If you’ve read any of my previous newsletter articles or purchased any of my presentations (or attended our Ultimate Level event), you know that I am a huge systems nut. Systems for EVERYTHING – – from marketing to receptionist scripts, to conducting initial client meetings, to generating trust documents, to signing meetings, and regular client follow-ups. Utilizing time-tested systems for everything involved in operating an estate planning practice is how you develop a successful practice.
Yet, even those who do systematize virtually all of their practice often fail to have a system for generating new client referrals from existing clients, the life’s blood of any business. Client referrals from your existing clients cost very little in terms of expense and are much more likely to engage your services than prospects developed through other forms of marketing.
Many attorneys and other professionals, unfortunately, believe that if they provide good client service, that alone will naturally result in lots of referrals from clients. You may, in fact, get a few client referrals that way. But, if you want a bigger, more consistent referral stream, you can’t just leave it up to your clients. You need to have a system that directs your clients about who they should refer and provides a way that makes the referral process simple and easy.
My law firm regularly generates 10 to 12 new clients each month from referrals by our existing clients (and probably more that we don’t directly track as being referred by a client). In this article, I will share with you a few of the key components of my firm’s client referral system – – one that you can be assured actually works!
Client Referral Tip #1: “AFR”
You have probably heard of the saying, “Ask and ye shall receive.” Well, you have to actually ask your clients for referrals (AFR = Ask For Referrals). As silly as this may sound, your clients don’t actually know that you are looking for new clients and most clients will not take the time to think about others that might benefit from your services unless they are prompted to do so. When you are in front of your clients in your meetings, you must remind them that you appreciate new client referrals and ask whether they know of anyone – – relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. – – who may benefit from the same services that they have enjoyed. You don’t have to ask for names, addresses, phone numbers, or e-mails on-the-spot (that’s the old MCI “Family and Friends” approach that people hated). Instead, just AFR and show them some easy ways that they can pass along the word (to be discussed further below).
Your clients might not understand what kind of clients you are looking for, so be sure to let clients know that you’re looking for people who already have a Living Trust or Will (that might need review and updating), as well as those who don’t have an estate plan. Also, be sure to mention all of your firm’s services (estate and trust administration, asset protection, advanced-level estate tax planning, Medicaid/VA benefits, probate, guardianship and conservatorship, etc.). Clients don’t know all you do unless you tell them and won’t otherwise refer people who could benefit from your other services. Put up a sign or other reminder on your desk to “AFR” at your meetings! Not just initial client meetings, but even more so at your…
Client Referral Tip #2: Signing Meetings
Many attorneys prefer to delegate most or all of their document execution meetings to paralegals or other staff. That would seem to make sense in terms of better utilizing your time elsewhere. However, client satisfaction – – and the inclination to refer others to you – – is at its highest at the point where clients feel best about you and your law firm, which is when you provide them the peace of mind that they get from completing their estate plan. That signing meeting, towards the end, is the absolute best time to AFR.
If you want to leverage your time, while still getting client referrals, you can take the first few and last few minutes of the execution meeting, so that you can make sure that your clients are happy, have all of their questions answered, and so that you can AFR. You could certainly train your paralegal or staff member to also AFR (if you monitor the process to be sure that it is being done successfully), but in my experience, it is far more powerful and you are far more likely to get referrals when the attorney handles the entire meeting. You also want to AFR at…
Client Referral Tip #3: Periodic Review Meetings
Many attorneys treat estate planning as a one-time transaction, rather than a long-term relationship. Once the estate plan is signed, there may be little regular follow-up initiated by the attorney. Whether you choose to use a client maintenance plan or not (to find out more about my Free Service Package and 3-Year Review Model, click here), you should be bringing your clients back in regularly for review meetings. A lot of attorneys don’t think that bringing back their existing clients can generate new revenue, but that’s just not true. It’s all about how you conduct those review meetings. When we bring our existing clients back in, we have them complete a new questionnaire and conduct that review meeting very similarly to an initial consultation with a brand new client. The reason that we do this is because you can often discover a lot of potential new planning opportunities or concerns that need to be addressed with that client. Rather than leaving it up to clients to reach out to you to update their plans with whatever changes they see fit, looking at the review model as a way to ensure that the plan you helped your clients put in place for them still makes sense for them given their current circumstances.
My point is this. Whether the client chooses to revise his or her estate plan (which more than 50% of our clients do), this periodic review meeting is a great opportunity to AFR!
Client Referral Tip #4: Client Survey
After our clients’ signing meeting and review meetings, we send them an e-mail survey (unless they don’t have e-mail, in which case the survey is conducted by phone). The client is incentivized to take the survey with a small gift (typically a $5 Starbucks card). This helps us get more surveys back from our clients. Besides asking questions to elicit feedback about the firm’s products, services, and the client’s experience, the survey also asks if they would consider referring others to our law firm (yes or no). If the answer is yes, the survey is followed up with a customer service representative call to show the client how easy it is to refer others (which we are getting to soon, I promise!).
