently based on perceived user intent. For example, a search for “recognition of prior learning university degree” would yield a completely different set of page titles and meta descriptions in search results to “recognition of prior learning”- for the exact same page. It wasn’t long after this that the Big G announced they were, in fact, serving results in this manner. In other words, this has been happening for close to seven years now.

More recently (as in late last year) Google decided to display more characters in the meta descriptions of the search results they delivered. Description lengths went up from an average of 160 to 320 characters, causing a frenzy, with webmasters editing and extending their visible messages. Just a few weeks ago Google rolled that back and we again have an average of about 160 characters being displayed in search results. The only difference now is that Google is refusing to state what the ideal length of a meta description now is. That sounds to me like they may again extend or even shorten the length of meta descriptions in search results.

Clearly, this has been a work in progress for a long time.

Controlling Your Meta Descriptions

In spite of what Google has been doing for a long time, I’ve tried to exercise some degree of control over what page titles and meta descriptions appear in search results. I’ve achieved this for my own websites and those of many clients by ensuring that both of those items closely match the on-page content, with a special focus on H1 and H2 tags, plus the primary message of the page. By and large, I’ve been successful in making sure that the desired message is being presented. I’m wondering how much longer we’ll be able to do that for?

Because I’ve been doing this a long time, I can recall a time when Google took note of meta keywords. They stopped doing that so long ago that I can’t recall exactly when it was. The reason why they started disregarding that signal was that webmasters figured out that they could “stuff” that meta area with the keywords they wanted to appear for in search results. Much the same thing has happened with page titles and meta descriptions, which is undoubtedly why Google has been paying them less and less attention. Given the awesome combined power of latent semantic indexing and AI, I can easily envisage a time in the not too distant future when Google will disregard both page titles and meta descriptions entirely.

What’s Next for Meta Descriptions?

The upshot of this is that you should probably to take a closer look at the content of your pages and really examine what keywords you might be targeting. Google is now clearly favouring long-form content with tightly focused, high-quality information, within narrow fields. That kind of content seems to be even more highly favoured when the website it’s on is semantically related. Semantically related inbound links power this even more. It looks like a narrow focus on a particular subject is going to score you more and more brownie points as time marches on.

Google already picks and chooses from your web pages what it wishes to display in page titles and meta descriptions. They’ve just told us (without telling us) that this practice is now becoming the norm. You need to start thinking of all of your content as potential snippets of information that are likely to be presented in organic search results. Google is already doing this, but they haven’t quite gotten there in terms of consistently displaying that content in a way that always makes sense. I believe that they will get there – and you can help them (and you) by targeting key, on page snippets of information to conform with a 160 character length protocol – for now anyway.

Welcome to another new normal!

CRM & Marketing Automation Platforms for Small Business

A small business is not a little big business. I know for certain that most small business owners who have investigated CRM and marketing automation tools feel completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options. Overwhelmed by the costs. Overwhelmed by just trying to understand these complex systems and how they can make them work for their business. Here’s the truth that most providers don’t want to tell you: CRM and marketing automation tools are not for everyone.

What is a CRM?

Most people tend to think of a CRM as a piece of software that they use to manage customers in one way or another. I think that Salesforce defines it much better than that (yes – I stole this straight from their website):

CRM or Customer Relationship Management is a strategy for managing an organisation’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. A CRM system helps companies stay connected to customers, streamline processes, and improve profitability.

Damn! That is so good and right on the money – for large organisations. Most small businesses lack the internal skills to utilise a CRM to its full potential and can’t afford to hire external help. Reality is that unless a small business owner has the time and motivation to go up the learning curve themselves, any CRM is little more than a digital decoration for them. They can’t and won’t use it in a way that exploits its true potential.

What is Marketing Automation?

Many marketing automation systems go hand-in-hand with a CRM. I give full credit for the following definition to myself!

Marketing automation is software that is designed to automate repetitive marketing tasks. At its best, it removes human emotion and error from the marketing process and takes prospects on a pre-defined journey towards becoming customers. 

There are a ton of companies out that there that build and host marketing automation platforms. By necessity, all marketing automation platforms are quite complex. Some are easier to understand and use than others. In spite of what the various vendors of these platforms will tell you, none of them is easy to master. Even experienced geeks move quickly to overwhelm when confronted with one of these babies for the first time. There is a reason for that. It’s genuinely overwhelming.

Like with CRM’s, most small businesses lack the internal skills to deal with marketing automation platforms and cannot afford the kind of help that specialises in taming these unwieldy beasts.

Lack of Marketing Skills – The Primary Barrier to Entry

When I said that some platforms are easier to use than others, I meant to say that by investing some time and effort many small business owners can (and do) learn to use Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Mautic or one of the many other applications available. Unfortunately, learning where to click and where to drag and drop something is a long way from being enough. Users need enough knowledge of marketing – plus a heap of other geeky skills – just to make it effective for them. Here’s a list of some of the basic skills you’ll need to know in order to be successful as a DIY user of one of these kinds of platforms.

Webmastering: Virtually all platforms require some degree of integration with your website. Anything more than something simple and you’ll need a webmaster or programmer to take care of it for you.

Database Management: CRM’s are databases. Aside from just importing data, you’ll need to work on custom field creation, segmentation, tagging and any other number of issues.

Form Design: Marketing automation platforms are designed to capture leads and push them into your CRM at the same time triggering a marketing process. Forms are at the heart of that process – so you better know how to design and integrate them with your web pages.

Landing Page Design: Most marketing automation platforms allow you to create landing pages. These are special pages designed to capture leads or get visitors to pursue a pre-determined course of action. Building them is part art and part science. You better know how to do it.

Copywriting: Do you know how to write persuasive copy? Between building landing pages and writing emails for automation sequences, you’d better develop a good grasp of this skill. Otherwise, you’re probably wasting your money even using a platform like this.

Graphic Design: Appearance means a lot. Good layout and design contributes positively toward the overall user experience on your pages and can mean the difference between capturing a lead, or the visitor leaving your page with you empty-handed. 99% of people need outside assistance with this.

Campaign Creation: Campaigns are the core of marketing automation platforms. This is the nitty-gritty stuff like deciding when a prospect receives a particular email, or when you switch them from one kind of campaign to another. It’s an expert speciality all of its own.

Automation Sequencing: Should a prospect get an email right away when they make an inquiry and what should it say. If they open it, how long before you should send another email? What if they don’t open your email – how long should you wait before emailing them again – or should a text message go out instead? Welcome to automation sequencing.

Point Scoring: Point scoring allows you to track and score a prospect’s journey, allowing you to know the ideal time to reach out to the prospect as they warm up to the idea of dealing with you. That’s right – another skill you’ll need to learn!

By now, you should be getting the idea that using a CRM and marketing automation platform is no picnic. It’s easy to see why most small businesses that start using this technology soon quit in sheer frustration.

Use Cases for Small Business

We’ve stepped through some of the negatives. Now it’s time to step through the positives and look at use cases for CRM and marketing automation tools, for small businesses. Here are the basic criteria that I personally like to apply.

Does your business have a high value, extended sales cycle?

Many businesses sell high-value products and services and have sales cycles extending from weeks to years. Luxury cars, cosmetic dentistry and fertility clinics are some examples of businesses that often meet these criteria.

Does your typical customer have a high lifetime value to you?

Orthodontists, chiropractors and accountants are good examples of businesses that extract high lifetime value from typical clients. Think about if your business falls into this category?

Does your business have a lot of “other” products or service to sell to customers?

Maybe you have many products and service that you can sell to existing customers. If this is you, then marketing automation can very likely become a highly profitable part of your business.

Does your business have the internal skill-base to use this technology properly?

Maybe you have full-time marketing staff on the payroll. Maybe you know a lot about CRM’s due to prior work experience. Maybe a lot of things! Being able to take care of even a few things can mean big savings when running a marketing automation platform.

Does your business have the money to invest in exploiting this technology?

Do you have $10,000 to throw at this immediately and at least $2,000 (probably more) each month to keep it moving correctly? If you don’t, there is a better than good chance that marketing automation is not right for you.

Where to Get Help

There are many businesses out there that advise on and sell CRM and marketing automation, so help is reasonably easy to find. Good help is another thing entirely. My advice would be to work with a business that uses marketing automation themselves and practices what they preach. That’s the only way they’ll have the kind of insights required to know what a customer really experiences. I can assure you that marketing automation is both infuriating and rewarding. I know that because I’m one of those people who practices what I preach. Happy marketing!

