Finding Your Audience
Learning how to market your business to find the best audience possible.
Starting your own business is difficult. From filing LLC documentation, to obtaining a Tax ID Number, to opening a bank account, to finding the right accountant to make sure you did all of the first few things correctly, there are a number of hoops that a small business owner has to jump through just to get started. Then there’s the worry about what happens to you if you get sick and cannot afford health insurance (especially with the Coronavirus lurking behind every corner), how you will pay next month’s rent on such a tight budget, and, of course, questioning whether you made the right decision in the first place. The most difficult aspect about starting your own business, however, is the most obvious one: Where will my clients come from? I can think of a few different answers to this question.
The first thing you can do is advertise. Facebook is a relatively cheap option for promoting your brand. Its advertising feature allows users and business owners to narrow their target-market to a specific subset of consumers. Although Google is a little more expensive if you want to self-promote, you can hire firms to help with Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) so that your business appears at the top of the search results. These SEO firms are not cheap, however. For small business owners on a shoe-string budget, most firms are likely out of their price range. Likewise, it makes almost no sense for new small business owners to hire a firm to create a business website. Right now, you are reading this on a website powered by Squarespace. Between the main site and my calendaring system (which you can see and use under Schedule an Appointment), I think I pay close to $30 per month. That is nothing compared to what a web design firm would charge. Plus, it can be really rewarding to say that you to others that designed the website yourself, especially if it looks nice and is easy to use.
The next thing you can do is get involved in your community. In the age of social media, we forget that real human connection comes from face-to-face personal interaction, not online. We are social creatures, we are not meant to sit behind a screen. If you expect to bring in business solely from advertising on the internet, you will not be a successful business owner. There is a lot to be said about a good conversation with a stranger. I find that LinkedIn is a great jumping-off point for starting those conversations, but it is not the best way to build business. If you really want to grow your business, you need to go beyond the initial LinkedIn conversation and actually meet in person. When you do this, you learn what your new connection is looking for, you can learn how best to think on your feet and optimize your time with that person, and you can find new and better ways to sell your services to that person. But, and this is a big but, you should never lie to the person with whom you are having a conversation just to make yourself look better. It is important for any small business owner to know their limitations. As Socrates said, “The wise man knows what he doesn’t know.” That same principal applies to small business owners: “The wise small business owner knows what (s)he does not know.”
But do not just engage with people outside of your profession. You must engage with others in your profession if you wish to really excel as a small business owner. As a lawyer, this is relatively easy for me. I am heavily involved with the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (“BAMSL”). In fact, I am currently running to be Chair-Elect of BAMSL’s Young Lawyers’ Division (“YLD”). Through BAMSL, I have met some incredible attorneys—rookies and veterans. They are always willing to help should I have any questions; and when a client asks me something that I do not know, I am not afraid to tell them that I do not know because I have a large back-bench of attorneys willing to help me answer my client’s question.
Finally, and perhaps the most importantly: Know your values. If you start a small business solely in pursuit of money, you will not succeed. Money is great, and it is important, but it should not be your main focus. Instead, you should focus on what you are truly selling: Yourself.
Each of us has a core set of values. But there is a difference between having those values and living those values. You can believe in the Golden Rule, but if you do not actually treat others the way you wish to be treated in your everyday life, you are nothing but a fraudster. As a small business owner, your values and beliefs should permeate throughout every aspect of your business. For me, I believe that clients should control the attorney-client relationship, not the other way around. So, I give them the requisite knowledge necessary to make Estate Planning decisions for themselves. Sure, I help guide them through the process, and I explain the pros and cons of certain Estate Plans, but, ultimately they decide what is best for them.
Lawyers often forget just how smart their clients really are. That is not due to any sort of superiority complex or arrogance, it is simply a product of how we are trained in law school. We are consistently told that we know more than the general public. And while this may be true with regard to “The Law,” it is not that we are smarter than everyone else, rather, we simply have a different set of knowledge than non-lawyers. It is important to remember that your clients have just as much autonomy as you, that they have just as much decision-making power as you, and that they think just as freely as you. By giving clients choices, by explaining those choices to them, and by making them feel apart of the legal process, lawyers can better endear themselves to their clients and engender trust within that attorney-client relationship. Knowing this, and incorporating it into your practice, is the best ways to advocate for yourself and grow your business. The return on your investment into the attorney-client relationship will allow you to reap the dividends of that trusted relationship later down the road when your clients return with other legal problems.
So, to wrap this thing up, while there are many different ways to find clients, the most valuable and rewarding method of doing so is to know who you are as a person first, and then live out that knowledge through every interaction with colleagues and clients. Your business is only as good as you are. So know who you are first; the money will come later.