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People have a choice. If you want the people you care about to see you, care about your brand, buy from you…you have to have empathy for who they are and what they care about.” Seth Godin, in conversation with Qualtrics, 2020

Our focus for our 2020 Summer School is how you can be Ready for Anything. As we go into the post-lockdown recovery, this series aims to provide practical tips and techniques to help you succeed as a freelance lawyer.

In our first article, we looked at the three key areas you need to focus on to reboot your freelance practice: your values & skills, your customers and how you market yourself. Today, we want to help you focus on your customers. Who are they? What do they want? What can you do things differently to stand out in their minds?

#1 Discover your values

Think back to your core values, how are the clients you work with important to you? Do you only want to work with clients in a certain sector? Or those who have a certain problem? Are there any projects or clients that you can’t take on, for example because of a conflict with previous work?

When you’re working as a freelance lawyer, it can be tempting to take any work that comes along. Sometimes you may need to take on a project that wouldn’t be your first choice. However, being selective about who you work with can help you win more engagements in the longer term. By working as much as possible with your ideal clients, you will develop your reputation, build niche skills and increase the likelihood of being asked back or recommended to similar organisations.

Buyer personas are a tool used by the marketing community to focus promotional and product development activities. They typically set out not just the basic demographics of your ideal client, such as the sector and size of their organisation but also information about the type of person deciding to make a purchase.

To define your ideal clients, set aside 45 to 60 minutes. First list any clients that you won’t work with. These might be individuals or companies. This is where you need to think about any conflicts, previous experiences you’ve had and ethical considerations. Hopefully there won’t be too many so this shouldn’t take long. Next, list the sectors and size of organisations that you want to work with, along with any practical considerations such as location, time zone etc. Again, this shouldn’t take long. Finally, think about the type of person who will be engaging you and answer the following questions:

  • What sort of job titles do they have?
  • How old are they? What languages do they speak? Where are they based?
  • What is their typical level of training and expertise?
  • What are the most important problems you solve for them?
  • What qualities are they looking for when they select a freelance lawyer?
  • What constraints do they face?
  • What types of membership bodies and events do they engage with?
  • Where do they look for information?

Understanding your ideal client’s “buyer persona” will help you focus any promotional activities you undertake (more on this to come) and tailor how you present yourself in meetings and interviews, and in your CV.

#2 Developing your customer insight

If you found the last part of the first exercise difficult to do, then you need to spend some more time gathering insight into your clients and the challenges they face. Unlike a large company, you don’t have the luxury of a market research team, but there are plenty of resources available. Make some time to do one or two of the following:

  • If you know some people who would be your ideal client, ask if they could spare you 30 minutes for a call to help you with your freelance practice and ask them some simple questions: What prompts them to bring in freelance expertise? What gets in the way? What are they looking for when they work with someone on a flexible basis? (You may even find you open up new opportunities by having this conversation, but remember that isn’t the purpose of the call.)
  • Google profiles of General Counsel or Heads of Legal to find out what challenges and opportunities they are talking about right now. Look out for the language they use to describe these, so you can use it when you’re talking about how you help
  • Look back at previous engagements or interactions and identify any common themes.

#3 Create an experience

Once you are confident that you understand what your clients are looking for, think about how you can create an experience when you’re working together that sets you apart. Think about what you do at the following points in an engagement to stand out:

  • Initial conversations
  • Day One on a project
  • Through-out your engagement
  • Your last day on a project

For example, if you know that a collegiate atmosphere is important to the team you are hoping to work with, you might stress how well you have fitted into teams previously and give examples when you are meeting for the first time, including a recommendation from your last client. On Day One you might give the Head of Legal an email they can send to introduce you, with some personal as well as professional information. On your last day on the project, you could share a personal email to say goodbye and encourage people to stay in touch.

Research shows that consumer and business buyers increasingly prioritise experience when it comes to choosing which products and services to buy. Making small yet targeted changes to how you work allows you to create a consistent positive experience that will add to your core skills and will make it more likely that you are engaged again or recommended by your client.

Putting it all together

In a competitive environment, focusing on understanding your clients is an essential item on your “to do” list. Try to always be in “receive” mode, open to learning about and from your clients, then use what you know to tailor how you work and how you present yourself.

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