Category Pages: Are You Missing a Great SEO Opportunity?

Most people use WordPress as a platform to manage their website. It’s a great Content Management System, but truthfully, I’m only a fairly recent convert. Up until about twelve months ago, my agency was very much a Joomla! specialist. Up until about six months ago, even my own website was hosted on the Joomla! CMF. As a developer, Joomla! makes a ton more sense than WordPress. As a non-developer who just wants to be able to manage their website effectively, WordPress is a hands-down winner! And that brings me to Categories…

Categories – A missed opportunity!

After rebuilding one of our agency websites I decided to take a closer look at what pages Google was indexing. You can get a clear idea of this for your own website by going to your Chrome browser and typing in site:yourdomainname.com. You’ll see what Google is presenting in search results for your pages – including any category pages that they are serving up. Here’s an example of that.

As I moved through the results I started to notice something interesting. Category pages were being indexed – usually with gobbledygook in the meta description which Google had randomly pulled from the pages. That gobbledygook (it’s actually a snippet) is pulled from all the posts which have been published on your website in that Category. Here’s a random example I pulled from the web. It’s what I see as a wasted opportunity.

Why bother with Categories?

The short answer is because Google is clearly indexing them. Chances are if you have a lot of pages about a particular Category and the content is good, Google will be very interested in that page. Why wouldn’t you do everything that you can to help it rank? Makes sense, right!

How to rank a Category page in organic search results

Firstly, you’re going to need to create some decent content about that category. For example, my website has a lot of content (including blog posts) about the Mautic open source CRM and marketing automation platform. As a result of that, the Category Archive page contains a lot of content about that subject – and Google knows all about it. I did say QUALITY content too. Make sure that what you write is worth reading or Google is going to pass it by.

Next up you’ll need to edit your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions. This post is not about how to do that and there are about a million places on the internet where you can find out for free. I’m not going to go through that here, beyond stating that you need to ensure that your meta data reflects what your blog posts within the Category you are editing are all about. If your Category is about house painting, for example, you might end up with something like this:

PAGE TITLE
House Painting Tips and Tricks from House Painting Pros

META DESCRIPTION
Learn the secrets of painting your house like a pro. We have tons of free house painting tips that will have your house looking picture perfect in no time!

Notice that the page title and meta description makes it clear that the Category is all about house painting. If your blogs have been set up correctly, their meta data will tell much the same story as will the content of each blog. If you wish to you can further reinforce that message by adding some content to the category page. Maybe you could have something like this as an introduction:

Painting your house is a big investment of time and money. It might also increase the value of your home and make it a more enjoyable place to live. The House Painting Blog is dedicated to providing home-owners like you with free tips and tricks that will help you achieve a professional look with your house painting. Scroll through our archive to learn about selecting colours, preparing surfaces, choosing the right paint, application techniques and a heap of other really useful info. We welcome your questions and ask you to comment on blog posts so that we can answer. Happy painting!

Here’s an example from the agency website that I mentioned before:

Other opportunities – including internal linking

Many websites have galleries installed to display images. Did you know that most gallery plugins allow you to control Page Titles and Meta Descriptions, as well as add content – just like what I’ve suggested above. In part, that’s because most WordPress gallery plugins exploit Categories as their backbone. Plenty of other plugins offer the same opportunities, like testimonial sliders, for example. Your ability to get pages like this indexed are almost limitless.

I’ve also used Category pages to drive internal linking. You’ll see in the example below that we’ve added content including photos, along with links to certain pages of the website. We had that website ranking like a demon in Google organic search within weeks of it going live. Internal linking from Category pages played their part in that fast track success.

Some final thoughts on Categories

Google wants to know what your website is about. Categories help their crawlers to navigate your website and assist their AI in understanding what your website is all about. With clever use, you can be driving discovery of your pages and well as pushing the kind of engagement that you want from visitors. It takes a bit of time to think through the strategy you want to use to present your information, but that investment of time is well worth the results. It’s one of those little understood and infrequently used tactics that can make a huge difference to how your website ranks on Google.

Social Signals & Your Authority on Google

I’m often asked by people about the value of displaying Facebook Likes, Twitter Tweets, LinkedIn Shares and other social media signal buttons on their websites and blogs. In order to fully address that, I think that we need first to take a good look at what a social signal really is and how search engines interpret them.

What is a social signal?

In simple terms, a social signal is a link from somebody’s social media page (such as a Facebook or LinkedIn account) to your web page. When visitors to your website or blog click a Facebook Like button, or Google+ icon, they are creating a link directly from their social media account to your page that they have Liked or G+’d. This lets those who are connected with that person via social media know that they have found some value in whatever it is that you have posted. It’s a vote of confidence in what they have viewed on your web page – and something that they think is perhaps worthy of attention from others that they are connected to. It’s always great to have people appreciate what you have taken the time to create, but what is the significance of that from a Google search perspective?

A brief overview of how Google works

Google has a complex algorithm that it uses to determine what appears in search results when you type a particular search term into their search engine and utilizes a wide range of factors in order to deliver you a result. One of the more significant factors in that algorithm is the number of links to your webpage(s), and the relative importance of the pages that are linking in. For example, if your company makes rocket engines, having links from the NASA website might provide Google with some comfort that your company makes decent rocket engines. If your website had another link from the Virgin Galactic website, that might add further credibility. On the other hand, a link from your local hamburger store might hold less value to Google. Think of a link (including social signals) as a vote of confidence for the content you have provided.

What does Matt Cutts say about social signals?

For the non-geeks reading this (geeks already know exactly who he is) Matt Cutts is head of webspam at Google (update – Matt is now the former head of webspam at Google). There is a reason why people like Matt and the webspam team exist – and that is because as you now know – Google uses links to your web pages as one way of determining the relevance and usefulness of what you have posted. Unfortunately, some webmasters in the past have manipulated Google’s search results by producing and linking less than useful content to key web pages. Matt and his team work overtime to make sure that search engine results remain as untainted as possible, by detecting and punishing attempts at algorithmic manipulation. Any experienced webmaster will be able to tell you just how effective they are at this too!

Anyway, I have embedded a four-minute video that Matt posted to the Google Webmasters page on YouTube a little while back. The video is specifically about the effects of social signals on organic search rankings for web pages, and I found it most interesting. In effect, Matt is saying that Google is not (to his knowledge) placing any particular significance on social media signals. This is (in part) because of the difficulties associated with crawling some social media pages, and also the great speed at which interrelationships between social media users change. Here’s the important part – whilst Matt acknowledges that some pages with plenty of social signals rank well in organic search, he notes that’s correlation, not causation. In effect, he’s saying that the content was probably great to begin with, which is why it has plenty of social love!

What is the future of social signals?

My educated guess would be that the value of social signals will increase dramatically over time. Google, as well as other search engines and social platforms, are working very hard to ensure that they know who is responsible for posting what online, and where. As platforms become more integrated, and leading platforms make it more difficult to hide your true identity, anonymity diminishes. With diminishing anonymity comes the sort of transparency that makes attribution easier, and more reliable. Does that make for a better or worse internet? Maybe that’s a good topic for another post sometime. For now, it’s important to understand that this sort of transparency provides opportunities to build real authority, and the future of the internet as a communication tool lays in authority.

What about Authority?

The original thrust of this post was to question the value of displaying social media engagement buttons on websites and blogs. My view is that these buttons provide a ton of both short and long-term value to webmasters and bloggers. The Google algorithm gets better over time. Just a few years back search results could readily be manipulated with web spam. Today, that is largely not the case. It’s just a matter of time before the Google algorithm becomes smart enough (if it’s not already) to rank the “authority behind the authority”.

Tiger Woods and sub-aquatic golf shoes

I often use the example with clients of me stumbling across a web page about golf shoes, and Liking it. Google knows (or should know) from my social media pages that I don’t play golf. I like to scuba dive in my leisure time. Unless the page is about sub-aquatic golf shoes, I don’t think that my opinion about them is really that relevant. On the other hand, if Tiger Woods was to stumble across the same page, and he Liked it, that would be an entirely different matter. If Greg Norman saw that Like on Tiger’s Facebook feed (I’m assuming they are friends on Facebook here) then himself visited the page and Liked it, that would be cause for excitement! Two golfing greats Liking a page about a particular type of golf shoes is something that golfers would want to know about.

To use, or not to use?

