Learn To Give “Value-In-Advance”

Much of my approach to marketing my law practice derives from the two years I had one-on-one business development coaching sessions with Bob Kohn of Kohn Communications. First and foremost, he helped me get past the discomfort I had with asking for business (though I’ll confess this is still tough for me). In particular, he helped me appreciate that offering my services as a lawyer is quite different from trying to recruit a friend into Amway.

Even if one-on-one business development coaching is beyond your means, you can still benefit from the Kohn Communications model, since Bob and his brother Larry distilled their approach into a fine book, Selling in Your Comfort Zone (ABA 2009). One of the strategies Bob taught me, which he discusses in the book is giving “value-in-advance.” To do it justice, I’m going to skip my own description of this concept and simply quote the Kohns:

“‘Value-in-advance’ is the strategy of offering something for free as a way of allowing your targets to experience a sample of the benefits that you offer. If you were selling a product, then ‘value-in-advance’ might be a sample of the product.” (Id. at 71.)

According to the Kohns, value-in-advance serves multiple purposes. Among these–and why it is especially useful for me–is that it creates a reason/opportunity to reach out to one’s targets that is, at its best, positive and, at worst, neutral. In other words, by trying to offer something valuable in advance, you are taking an uncomfortable, potentially negative experience, and making it a hopefully positive one for both you and your target. Even if the “value” you offer in advance is not ultimately useful to your target, the exchange will likely be viewed at worst as neutral.

The Kohns point to how Gillette sent free Mach III razors to potential customers as a simple example of value-in-advance. Because I sell information, advice, strategy and representation rather than razor blades, I prefer to provide information, advice and strategy in advance, whether it is by an alert, a speech/presentation or providing counseling without charging for my time. Further, since I practice in an area–employment law–which experiences almost constant changes in the law, I truly believe that the information I provide for free brings value to my audience, or targets.

Many people I consider business development “targets” are not really potential clients. Rather, they are often folks whom I believe are, or will be, positioned to refer potential clients to me at some point in the future. For some reason I don’t completely understand, I find it much easier to “sell” myself to referral sources than to prospective clients. In any event, another type of value-in-advance which the Kohns discuss, and which I find both easy and valuable, is to bring together–through introductions–people whom I believe will benefit in some meaningful way from knowing one another. One example could be introducing a lawyer or accountant who specializes in the entertainment industry with a contact in the entertainment industry who could benefit from their services.

The Kohns discuss this kind of giving value-in-advance as follows:

“Introducing quality people to each other communicates compatibility and capability. It demonstrates that you know quality people. And, as those people interact with each other, it strengthens their emotional connection to you.” (Id. at 73.)

One would be naive to ignore the potential risks of making introductions, and I don’t make them blindly. The Kohns acknowledge these risks. They say:

“Many people are afraid to make introductions because of the possibility that the people you introduce may not get along. Or worse, they may do a deal that goes badly. It is important that when you make an introduction, you are proud of the people you are introducing. Also, you don’t need to make warranties. Rather, you should state that you are introducing people with the understanding that they get to know each other and decide for themselves if they feel comfortable working together.” (Id. at 75.)

Venture capitalist Mark Suster, who is not only a friend, but also someone I’ve come to view as a kind of “success mentor,” creates an even stronger argument for being “judicious” in deciding whether and to whom to make introductions. In his blog, Both Sides of the Table, he writes:

“Intros. They’re the lifeblood of networking – the currency of mavens. They are your route to angel money. Your entrée to sales meetings.

We couldn’t live without them.

But when misused, overused or abused they can diminish your personal brand, consume your valuable time and waste time of the relationships you value the most.

* * *

[H]ere’s the thing – every time you send an introduction you’re obligating people. At a minimum you’re obligating them to ignore the email and feel like an arse for not responding to your introduction. More likely they either end up finding an excuse not to meet, delaying a meeting indefinitely or in most cases actually taking a meeting.

Over-introducers also consume a lot of personal time in making intros. It is very time consuming doing intros the right way. Ask yourself the tough question about how you might spend that time more productively getting your job done well.”

Suster’s post has some useful thoughts and guidelines on when to make (or not make) introductions, and I recommend it.

The real takeaway here is that giving value-in-advance, whether through free razor blades, alerts about employment law developments or making quality introductions, can be a terrific way to market your product or practice without overtly marketing your product or practice. Check out the Kohns’ book for other ideas.

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If You’re Going to Blog, Skip The Gimmicks

I came across an unfortunate recent post on the Lawyerist (aka “the Puddle”) entitled, “5 Tips to Draw Readers To Your Blog.”

I say unfortunate because, at least on my reading, the post seemed to suggest that, if your legal blog is not getting sufficient readership based on quality writing about compelling topics, perhaps you can “juice” your stats a bit by employing one or more of the following gimmicks (my term):

1. Frame everything in a “top 5” list format;

2. Attack conventional wisdom;

3. Make it funny;

4. Bash law schools;

5. Write about Apple.

6. “Bonus” gimmick: blog about celebrities and sex.

Two of these “tips” are completely legitimate suggestions. Attacking issues from an unconventional angle and weaving in some humor (assuming you’re actually funny) are terrific ways to improve blog posts and enhance readership. But, in my view, the others are bollocks.

The author, Andy Mergendahl, freely admits that it’s only necessary to resort to this gimmickry when all else fails:

“But how to attract readers? Sure, you can . . . strive to write well on topics you’re knowledgeable about. I’ve tried that. I’ve combined my experience with my own independent study to provide a lot of sober advice on good lawyering. Almost all those posts were greeted with a yawn, followed, I suspect, by an immediate click over to Buzzfeed.”

Clearly if your “sober advice on good lawyering” is greeted with a yawn, the solution is to “go blue” or, if even that fails, do some law school bashing.

A couple of other solutions come to mind: blog about something else, or (gasp) don’t blog at all.

I’ll freely admit I crave more readership. I recently had a conversation with my good friend Mark Suster about his blog. Imagine my awe, or was it shame, as I learned that his esteemed blog garners almost as many views in a single day as I boast in an entire year! Talk about blog envy. (No, it’s not always that small. It shrinks when I swim in cold water. I swear it does.)

But regardless how desperate we get for readers, gimmicks aren’t the answer. Leave the racy pictures and stories to Above the Law or The Superficial or whatever. Don’t get controversial for the sake of being controversial. Write what you think and you feel. If it flies in the face of conventional wisdom or raises eyebrows, great. But don’t adopt a pose just to boost your numbers.

Sure, I’ll bust out the occasional “top 5” post. If I’m feeling especially saucy, I might quote Neil Young or pop out some particularly pure alliteration. But not to get more readers. If I use gimmicks at all, it’s because I blog as much for my own enjoyment as anything else. And you should, too.

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