Posted by: johnocunningham | September 18, 2012

Best of September: Why Turn Away Business?

This is the first post in a series of monthly feature posts that I am calling, “The Best of My Blogroll.” The idea is simple: I peruse the law blogs on my blogroll, and call to your attention just one that caught my eye with a cogent idea expressed in a compelling way.

In September, the post that captured me was one about the importance of turning down some prospective clients, which appeared on the Legal Marketing Blog by Tom Kane.

Kane makes the point that professional service providers really should not work outside their scope of expertise, and they should not represent “problem” clients if they want to stay profitable or just plain happy.

His post reminds me of a pearl of wisdom I once got from the Chief Marketing Officer of a major law firm, who said to me: “You really don’t have a marketing strategy until you decide what it is you are NOT going to do.”

If you think about it, even briefly, you realize that taking whatever walks in the door or whatever you can get is not a strategy. To have an effective marketing strategy, you need to decide:

  • Who do I want to represent?
  • What kinds of matters do I want to handle for them?
  • How do I want to differentiate myself and my services from other providers in the marketing space I seek?
  • How am I going to connect with the people I want to represent?
  • What is my best messaging to those with whom I want to do business?
  • Overall, where and how do I want to spend ALL of my time, energy and focus?

The first two elements of strategy cited above are very much about who you will not represent and what kinds of work you will not do. Based on those elements of strategy, here are some more reasons NOT to take on a new matter or client (other than ethical conflicts):

  • The prospective client has a poor credit history (did you run a D&B?)
  • The prospective client has a litigation history of suing a lot, including his/her own lawyers (did you do a background check?)
  • The prospective client makes exaggerated, grandiose or even false claims in an initial interview (all symptoms of trouble and lack of credibility)
  • The matter is not one you would really enjoy taking on (life is short – do you want to do what you hate? or refer it to someone who loves it and does it well?)
  • The matter is outside of your strategic boundaries (if you do something “occasionally” you do it inefficiently and lose focus on what you do best and want most)
  • The matter is within your bailiwick, but cannot be handled profitably (unless you are doing it for an established and great client, why work for nothing?)
  • The matter is within your field, but due to factual circumstances, the client will not be able to get a good ROI from it (unless a client specifically wants to spend money for little or no measurable return – as in litigation to make a statement – they will resent you for not advising them up front that a case or matter is a “loser” for them).

Those are just some of many reasons not to take on a prospective client or matter. If you can think of others, feel free to chime in on my blog.


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