It’s clear from what Matt Cutts says in his video that Google is super interested in establishing authorship, and thus authority. Social media by its nature is a first-rate way for Google to determine what people value in the real world, how many of them value it, and the authority behind what it is that they value. In the present, social media does exactly the same thing for webmasters and bloggers. Every time a visitors provides their stamp of approval for your content by clicking on a social media icon, they are also telling those they are connected with about the value of your content. My view is that any webmaster or blogger who fails to have social media buttons integrated on their website is missing a most valuable opportunity to get their message out there – and is just plain crazy! Install the buttons. Suck up their value!

I originally published this article under the title “Social Signals & Authority on Google” at i-Business, on 17th September, 2014. The post contains minor edits.

Sun Tzu & The Art of Law: Capture New Clients Without Taking Prisoners

Let me start this rather lengthy article by saying just one thing: This information hasn’t been produced for lazy or broken people. If you’re looking for a way to keep the doors open and the lights on – and it has to work by this time next week – this article is absolutely not what you’ll want to read. If you’re too lazy to put in tens (or more) hours of work to get your marketing just right, this article isn’t for you either. It’s been written for lawyers who are serious about their marketing and want to produce a predictable, cost-effective system to consistently feed new clients into their growing legal practice. If that lawyer is you then read on.

We have met the enemy and he is us…

American cartoonist and animator Walt Kelly is often (wrongly) attributed with coining this now famous phrase. It derives from braggadocio during the War of 1812 in which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry reported, “We have met the enemy and they are ours” to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie. Whatever the truth about who first said this, it is the truth. The very first enemy you’ll need to overcome in order to get your law practice marketing right is you. Before you read this article, I’d encourage you to set aside what you already think about marketing. Consider all of what you’re about to read, in context, later on – but please don’t begin the process of mentally deconstructing and fighting it until you’ve read the entire process through and given it due consideration.

The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle

The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle is a unique, seven-step process I have developed to assist lawyers with understating what they should be doing to get their marketing right. It provides a simple, no-nonsense process that anyone can easily follow. With that said, I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. It’s going to require a considerable investment of time and effort on your part to bring it to life. You have been warned!

Part 1 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Understand Your Market

Most lawyers have some idea of who their market is. They couldn’t survive for long in business if they didn’t. What they often don’t know is who their best client is and what they look like. That makes it somewhere between difficult and impossible for your legal practice to target the clients you really want – and for whom you can probably add the greatest amount of value.

A good starting point in understanding your market is by asking yourself about these four key concepts:

1. Specialisation

2. Differentiation

3. Segmentation

4. Concentration

Let’s step through each of these key concepts briefly.

Specialisation

What is the key service that you provide and who does it serve?

Suppose for a moment that you are running a legal practice and provide advice on several areas of the law. You need to ask yourself what key area of the law you specialise in, or wish to specialise in – then define exactly what kind of client that serves. You might come up with something like this:

My law practice specialises in providing advice on child custody disputes to parents, where communication between them has broken down.

Your statement will obviously be different to that depending upon what your practice does and who its clients are. The idea is to try and write a single sentence that captures your area of unique specialisation. This will provide you with your first clue about who your ideal client really is.

Differentiation

On the back of specialisation rides differentiation. In a nutshell, differentiation is the unique things that your practice does differently and/or better than anyone else. It’s all about the problem that your service solves for your client – and why they should deal with your firm over other practices providing similar types of legal expertise. To stick with the example of our child custody lawyer you might come up with something like this:

Our point of difference is that we seek to mediate instead of litigate. This means that on average, clients spend less money on legal fees, avoid unnecessary conflict with former spouses and protect their children from potentially ugly experiences in Family Court.

Spell out what’s different about the outcomes you produce and/or how you provide services, then state the primary benefit or benefits of that from the perspective of the clients that you serve.

Segmentation

With rare exceptions, you will find that your primary market can be broken down into segments. To stay with our child custody lawyer, they may well find that their clients have different interests. They might come up with a segmented list that looks something like this:

My key market segments are:

  • Custodial parents in need of child support or enforcement of existing child support arrangements.
  • Non-custodial parents seeking access to their children, or enforcement of existing child access arrangements.
  • Parents unable to agree on custody, access and child support arrangements.

Each of your market segments has differing “pain points” – and that will greatly inform your marketing once you move to the planning stage. One size rarely fits all when it comes to getting your marketing right!

Concentration

Concentration is about the clients best able to appreciate and purchase your services. Think of them as ideal clients – the people you most want to serve. You now know a bit about the need(s) you fill for them and their segmentation – so ask yourself questions like these to build an even clearer picture:

  • What are their demographics (how old, what gender, how affluent, etc)?
  • What are their psychographics (what motivates them)?
  • There is probably ONE key reason why people buy. What is it?
  • What is the problem to be solved with your services?

Sticking with our child custody lawyer once again, they might come up with something like this:

My ideal client is a parent of a child or children involved in a dispute with a former partner about custody, access or support of their children. The client and/or their former partner both care about their children and individually or collectively have the means to fund dispute resolution, via legal mediation.

Notice in this example how clear our child custody lawyer has become about their ideal client? They could take on cases with people who would struggle to pay their bill. They could focus on people with issues of domestic violence. They could focus on people who have property settlement issues. Instead, they have stated a clear preference for the kind of client that they really want to walk in the door of their practice.

Imagine how much easier it’ll be for our child custody lawyer to lure his or her ideal client now that they know exactly who they are. It works the same way for your practice too. Do the exercise and see how much you can learn about whom your practice serves.

Part 2 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Clarify Your Value Proposition

In Part 1 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle we looked at understanding your market. You’ll understand the necessity of that exercise as we step through the process of clarifying your value proposition.

What is a Value Proposition?

A value proposition is a promise to your customers or a segment of your customers about the value that your business delivers to them. Think of it as a customer-facing way of describing what your business does, in a way that makes it relatable and valuable to your customers and prospects. Here are few of my personal favourites:

  • MailChimp – Send better email
  • FreshBooks – Small Business Accounting Software Designed for You, The Non-Accountant
  • Apple MacBook – Light. Years ahead.
  • Evernote – Remember Everything

What makes a great Value Proposition?

In a nutshell, it’s direct and unambiguous simplicity. You’ll notice something about each of the value propositions I’ve mentioned above. They’re all breathtakingly simple. They are also unambiguous. They each present a clear message about what problem that business solves and makes a promise to the customer about it.

Some of the value propositions presented are also clever. Take the Apple MacBook as an example. The value proposition of “Light. Years Ahead” only makes sense because pretty much everyone on the planet knows that an Apple MacBook is a lightweight, highly advanced computer. Apple’s massive marketing budget supports that, which is why it works so well. That kind of clever is probably not going to work for most legal practices. You need to be far more direct.

Dig Deep

Developing your value proposition is going to be a lot of work for most practices. First of all, you’ll need to dig up all of that information about understanding your customer that you prepared in Part 1 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle. Next, you’ll need to work out exactly what it is that you sell – then reduce that to a value that your clients and prospective clients can “buy in” to.

I’m going to use my own business as an example here. We provide a wide variety of digital marketing services – website design, SEO, social media bookmarking, pay per click management, copywriting and marketing automation integration just to name a few. The truth is that businesses don’t come to us to purchase those services. They come to us because they want to generate more leads and make more sales. The services we provide are just part of the process we use to achieve that. We ended up with a value proposition that doesn’t even mention our services. Our value proposition is:

ROI focused marketing that drives profitable clients right to your door.

We had to dig really deep to get to that. In fact, when we started work on this we had almost two pages of notes detailing the services we provided and the value that those services deliver to our clients. It was overwhelming just to look at it and it took us more than 100 hours of work to reduce that to the value proposition we now have. You’re going to need to roll your sleeves up and get your hands very dirty on this.

Positioning Statement

A positioning statement is a subset of your value proposition. Preferably, it should be just a few words that convey to clients and prospective clients the essence of what your practice does and the value your services deliver. Here are some of my favourite examples:

  • 7 Up: The un-cola
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Heinz: Beanz Meanz Heinze
  • M&M’s: Melts in your mouth, not in your hands

What I love about those positioning statements are their simplicity and brevity. Each one really captures what’s on offer and lets consumers know how their needs will be satisfied. I’m going to use my company’s positioning statement as an example now:

intelligent marketing that www.works! ®

In just a few words it lets people know what we do (intelligent marketing), how we do (digital and online) and delivers a promise (it www.works!). Part of our 100+ hours of work was invested in arriving at that positioning statement and we’re damned proud of it. The mechanics of creating a positioning statement for your legal practice are exactly the same as they are for any other business. Having something unique and informative will help to set your practice apart.

