Business is picking up after several rocky years. But being too busy for marketing should ring alarm bells.

One sure sign that the economy is picking up is the frequent refrain from many of our solicitor clients that they are ‘too busy to have: written that article/reviewed the draft brochure/rehearsed the seminar presentation/organised lunch with a firm of accountants etc’.

Of course this is good news for law firms after several rocky years. But those thin times are not so far behind us that they should be forgotten just yet. 

Getting to be too busy to do marketing should raise alarm bells, particularly if you have long-term ambitions to grow your department beyond its current size – or grow your career. If you are happy ticking along, then read no further.

Unless a firm, department or individual solicitor maintains a momentum in their marketing, then they risk returning to a pattern of peaks and troughs. Most marketing activities take time and persistence to bring to fruition and a satisfactory return on investment.

If your ambitions extend to growing your department, then it is not enough to simply keep yourself busy. You need to generate a sustained flow of new business from cross-selling, through to new enquiries. 

The promise of an ‘instant result’ can be very tempting, especially one which appears to involve little or no fee-earner involvement. Consequently, with budgets a little less constrained, we have seen a number of firms sign up for expensive online campaigns (SEO and PPC) without detailed proposals, simply because they hear that XYZ mega firm has been doing this. 

Whilst XYZ probably has a large business-development team to follow up and sift the leads for good quality ones, they are also unlikely to be putting all their marketing eggs in one basket.

Clients returning or referring business is still the most important source of new work for most firms. But it is important not to take your clients for granted and ignore them. Without a relationship that engenders loyalty, they could be the very people that respond to the SEO PPC campaign of another firm.

As the market heats up, so will competition in recruitment. What sort of impression does your brand give to potential recruits: modern? Or rather behind the times?

If you have ambitions to expand or be promoted, then you need to generate more business than you need to keep yourself busy. You need to work on your business, rather than just in the business. Work out how you can free up time by delegating more, outsourcing, and improving efficiency through technology.

Developing your business requires that the marketing continues automatically and gathers momentum. It also requires business development in the broader sense of developing human resources (skills and know-how), systems and procedures to accommodate growth and attract new people of the right quality.

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas