Marketing for lawyers takes on many different approaches. This is for those who believe they have a robust referral network but are not generating the business they want and need. If this is your situation, chances are you need to shift your philosophy about referral sources.

Most lawyers don’t really spend much time thinking about referral sources. They’re appreciative when one of them comes through with a new client prospect, but otherwise it’s pretty much “out of sight, out of mind.”

Many lawyers feel they’re best served by having as many referral sources as possible. To get started, first evaluate each referral source by taking a hard look at:

  • Frequency: Number of referrals in the past 3 years;
  • Quality: Percentage that became clients;
  • Impact: Resulting revenue.

The next step is to look at your own referral activity.  If you’re like most lawyers, you probably spread it around in hopes of keeping more referral sources active.  That intuitive logic is understandable; it’s an extension of lawyers’ tendency to cast as wide a prospecting net as possible rather than sharpen their focus. However, as your list of potential referrers grows in number, each becomes less significant to you. Without intending to, you’re counting on the “network effect”:

  • you’re placing your bet on the referral network rather than on any of its individual members, which means that
  • you’re making each source less important to you. 

We already know that if someone is less important to us, our lack of certain relationship-reinforcing reveals that, which in turn makes us less important to that other person.

If we’re less important to them, they’re not thinking about us, which makes it unlikely that they’ll think of us when an opportunity to refer us arises. Viewed through this lens, sacrificing referral source quality for quantity is an obvious mistake.  

Having two referral sources to whom you’re important versus six to whom you are an afterthought will provide a stronger referral base. 

Most likely, you will find that two or three sources are, indeed, the most robust for you, i.e. their referrals generate 80% of your referral-based revenue.  Refocus on those and put the rest on the back burner.  

Meet with them, to reinforce the relationship, and tell them they are responsible for a lot of your success.  Let them know you’ll make a point of finding ways to make them more successful and that the bulk of your referrals will now go to them.  And then, keep that promise.

It’s easy to get seduced by “potential,” especially since we apply no objective criteria to that label. “Jane is a really successful accountant with mid-market companies. She’d be a great source.” But has she been? How many prospects has Jane actually referred over the past three years?  Looking at the actual results, you discover that it’s only been one referral in three years. Yet you’ve had lunch with her every other month. How does she stack up against Dan, whose profile may not automatically suggest his value? Looking at your results you discover that Dan has referred six prospects to you. Yet, Dan is conspicuously missing from your lunch calendar. 

We need to separate the producers from the “potentials,” and adjust our relationship-building investments to align with actual value.

Let’s say your analysis identifies those who’ve been most valuable. Do you dump the rest? No. You simply reallocate your resources, reserving the scarcest and most expensive resources for your producers. In descending order of value and scarcity, your relationship-building inventory might look like this:

  1. Face-to-Face (meeting, meal, social event)
  2. Telephone call
  3. Personalized email, i.e., specific to that person
  4. Generalized email, i.e., specific to that person’s business category, e.g., article attachment
  5. Mass distribution, e.g., holiday card, blogs, announcements

Identify how much time you’ll spend developing referral sources over a year. Define the time it takes to perform each of the activities above once. Allocate those time blocks into an annual inventory:

  1. 24 meals, events
  2. 48 calls
  3. 60 personal emails
  4. 24 industry emails
  5. 60 mass emails

These are just illustrations. Give serious thought to your own inventory. However it ends up, that’s what you have to work with. Scarcity is a fact of life. Let it guide your decision-making. Now, it’s easier to see how you can’t afford to allocate 12 of your 24 meals to someone unless there’s a real return on it.  

No matter how many you have, rank all referral sources as A, B or C, based on productivity, and decide how many times per year you’ll allocate each relationship-building asset to each one.

Now all you have to do is put these blocks into your calendar and start contacting the “A” sources to let them know how important they are to you, declare your intent to have lunch once per month, and put it on the calendar.

That’s the essence of a referral-nurturing plan.