Putting it all together

At the end of this exercise, the idea is for you to have a written value proposition and a positioning statement for your practice. They need to be something that speaks to your targeted clients about what value your legal practice brings to them – without being so clever that the message is missed. Ideally, you want people to be able to glance at your value proposition (think about somebody driving by it if it were splashed across a billboard)and know in an instant how your practice satisfies their specific needs.

Creating a value proposition is hard work. It’s perhaps the most difficult part of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle. Properly clarified, it’s also the one thing that more than any other can unleash the power of effective marketing for your practice. It is well worth the intensive effort involved.

Part 3 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Develop Your Strategy

In Parts 1 and 2 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle, we looked at understanding your market and clarifying your value proposition. These things will drive the development of your strategy, which will later inform your choice of tactics. Before we move onto specific tactics it’s time to get serious about the big picture with your marketing.

What is a marketing strategy?

Ancient Chinese warlord philosopher Sun Tzu had this to say about strategy:

I wholeheartedly endorse that view – especially when it comes to your marketing.

It might be best to start any discussion about strategy by painting a picture of what strategy is not. What strategy is not is any standalone tactic designed to generate new clients for your practice. In the digital marketing realm think of SEO, content marketing, posting videos on YouTube, running a Google AdWords campaign – or anything else you might implement without first understanding the bigger picture. The standalone marketing activities mentioned just now are each tactics. People very often confuse tactics with strategy.

What a strategy is, is a plan of action or policy that is designed to achieve an overall aim. It’s the big picture of exactly where you’d like your marketing efforts to take you and your practice in the months and years ahead.

What’s your big picture?

You’re in professional practice for a reason. It might be for the lifestyle it affords you. It may be because you get to do something every day that you love. It could be to make a lot of money. It might be for a variety of reasons. Whatever your reason or reasons for being in professional practice are, you need to have a steady supply of new clients.

Realistically, your marketing strategy is somewhat about attempting to create an ideal vision. How would you like your practice to look a year from now? What about in three years or five years time? Your marketing strategy should be moving your practice towards that ideal picture, no matter what that ideal represents to you.

If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2 in solving The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle you’ll already have a fairly clear picture of who your ideal client is and what value you deliver to them. Your big picture marketing plan should ideally revolve around how to get more of the clients that you really want, in order to build the idealised vision of your practice. You need to be clear on that.

A small solo practitioner in commercial property who wants to expand might have a five-year vision something like this:

Over the next five years, I plan to evolve my practice into a leading advisor to developers of commercial office blocks, being constructed in south-east Queensland. I would like to run the practice from an office in the Brisbane CBD with a staff of not more than ten individuals, including four lawyers. I anticipate fees in the order of $2.3 million annually.

That big picture can now inform the strategy required to achieve the vision. At this point, you don’t need to focus on how you plan to achieve all of this. Many people do focus on the how and get themselves stuck right here – never to move forward. The how is contained in the next part of the Intelligent Marketing Puzzle, when you choose your tactics. Your objective right now is just to focus on the big picture, not what you’ll have to do in order to give it colour.

Capturing the vision – what’s your strategy?

Now that you have a vision of how you’d like your practice to look, know who your ideal client is and know what value you deliver to them, it’s time to develop a marketing strategy to achieve your goals. Your marketing strategy sets the scene for everything you’ll be doing in your business from a marketing perspective, so it’s important to spend the time required to get it right.

Our fictional commercial property lawyer knows what kind of clients they want to target and where they’d like those clients to take their practice. Their strategy might look something like this:

My marketing strategy is to engage and re-engage with commercial property developers operating in south-east Queensland, with the objective of building long-term relationships, repeat business and referrals from those clients.

Match that marketing strategy with our lawyers vision for their practice and we have a person who now knows precisely where they want to take their practice and has a strategy to get there. Yes, they still need to work out what they have to actually do in order to reach their goals – but those decisions can now be informed by an overarching plan. Their strategy is an elegant and simple statement about what needs to happen in order for their practice to grow.

A final word on strategy

The late management doyen Peter F. Drucker once described the most important characteristic of a leader as somebody possessing a clear vision of a desired state of affairs. I wholeheartedly endorse that view. Make that x 10 when it comes to your marketing strategy. If you can’t articulate your marketing strategy in a paragraph you have a serious problem on your hands. Better still if you can manage to articulate it in a single sentence. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. It takes considerable work to achieve it.

Part 4 of The Intelligent marketing Puzzle – Choose Your Tactics

So far we’ve looked at understanding your market (Part 1), clarifying your value proposition (Part 2) and developing your strategy (Part 3). Choosing your tactics is all about deciding upon the things that you will actually do on a day-to-day basis in order to engage with your market and seduce them into becoming paying clients.

What is a tactic?

In simple terms, a tactic is an action or method that is planned and used to achieve a particular strategy. Where your strategy might be about bringing an ideal set of circumstances to life, your tactics need to take into account present, real-world limitations such as finite time, lack of fulfilment capacity, budgetary constraints, etc. All of these and many other considerations will inform and to some extent dictate what you actually end up doing.

Case study

Let’s take a look at a conveyancing lawyer and see how things might work for them. We’ll assume that in putting together the first three pieces of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle they decided that their primary strategy should be to engage and re-engage with home buyers at the pre-purchase and point of purchase phase of their sales cycle, via a combination of direct lead capture and nurturing, and referral via centres of influence.

In assessing their market our conveyancing lawyer has determined that there are three critical timeframes during which they needed to engage with prospective home buyers:

1. Before purchasing a house; and

2. At the point of purchasing a house; and

3. After purchasing a house.

Time for our conveyancing lawyer to start brainstorming and come up with as many ideas as possible about how to engage during those three critical phases.

Pre-Purchase

Before purchasing we know that most buyers will be likely to investigate costs and a few other things. There are a ton of things the lawyer might be able to do in order to capture prospective buyers early. Think about whom prospective homebuyers might speak with; real estate agents, furniture removalists, local sports clubs, school principals – there are a variety of people that they may need to speak with before making a decision. Each one of these people offers an opportunity for our conveyancing lawyer to get them waving their flag – especially if the lawyer might wave their flag in return.

We know that prospective buyers will probably speak to some of the people on our conveyancers’ hit list. We also know there’s a high probability that they’ll surf the web to find out more. Why wouldn’t our conveyancing lawyer (we’ll say they’re in Newcastle)put together a small eGuide called; “Buying a Home in Newcastle – A Complete Guide to Everybody & Everything You’ll Need to Know”.

The book could be available for download from their website (in exchange for the buyer’s contact details) – as well as given away to prospective buyers by every person on our conveyancers’ list (we’ll call them centres of influence) – also in exchange for the prospective buyers contact details.

The guide could be optimised in organic search results on Google, as well as via targeted Google AdWords. What is the cost of that?

• An investment of time in writing the eGuide

• Printing a few dozen copies

• Distributing printed copies to the conveyancers’ list of contacts – then staying in touch to nurture those relationships

• SEO and/or Google AdWords

These tactics could see homebuyers delivered to our conveyancer BEFORE any other lawyer even has a chance to know that they’re in the market for conveyancing services.

Point of Purchase

Our lawyers biggest window of opportunity is when the home is purchased. Perhaps their best bet is to get the real estate agent who sold the property to engage with the buyers for them and endorse their firm. How might they do this?

There is the free eGuide of course, but what about another gesture – something bigger? Why not buy some cheap bottles of bubbles and distribute those to their real estate agents who are now centres of influence? The agents could present this “celebratory gift” on behalf of our lawyer, together with a great wrap about “…what a terrific guy (or gal) Mr or Ms Lawyer is” to each new homebuyer. Get the agent to finish up with; “I’ll get Mr or Ms Lawyer to contact you” – and have them pass the buyer’s contact information along directly to our lawyer. Again, this sort of tactic can deliver a client to our conveyancing lawyer at a time BEFORE any other lawyer even knows that our new homebuyers are in the market for legal services.