Client Referral Tip #5: Thank You Notes
Who has ever heard of a lawyer sending a handwritten thank you note to clients? A hand-written thank you note sent by regular mail seems to be rare these days in general, so to get one from an attorney helps create a “knockout” experience that your clients will remember – – and which they will be quick to tell their friends and family about!
The thank you note doesn’t have to be long and take a lot of time to write or mail out. We have developed a system to make this process simple and to ensure that it is not forgotten by the attorney, by providing each attorney a blank thank you note in the document review file prior to the signing meeting. It’s dropped in the mail the same day as the signing meeting or the next day. This means the client gets the note a day or two after they have left your office, while still on the “high” of completing their plan.
Okay, so far we’ve shown you some ways to prompt the client to make a referral, now for the part where we show clients how simple and easy it is to complete the referral process.
Client Referral Tip #6: E-mail Newsletter
There’s certainly a valid argument that a print newsletter may more likely be read, kept, and eventually passed on by a client to others. But, the easier way for a client to refer right away is by the click of a button – – the “forward” button. An e-mail newsletter can be redistributed to many referred prospects, quickly and with little effort. (Some clients may also have their friends or family subscribe directly to get the newsletter too.)
Like most things in life, there’s a right and wrong way to put together an effective e-mail newsletter for estate planning clients. The format and the content have to be right, but this goes way beyond the scope of this article. However, here are three key tips about the e-mail newsletter.
- TIP #1: You e-mail newsletter should go out every single month. Having consistent communication with your clients is key so that when you finally send them an e-mail they’re not wracking their brains trying to figure out who you are or flagging your e-mail as SPAM.
- TIP #2: Your e-mail newsletter shouldn’t always be about “blah blah blah” estate planning. Let’s face it. Nobody wants to read about estate planning month in and month out. Your clients developed a relationship with you (the attorney) and your firm. Your clients like to see photos, connect with you and your firm on a personal level. Your e-mail newsletter should have personal stories and fun content with a mix of estate planning related content.
- TIP #3: Your e-mail newsletter should always contain a visible listing of your upcoming seminars. Even though your e-mail list may consist of existing clients, we encourage our existing clients to attend our seminars because they often bring potential client referrals with them, but they are also nice to have in the audience to fill in the crowd and also mix in effective client testimonials in with prospective clients attending the seminar.
For more details about how to develop a successful e-mail newsletter, click here.
This now takes us to the next Client Referral Tip…
Client Referral Tip #7: Seminars
You may have a certain negative pre-conception about seminar marketing. The fact is, seminars are the easiest, least threatening way for prospects to “kick the tires” first before they decide to commit to scheduling an appointment with you. (There are lots of other good reasons for doing seminars. For more information, click here.)
You should offer seminars every month, even if you only do one, small, no-frills seminar that you hold in a conference room in your office. Seminars are a lot easier to successfully present than you may think, particularly if you have a complete, pre-tested system that includes all of the things that you need to give the seminar – – from marketing materials, PowerPoint slides and scripts, to handouts, response forms, and appointment booking tools. (For more information about the seminar that my law firm is currently using each month to develop a regular stream of revenue, click here.)
Not only will your newsletter drive prospects to your seminars, but you can occasionally send a direct mail piece to your clients to invite them to attend for a refresher and encourage them to bring a friend. Additionally, you can give or send clients…
Client Referral Tip #8: Seminar Flyers
A simple one-page flyer can grab prospects’ attention and get them to call in for a reservation to attend your seminar. The beauty of a flyer in the referral process is that, like passing along an e-mail newsletter, it doesn’t require the client to give you the name and contact information of their friends and family members. It makes it easier and less threatening for the clients to do the referral on their own. And it is way more effective than just passing along your business card.
You should have seminar flyers everywhere. This includes in your office (to alert clients and to remind you to AFR, making it simple to hand a few flyers to clients to give to others), in your office lobby, your other referral sources’ offices (like CPAs or financial advisors), inside your seminar handout packet, anywhere you can possibly put them!
Hopefully, these tips will help get you started in developing a successful client referral system, but there are a lot more steps and tips that I will be covering in an upcoming 90-minute teleconference later this month (information below), which will include various forms and examples of the items discussed in this article, as well as a lot more detail than we have the space to cover here.
RELATED PRODUCTS & EDUCATION
If you found this article helpful, we have a number of other products, programs, resources and coaching available that can assist you in your practice in a number of practice-building, practice-management and marketing areas.
- 2-Day Life-Changing Event for Estate Planning Attorneys
- Step-By-Step Program on Getting More Referrals
- Client Review Seminar & Marketing Package
- The Living Trust Seminar Marketing Package
- Personal Coaching
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Attorney Philip J. Kavesh is the principal of one of the largest estate planning firms in California – – Kavesh, Minor and Otis – – with over 40+ years in business. He is also the President of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., which provides a variety of training, marketing and practice-building products and services for estate planning professionals. If you would like more information or have a question for him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-866-754-6477.
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