Mick Kavanagh finds the driving seat of a Chieftain tank is popular with clients. Sue Churchill is a freelance journalist and a partner in business consultants Churchill Associates, Devon.If wining and dining doesn't appeal to clients, Sue Churchill thinks hosting a topical seminar could bring in new business.
As customer loyalty slips away, solicitors are competing for clients by drawing on a range of marketing tools, from media relations, through direct mail to carefully targeted seminars to bring in new business.
However, seminars can only be productive if you are clear about your objectives.
The first task is to identify your target audience. Existing clients who are under using your services? Corporate clients? Or do you want to establish a working relationship with other local professionals?
Once this has been decided, you can build a picture of your target guest and plan the seminar accordingly.
To attract more corporate business, you can identify needs by talking to a sample of existing corporate clients and scan the newspapers for indicators. Potential topics could include getting paid on time or the implications of the Disability Discrimination Bill.
Be careful not to duplicate anything a competitor is doing so make the relevant enquiries.
The next job is to make the seminar attractive to prospective guests. Investing in an informed and experienced guest speaker usually reaps dividends.
Take a seminar on the proposed Bill as a template. First, you could book a disability consultant to speak not just on compliance with the law but the marketing opportunities of a diverse and untapped market. You could invite another professional, maybe an architect, to speak about modifying premises. You might consider bringing in your employment law expert, but on no account should the seminar be used as an opportunity for a sales pitch.
The next stage is to carry out a costing, covering factors such as speaker's fee, room hire, catering and promotion costs.
This should not be beyond the budget of a small practice.
Booking a room off-peak is surprisingly cheap; buffets are often superfluous as many people prefer to go straight home. Providing coffee beforehand, an opportunity to chat with guests, and a glass of wine after, is a cheaper and better option. Costs can also be kept down by promoting the event yourself, which leaves the only appreciable expenditure as the speaker.
After the costing, you can work out how many leads you need to make it viable. A workshop of 20 prospects is more cost-effective than a hotel suite full of no-hopers. This is why it is essential to build up a precise picture of your target attendee.
As you will be promoting your event through the press, including monthlies, which often work six weeks in advance of publication, you should fix a date around two months ahead, avoiding clashes with major sporting events and traditional holiday periods. Armed with a list of dates, you can identify possible venues, checking its appeal for guests, parking facilities, accessibility, catering facilities and power points for overhead projectors etc.
The next job is to plan your promotional campaign. Send existing clients a personal invitation card, or letter with fax response sheet or place a feature or advert in your newsletter.
Attracting prospective clients is harder. However, if you are involving fellow professionals, encourage them to invite their own clients or get endorsements from your local chamber of commerce.
Other options include:
a loose-leaf insert in appropriate newsletters;
a press release to local, national and specialist media;
sponsorship by a local newspaper.
In all cases, ensure you provide details of who, where, when, why – and finish with a contact name and telephone number for reserving a place.
Sponsorship may seem a non-starter. However, editors are often willing to sponsor events that could benefit their readers provided it requires no effort on their part. This could result in free coverage, using copy drafted by you.
For the seminar itself, there are a few key rules:
no one speaks for more than 30 minutes;
involve your audience;
never read from notes;
underplay your services.
As guests leave, each one should receive a delegate's pack with speakers' notes, an evaluation sheet, information on fellow professionals and details of your corporate services.
The next day you should mail a thank-you letter, outlining how you as a solicitor can help their organisation towards further success. A week later, ring to ask if there is anything you can do to help. Easy? Maybe not, but it works.