Post Purchase

If all else has failed, our conveyancing lawyer now has to compete with every other law firm that does conveyancing. What a drudge! Just the same, there are the tried and true methods that work. Local newspaper advertising, website optimised for organic search in their area, Google AdWords, retargeting of website visitors on Facebook, Google’s ad display network and other digital platforms. What about signage outside their office, or a sandwich board out on the street? If their marketing budget allows for it there’s always billboards, radio and TV. Their budget and ROI from advertising will largely dictate how much of this sort of marketing they can afford to do.

Choose your Tactics

It’s now time for our conveyancing lawyer to determine exactly what tactics they have the time, money and skills to deal with. Due to cost constraints, they may have disregarded billboard, radio and TV advertising. Maybe they already have a decent website. Maybe they have time to write a guide to buying a house in Newcastle. Maybe they know a lot of local real estate agents, but no removalists, teachers and others – so decide to focus only on real estate agents as centres of influence. Maybe they know a printer who could make a great label for those wine bottles. Maybe a lot of things!

Their tactical plan might end up looking something like this:

Tactical Plan for Newcastle Conveyancing Lawyers

Our tactical plan is first, to engage with buyers by exploiting real estate agents as centres of influence in the pre-purchase and purchase phases of our targeted prospects buying cycle. The agent’s assistance will be enlisted by providing prospective house buyers with a free information guide called “Buying a Home in Newcastle – A Complete Guide to Everybody & Everything You’ll Need to Know”. The guide will provide prospective homebuyers with a variety of useful information, present the agent and aligned local businesses in a positive light, and present our firms value proposition of “Fixed price conveyancing for homebuyers in Newcastle”. The most desired objective is to obtain the prospects contact information from the centre of influence at this point.

Additionally, centres of influence / real estate agents will be provided with Newcastle Conveyancing Lawyers branded bottles of wine to present to home buyers as a gift from our firm, at the time when they purchase a property. Agents will be encouraged to provide a hearty endorsement for the firm when presenting the gift, and state that they will pass the homebuyers information along to us. The agent will also provide homebuyers with a copy of our Guide (if they do not already have one) and direct contact details for our firm. The agent will be expected to provide the prospects contact details at this point, in all circumstances.

Our secondary tactics during the pre-purchase and purchase phases will be to market the information guide “Buying a Home in Newcastle – A Complete Guide to Everybody & Everything You’ll Need to Know” as a free download, via our firms’ website and social media pages. Visibility will be achieved utilising a combination of search engine optimisation, Google AdWords, and Remarketing through the Google AdWords display network and Facebook. The guide will also be offered in various articles that will go on the firm’s blog and be syndicated to its social media accounts, each written about subjects pertaining to purchasing a home in Newcastle. Blog posts will be optimised in organic search results on Google and on other search engines.

Our tertiary tactic is to nurture prospective purchasers via email, after capturing their contact details. Emails will be written in an informative, low key style and will address a range of issues that may be of interest to buyers. These will include topics such as how to calculate stamp duty, standard contract provisions to be wary of, pest and building inspections, etc. Each email will contain a subtle call to action that directs prospective buyers to register for “free pre-purchase legal assistance”.

Our pre-purchase, point of purchase and post-purchase tactics will be supported by prominent external signage at our premises and year-round advertising, all of which will support our “Fixed price conveyancing for homebuyers in Newcastle” value proposition, as follows;

  • Local Newspapers
  • Yellow Pages Online
  • Various Web Directories

Phew!!!

Our Newcastle conveyancing lawyer now has a clearly defined strategy and has chosen which tactics to use in order to bring their marketing strategy to life. Now it’s just down to execution, which will be the subject of Part 5 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle.

Part 5 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Execute Like Hell!

This is where the rubber really begins to hit the road and you need to start making hard decisions about what needs to be done, who will do it, when it needs to be done by, and how much you’ll need to invest to do that. This is not easy work. You are going to need to invest some real time and effort in creating a workable marketing plan.

If you have not yet invested the time to put together the first four pieces of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle, now would be a good time to go back and review those steps. Choosing what tactics you’ll employ BEFORE you’ve first developed a cohesive strategy will most likely be the kiss of death for whatever marketing you implement. You may get lucky and kick a goal or two. With a good strategy in place, you won’t just kick a goal or two, you’ll win the game. Let’s get started.

Why most marketing plans fail

There is a very simple reason why most marketing plans fail: Failure to execute. Some businesses spend enormous amounts of time and money, putting together fancy looking, bound marketing plans. Their marketing plans contain wondrous words like “market segmentation” and display colourful pie charts. Some have entire sections dedicated to TV and radio ads – none of which will ever be produced – and show off stunning front-page graphics. I don’t know why any law firm would even bother with this sort of stuff. Almost without exception, it’s completely unusable rubbish!

Who does what, when and how?

When it comes to executing your marketing plan, consistency is a key consideration. Let’s stick with our mythical conveyancing lawyer that you met in Part 4 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle. We know that they have decided to implement a range of tactics, which have been informed by their strategy. A quick review tells us that the tasks required to execute these tactics necessitate a broad range of skills. In no particular order these include;

Budgeting

Somebody needs to set a marketing budget. It is possible to market without money. It’s also extremely difficult. The person in the business who controls the purse strings is going to have to make this decision based upon real-world considerations. Spend too little and a lack of results can be assured. Spend too much, and the cost of acquiring customers becomes too great for the business to sustain. You should know your business well enough to have at least a basic handle on this already.

NB: For the purposes of later examples I’ll be using in this article an initial budget of $10,000 has been assumed, with a recurring monthly budget of not more than $4,000.

Copywriting

Somebody is going to have to write the eGuide. They will also need to write a landing page on the company’s website that offers the eGuide to prospective homebuyers. They’ll need to write blogs, emails and ads for Google, Facebook, Yellow Pages Online, local advertising directories, and the local newspaper. That’s a whole lot of writing!

Graphic Design

Somebody will need to design a cover for the eGuide and make it look visually appealing. They may also need some assistance with design elements for their website, social media pages, print based ads, external signage, any additional marketing collateral that they decide to produce such as wine bottle labels, brochures and business cards.

Webmaster

Unless the firm has somebody who knows how to configure a download feature, embed a lead capture form and set up an autoresponder, they will need a Webmaster or programmer to assist with their website.

SEO

Somebody will need to take care of the search engine optimisation of their website in local search. Organic search results are far and away the most economical way to get visitors to your website. Who in the firm knows anything at all about SEO and is able to take care of it?

Social Media

Somebody will need to take charge of the creation and ongoing management of the firms’ social media accounts. If they don’t already know how to do so, they will need to learn how to distribute blog content through social media channels as it is produced, handle the development of Likers / Followers, respond to on page messages, etc.

Sales

Somebody will have to become the face of the firm, go out to meet with real estate agents, and get them to become centres of influence. They will need to visit them regularly in order to reinforce the firm’s value proposition, replenish supplies of eGuides and wine, and generally massage those relationships.

Advertising Manager

Somebody will need to assume responsibility for liaising with advertising providers, such as print and digital based companies. They’ll need to arrange and approve copy, meet deadlines for lodgement, negotiate prices, etc.

AdWords & PPC

Somebody will need to establish and manage pay per click accounts, such as AdWords and Facebook, split test, purge and regularly create fresh ads. Who in the firm has the experience and time to do this?

I’m guessing that by now you’re seeing just how quickly doing all of that can become a mess – and fast! The only effective way to ensure this is done is to develop an execution plan – and make people responsible to one and other for implementing what’s in the plan. Either do that, or you’ll need to outsource all or most of what needs to be done to somebody who can skillfully take care of it for you.

For now, I’ll assume that you want to do (most of) it yourself. Here’s a general outline of an action plan to get things up and running. You’ll need an Initiation Plan to get things off the starting block, and an Execution Plan to keep things running. I’ll cover both.

Project Manager

In order to keep things really on track, we’re going to appoint a project manager for this. The role of the project manager will be to follow up with people and ensure that everything is completed on time. The project manager will have a few things to do too, so they’ll have somebody to report to as well. After discussing who is best suited to do which tasks, we’re going to make Sue (the office manager of our mythical conveyancing lawyers) the project manager. Fred is the firm principal. Mary and Dave are both paralegals. We’re going to try to be ready and raring to go within three weeks.

Our Initiation Plan

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

We’ll assume that everything went well and that all of the tasks on our list were completed to a satisfactory standard, within the three-week timeframe allowed (it is, after all, a mythical law firm). It’s time for another meeting where our people will decide who is best suited to take care of all the action steps that will be required on a day to day basis in order to keep the marketing plan moving forward. Sue did a great job of project managing the Initiation Plan. We’re going to place her in charge of the Execution Plan too. Now it’s time to start executing like hell!

Our Execution Plan

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

Our Newcastle based law firm has now created a workable plan to implement the marketing tactics that will drive their strategy – and hopefully their sales. They know exactly what needs to be done, who is responsible for doing it, when it has to be done by – and who is accountable for making sure that it’s done. If they’re smart, they produce a plan like this for the whole year ahead – not just the initial three months of the campaign. They can modify the plan later on.

In Part 6 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle, we’ll be taking a look at measuring your results, which is the only objective way to know if what you are implementing is achieving your strategy – or just burning valuable time and money. It’s also how you make your marketing become predictable.

Part 6 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Measure Your Results

If you’ve been putting the pieces of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle together, you should by now have a fairly detailed marketing plan. The simple reality is that if you have a plan and follow it through, you will definitely do a whole lot more business than what you will without planning and consistent execution.

To get the most out of your marketing plan you’ll also need to measure your results. There are many free and paid tools that you can use to measure certain metrics, and in time you might want to do that. The important thing, for now, is to understand what you wish to measure and devise a simple way to do it. You can build more complexity into your monitoring as you progress.

Why measure your results?

Over time, measuring your results allows you to:

• Minimise or completely eliminate marketing activities that produce few or poor quality clients

• Focus more of your time, effort and money on marketing activities that produce the clients you really want

• Understand and ultimately reduce your cost of client acquisition

• Build high levels of predictability into your marketing activities

If that doesn’t excite you into wanting to measure your results then I don’t know what will!

What to measure

What you really want to know is what’s working for you and how much that costs. Tracking this can be as simple as using a piece of paper and a pen, with some simple arithmetic added in later – plus making damned sure that you consistently record what you want to know. I’m going to stick with our mythical conveyancing lawyer to illustrate how this might be done.

Our lawyer has decided to use the following marketing advertising/discovery mediums:

  • Facebook/Blog (Direct)
  • LinkedIn/Blog (Direct)
  • Local Newspaper Ad
  • Referrals (Agents)
  • Referrals (Others)
  • Street Signage
  • Yellow Pages Online
  • Web Directories
  • Website (AdWords/PPC)
  • Website (Search/SEO)

In this campaign, our lawyer wants to attract new conveyancing clients. All of these marketing mediums will offer fixed price conveyancing.

What does our lawyer already know?

Let’s take a look at what our conveyancing lawyer knows right now:

Direct Upfront Costs

The spreadsheet below shows the direct upfront costs, in dollars. The second column displays “per-use” costs for items such as bottles of bubbles which can be calculated and expensed, as consumed. The third column is for upfront costs that might reasonably be amortized over a period of time, such as PPC and SEO setup fees, as these are generally a onetime expense. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve chosen 12 months as the period for all amortized expenses. Both per-use and amortized costs can now easily be taken into account when calculating your return on investment from marketing costs.

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

There are some other costs that our lawyer could add in if they wanted to make it complicated. They already have a website. They’ve already met the cost of that some time ago, so all they need to do right now is meet the cost of editing the site to reflect their fixed fee conveyancing offer and add a landing page for their free eGuide. Our lawyer has to pay staff and other overheads regardless of what marketing takes place, so that’s been left out of the equation too. You know there are many other costs associated with running your practice. It’s your spreadsheet, so make it as simple or as complicated as you want to. Personally, I’d keep it really simple, just for now.

Recurring or Monthly Costs

We’re going to use the information we have to work out the recurring or monthly costs of conducting this marketing campaign. Some of it is really easy. If our lawyer gives away a bottle of bubbles, that costs them $10.50, including the cost of the label. A paper-based eGuide costs them $1.70. Easy peezy! Let’s take a look at those less tangible expenses and how to group them.

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

As you can see, I’m not a great graphic designer. I’ve used colour in order to make it easier to understand how expenses might be grouped together, in order to work out how much each source of new business is costing you. For example, if you look at PPC Setup, PPC Management and PPC Ads I’ve grouped all of that together – including the amortized monthly cost of the initial setup. I’ve done the same with bottles of bubbles and labels, but in that case, we have a known cost per item – so I’ve simply estimated a certain level of usage per month for those items.

Later, you’ll see that I’m going to consolidate some of these costs even more. For example, to me, it makes a lot of sense to consolidate and split the amortized cost of graphic design and website editing/programming equally between SEO and PPC – making that cost directly attributable to a metric you can easily measure. You might want to consolidate printed eGuides and bottles of bubbles too, as they both belong to the cost centre associated with referrals from real estate agents. Again, it gets down to what you want to measure and how complex you want to get. I’d keep it simple.

Don’t Blow the Budget!

It’s important to try and stick to a budget that your practice can afford. We can now easily see that our lawyer needs to invest $7,157 upfront in this marketing campaign, which actually includes the first month’s cost of several recurring items such as YellowPages Online, some web directory ads and local newspaper advertising. This is well inside the $10,000 budget initially set for upfront costs.

Monthly direct costs are estimated at $3,699. Again, this is well within the $4,000 per month budget set earlier.

Looking good? Time to set a sales forecast.

Sales Forecasts

You’re never going to forecast sales correctly. That’s especially true when you have limited or no information to work with from your past marketing efforts. There will be some things that you’ll be able to figure out without a lot of trouble. In the case of our fictional lawyer, they know from previous research that on average a homebuyer will spend $1,239 on their fixed price conveyance of $695, when other services (in particular Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney) are sold as add-on services. They also know that around 30% of new clients will come back again at some future point in time. For now, let’s assume that each new conveyancing client generates $1,239 in revenue for the practice. Let’s take a stab at forecasting three months worth of sales.

We’ll shoot for one new conveyancing client for each working day over the next three months. Let’s say that’s 60 days – so we want 60 new conveyancing clients from all sources. 60 x $1,239 = $74,340 in revenue. We now have a very simple sales forecast.

You may have a lot more information to work with, in your practice. Perhaps you’ve been actively marketing for several years and have been tracking new client sources, average client spend, client return rates, etc. In that case, you can create something more complex (and considerably more accurate). In the absence of such information, the best you can do is take a stab at it. Just do it and live with the imperfection.

Time to create a tracking system

Our lawyer can now create a simple inquiry tracking system. When I say simple, it can be as simple as a paper form on the reception desk, next to the phone. On the form the person answering the phone or who greets walk-in clients marks off the lead source, by simply asking new inquiries where they found out about the firm. The user places a 1 next to the inquiry source each time an inquirer confirms where they first found out about the practice. Effective doesn’t need to be complicated.

The form might look something like this:

In the real world (especially if you employ professional assistance) you will very likely have analytics tracking in place on your website that tracks a range of activity, including leads capture, phones calls and a whole range of other useful information. The “how to” of all that is way beyond the scope of this article. In reality, what you see above works just fine most of the time. When I first started to track inbound inquiries in my accounting practice this was exactly what we used. Once again, you can get as complicated as you want with this. I’m a great believer in simple.

Three months later…

Part 7 of the Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – Review, Refine & Repeat

After all of your hard work we’re about to place the final piece of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle – or are we? Really, we’re about to look critically at what you’ve done already, review the results, decide what’s working (or working best), determine what’s not working so well – and then make some important decisions based upon the facts. Let’s get right into it!

Gather your data

In Part 6 of The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle we looked at our mythical conveyancing lawyer and the data they had gathered before launching their first three-month marketing campaign. We’re going to now take a look at the results of the campaign and use that information in conjunction with the data we gathered earlier to analyse the results. Here’s what they produced in terms of new conveyancing clients at the end of their first three-month campaign. The spreadsheet includes new clients, gross fees generated and the average fee generated per new client from each marketing source:

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

In this case, every marketing tactic that our lawyer employed over the three-month campaign produced something. It’s already clear that some marketing sources produced more new clients than others and that the average client spend for each marketing category differs significantly. Let’s take a look now at what it costs our lawyer to generate each new client.

Our lawyer already has a spreadsheet that shows them the monthly cost of each advertising medium. All they need to do is work out the number of bottles of bubbles and printed eGuides they’ve given away, and working out their cost of sales becomes quite straightforward. In the spreadsheet below I’ve assumed that our lawyer has given away 32 bottles of bubbles and 47 printed eGuides over the three month period of their marketing campaign. I’ve also consolidated a few cost centres, as mentioned earlier, just for the sake of simplicity.

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

Review your results

Working out the cost per client is as simple as dividing Total Cost by New Clients (see above). That’s not the whole story though. What we really want to know about is the return on investment (ROI) generated by each type of ad.

Calculate your ROI

There are many ways to calculate ROI. A very simple method is to take Total Revenue and subtract from that the Total Cost (see below). You then divide that figure by Total Cost. The spreadsheet below uses this extremely simple method to calculate our lawyers ROI on each category of ad spend. Just note that this method does not produce an ROI figure for what are effectively cost-free new clients, such as direct referrals. Simple common sense applies here.

The table above shows us that not all of the advertising that our lawyer undertook produced a positive ROI – it cost them money for nothing! A quick glance at the table reveals their costliest marketing tactic (Web Directories) had had a negative ROI of -19.66%. By contrast, referrals from real estate agents produced a very healthy ROI of 4,372.75%, with a solid average client spend of $1,278. Our Lawyer is now armed with a great deal of information to inform what they should be doing during their next three months of their marketing campaign.

Refine your tactics

Our lawyer needs to take a critical look at each tactic used in their campaign in order to decide if they should continue using that tactic or not. To keep it simple, we’ll assume that our lawyer is going to continue with their fixed fee conveyancing offer and will attract a similar number of new clients and a similar amount of revenue for each tactic employed over the next three months.

Costs will vary a little from our lawyers first campaign. In order to decide what tactics stay and what tactics are dispensed with, our lawyer has chosen an objective standard of a 150% ROI (1.5 times their investment) as the “knockout” benchmark. For a tactic to be used again it will need to hit that ROI benchmark.

Using the knockout benchmark of 150% ROI our lawyer is immediately able to eliminate both YellowPages Online and web directory ads from the next three months of their campaign, saving them a total of $484 monthly – or just over 13% of their monthly marketing budget. That money can go straight to their bottom line or be poured back into more productive forms of advertising.

Our lawyer might look at any number of other metrics here as well. AdWords/PPC is clearly a costly tactic at $418 per new client – but it does produce a consistent number of new clients for the practice. By comparison, SEO produces fewer clients but each has a significantly greater dollar value and lower acquisition cost for the practice. Should our lawyer divert some of their monthly AdWords/PPC budget to SEO?

Estate agent referrals offer a huge ROI for our lawyer. Should they do some more outreach to local real estate agents and see if they can create more centres of influence amongst them, as referrers? What is the personal time commitment required for our lawyer to do this? Can somebody else in the practice take care of this? Should they consider employing somebody either part or full-time to take care of this for them?

The options are endless when you have good quality information to work with. The longer you gather that information, the more informed your decision making can become and the more profitable your marketing will be.

Refine your plan

Our lawyer and their team now need to step through each tactic and make a decision about what is the best way forward with their marketing plan over the next three months. Let’s take a look at each tactic not already knocked out and consider the opportunities.

Blog, Facebook & LinkedIn

Each team member involved in creating blogs and posting them to social media takes an average of 45 minutes to write and post a blog, then link it to social media. At an average of three blogs per month, a group investment of around two an a quarter hours per month is required to continue with this activity. Using our available data we can easily calculate that blogging and social media posts generate an average of one new client a month and average revenue of $737 per client.

The SEO consultant engaged by our lawyer has advised that there are organic search benefits attached to regularly posting blogs on their website and sharing them on social media. Whilst that benefit appears to be a little less tangible, new clients acquired as a result of search/SEO are of higher average value than all other new client sources and offer an attractive ROI for the practice.

On this basis, blogging and social media sharing gets the tick of approval and stays in the campaign, unchanged.

Local Newspaper Ad

Local newspaper ads have produced a return of close to 825%. Whilst the average spend of clients acquired this way is rather low at $751, the ROI is just great, so local newspaper ads get to stay in the marketing mix. Would it be possible to push up the average spend of these clients in some way?

Our team decides to develop a fixed price offer for back-to-back Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney, which they hope might encourage these clients to spend more money, on average. That fixed price offer can be used for all new clients.

Sue is placed in charge of developing an offer, which the team will review and decide how to implement within the next two weeks.

Referrals (Agents)

Our lawyer clearly has a winning formula here with an ROI of over 4,370% and a respectable average client spend of $1,278. This tactic is worthy of plenty of attention from our team and is certainly going to stay in the marketing plan.

Before the team met, our lawyer decided not to allow another team member to handle relationships with local real estate agents. Once a relationship has been developed, it would be easy for any lawyer to leave the firm and simply continue with that relationship at another firm. No, this one is important. Our lawyer will take care of this themselves.

Our lawyer announces to the team that they’ll be hiring another lawyer or two to assist with all of the new business now coming through the door. In reality, they are freeing up their time to focus on building relationships with local real estate agents.

Referrals (Others)

This is effectively free business and stays in the plan. It’s notable that the average client spend from this source is a respectable $1,124. Some discussion is had about how to incentivise existing clients to refer new clients. Perhaps a reward could be offered, such as the firms increasingly sought-after bottles of bubbles?

Each team member agrees to come back to the table armed with one idea for motivating existing clients to refer new clients, when they next meet in two weeks time, to discuss the fixed price offer for Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney.

Street Signage

Improving the firms street signage proved to be a pleasant surprise! Amortizing the cost over one year, the average cost of acquiring a new client via that means is just $58. After 12 months that cost becomes zero. There were concerns expressed about the low average spend per client, from this source. The team concludes that people walk in looking to take advantage of their fixed price conveyancing offer of $695. This is reflected in the lower than average client spend of just $689.

The team agrees that they should attempt to push up average client spend with the yet to be introduced fixed price Will and Enduring Power of Attorney package.

A team member also suggests other forms of outdoor advertising such as the sides of bus shelters and billboards. Given the overall success of outdoor signage in attracting new clients, this is deemed worthy of further investigation. Sue is assigned to work through the various options for outdoor advertising and report back to the team at their meeting in two weeks time.

Website (AdWords/PPC)

At an average client acquisition cost of $418 AdWords/PPC are looking like a fairly expensive way to acquire new clients. At $2,330 per month (including amortized costs)AdWords/PPC has represented almost 63% of the firms overall monthly advertising spend. Rightly, everyone expresses concern about this.

Prior to the meeting our lawyer and Sue have spent some time with the consultant they hired to take care of this for the practice. They are greatly encouraged by what they are told and the visibly improving click-through rates, costs per click, conversion rates, etc. They can see that the ROI from AdWords/PPC is very likely to improve quite a bit over the next quarter and tell the team as much.

For now, AdWords/PPC stays in the marketing mix.

Website (Search/SEO)

Clients acquired through search/SEO spend more on average than any other new client. Nobody knows why. They just know that they do. Interestingly, five of the nine new clients generated from search/SEO came to the firm in the last month of the marketing campaign. This is in line with the incremental improvements in organic search rankings seen by our lawyer and Sue when they met with the firms SEO consultant.

Provided the firm is able to continue improving both the rank and diversity of keywords on Google, it appears that their continued investment in SEO will be very well rewarded over time.

SEO is a keeper.

Other Sources

During the current campaign, no other sources of new clients were identified.

Rinse & Repeat

Let’s take a look at our lawyers revised marketing tactics and see what the impact is likely to be on new clients, revenue and ROI, simply by eliminating underperforming advertising methods.

NB: You’ll find this easier to view on a desktop or laptop!

By eliminating two underperforming marketing methods our lawyer has immediately achieved all of the following:

  • Reduced their monthly advertising spend by $484, or just on 13% of their budget.
  • Impacted potential new client numbers by only two clients, or less than 3%.
  • Impacted potential revenue by just $1,488, or a touch over 2%.
  • Increased average ROI from 1,000.95% to 1,395.37%.

In addition, our lawyer and their team have discovered a new way to potentially increase the average amount of new revenue generated per new client and are investigating new avenues for marketing, based upon the information they now possess about what works – and what doesn’t. It’s now time to rinse and repeat.

You can be optimistic that when our lawyer and their team introduce their fixed cost packages for Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorneys, they will likely see an increase in average revenues per new client. They already know from experience that fixed price packages are attractive to their market and they will very likely prove to be a winner. They’ll be tracking results and by the next review of their marketing plan, they’ll know for sure if its working or not.

If investigations into outdoor advertising work out and they decide to give it a try, they’ll be tracking the results from that too and will have objective information to help them assess its ongoing viability as a marketing medium.

It’s the same story with our lawyer and their increased outreach to local real estate agents. They will be carefully tracking and monitoring the results from that, as well.

They have planned their marketing. Now all they need to do is keep working their plan.

Some final thoughts

It’s been my great pleasure to guide you through The Intelligent Marketing Puzzle. I hope that this might set you on the path to transforming your marketing as a result of putting all of the pieces together. It’s a lot of hard work to build reliable, predictable marketing systems that provide a solid ROI. That said, I promise that the rewards and feeling of control that you’ll gain really do justify the effort.

I encourage you to comment below or message me directly with your feedback. You can even pick up the phone and give me a call on +612 8091 3955 (Australia). The mission of my company is to put predictability and profit into the marketing systems of business owners – and especially those in professional practice. I live and breathe this almost every waking hour. It’s what I truly love to do. I wish you the very best of luck with solving your own Intelligent Marketing Puzzle.

Outsourcing to the Philippines – Change your Expectations

At one time I had quite a large number of outsourced staff (40+) located mostly in the Philippines. I now live in the Philippines and have done for about eight years. I lived in China on and off for a couple of years before that. I’d say that anyone contemplating outsourcing anything more than a few workers to Asia (and the Philippines in particular) needs to understand and accept a few very harsh realities of doing business in this way. Here are the top things that I learned over the years.

Ignore Qualifications

You’ll find it best to virtually eliminate any thought of using university qualifications as a guide to what a prospective employee might (or should) know or be able to do. With the notable exception of the top three or four Philippines universities, the typical standard of graduate that the country pumps out is very ordinary, to say the least. I’ve had the experience of employing graduates of four year IT/programming degrees who were unable to deal with rudimentary HTML, CSS or Javascript. I’ve employed English graduates who were unable to construct an intelligible sentence in English. These are not exceptional experiences. Speak with anyone who’s been employing people from the Philippines for an extended period and you’ll hear much the same thing.

Understand that this lack of knowledge and practical skills are NOT the fault of the young people you’ll be employing. They are very often bright young people and are themselves victims of a corrupt and highly inefficient education system. Rest assured that lack of knowledge doesn’t render them any less capable of learning how to do things properly, with your help and guidance. Be aware that often, you’ll need to get them doing something well outside their area of graduate training. The Philippines call centres are loaded with these types of graduates, who are virtually unemployable in their chosen occupation outside of the Philippines. The call centres feed on them – and you’ll most likely need to adopt a similar attitude in order to make employing Pinoys work for you.

Change your Expectations!

Leading on from ignoring qualifications; if you think for one moment that you will get the same work performance from a typical Filipino that you will from a typical westerner, you are going to be sadly disappointed. There are RARE exceptions to this rule. It’s cultural as much as anything else. That means it isn’t wrong – it just isn’t what most western employers expect. You cannot expect to instil western-style values in a Filipino. They have (and are entitled) to their own set of values. You need to respect and understand that those values will never be what yours are. Accept this right now, or don’t even think about employing Pinoys.

My rule of thumb is to work through what I’d expect of a fresh graduate coming to work for me in Australia and multiply that by 66%. I can’t qualify exactly why but that seems to work for me.

Break Everything into Tasks & Micro-Manage

You cannot leave these people to their own devices and expect decent output any more than you could with a western worker. People need to be directed and managed. They need your feedback about whether or not they are doing a good job. They need to know what the hell they are supposed to be doing! So often, I’ve seen inexperienced employers will hire a VA and just expect the poor person to know what to do. It doesn’t work like that. You have to direct and guide these people, just as you would with any other employee – even people located in your office. They are not mind-readers.

Break all work down into tasks. In fact, if you can’t break the work into very specific tasks, you should not even consider outsourcing to the Philippines (or anywhere else). You need to set out the quantum of tasks to be achieved within the workday, set objective standards for what constitutes satisfactory task completion, have daily reporting mechanisms in place to monitor task completion – and let them know that you will inspect what you expect. Telling people that they are doing a good job never goes astray either. If you like their work tell them and reward them.

Anything less than all of this – and you’re screwed – I give an iron-clad guarantee on this one!

Employ Local Managers

Once you grow beyond a handful of employees (I’d suggest around five is the magic number) hire a local person to manage those people. There are a thousand and one (or more) cultural things that you’ll just never “get”. Having a local person deal with these issues will save you time, money and a load of anguish. I’ve always tended to promote internally. Find somebody who seems to have the right stuff to manage, groom them, give them one or two people to work with, then gradually increase the management workload – and transition them out of the other work they are doing. Works like a charm.

Oh, and don’t forget to manage your new manager!

Pride is Everything

Throughout Asia (and in the Philippines particularly) “PRIDE” and loss of face are something that we westerners cannot relate to in the way that Asians do. For example; Filipinos are “proud to be Pinoy”. There is no discernible reason or logic behind it that we westerners might be able to relate to – but it’s absolutely real to them. Stand on their pride (which is very, very easy to do) and you’re going to have a big staff turnover problem. Piss them off badly enough and they’ll want to kill you. This one is very hard to explain. Just be ULTRA respectful – even on the many occasions that your outsourced staff are going to get it wrong – and hire that local manager ASAP!

Pay People on Time

Any outsourced worker who has been at it for a while will have been scammed by some westerner who gets this wonderful idea to outsource – then fails to pay the worker. You will find a high degree of scepticism amongst experienced outsourced workers and for good reason. Paying people on time gives you the edge because you then have staff that good candidates can call. These staff will tell others what a good company you are to work for and confirm your integrity. Word of mouth carries huge weight in outsourcing. You’ll find too that happy workers will refer their friends, making recruitment of good people a whole lot easier.

Also, a word of caution about the Philippines banking system. It’s genuinely like something from the late 20th century, in the west. When you lump that in with power and internet that frequently do not work and people who work for these organisations that do not care how badly you or your staff are being inconvenienced, you have a serious problem. No matter what you do, paying people on time is often going to be a problem. If you are having issues you need to tell your staff about it at the earliest possible time. Tell the truth and you’ll find them to be generally understanding. I might write another article on making payments to Philippines based employees. it can be a nightmare.

The Final Word

Please spare me the “racist” bullshit because of what I’ve said. I’m not a racist. I LIVE in the Philippines and have a beautiful and intelligent Pinay as my wife. What I’ve said is factual and based on the hands-on experience of doing for the last ten plus years what I hear others talking about doing. I know there are others out there who’ve done this too – and guarantee that if they have done outsourcing in any real numbers that their experience will reflect my own. Outsourcing is a well worthwhile exercise if you can put the systems together to pull it off. No systems = waste of time, money and effort

Put in the groundwork and develop robust systems BEFORE you start employing outsourced staff, or find somebody who already has those systems in place and let them do it for you. Best of luck with it!

The Best Thank You Email I’ve Ever Seen

My daughter got this awesome thank you note yesterday, after purchasing on eBay. It’s just way too good not to share in its unedited entirety.

“Hi [daughter],

Thanks for your order at [vendor]

We just want to let you know that your item has been meticulously gathered, placed on a red velvet pillow, and delicately escorted by 25 of our finest employees to our shipping department. Our master shipper has dutifully performed her craft, lovingly packing your order in the finest materials known to man . . .or woman!

Our team gathered to give your package the proper send-off it deserved. Tears of joy were shed, speeches were given, and there was even a farewell cake! Mmmmm . . . .cake . . .

Following the festivities, the whole group, led by our local high school marching band playing the song Leaving on a Jet Plane, ushered your order through our warehouse doors. No, we don’t own a Jet Plane, but your package was placed in the care of a roguishly handsome man who is riding in a majestic horse-drawn carriage which is on its way to your address as you read this. Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to you we go . . .

Although the item you’ve ordered will be sorely missed here at [vendor], we are overjoyed that it has found a good home. Take care of it, treasure it, and make sure you share it with us on facebook, twitter, or just send us an email, we love to see our items in action!

*Note the above is a slight dramatization of what actually happened with your order, but seriously we have packed it and it will be leaving us today!! We have updated the tracking info for you.

If you have any questions about the tracking of your item, please contact us and we will happily chase the roguish man to track your item. This may or may not involve running down our street. We’re totally ok with that.”

If you don’t love your item as much as we do, let us know and we can sort out any issue.”

I’d usually add something, but in this case, words just fail me. Awesome!!!

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